Problem, People, Product — The Crucial 3Ps for any Startup

Nathan Allsopp
January 17, 2018

At the core of a startup, there are fundamental components that need to be covered in order to be set up for success. This is what I call a startup’s 3P model — Problem, People, and Product.

In its simplest form, this model means a startup needs —

A strong problem that people want to solve, a team of people with various strengths that are working on the right solution (product) to that problem.

Each part of the 3P model feeds into one another — a problem needs a team, a team needs a solution and so on. The degree of success that a startup finds depends on the strength and relationships between each element of the model.

A great team may have set out to solve a great problem, but if their solution doesn’t properly solve the problem — will they succeed?

Lacking in one or more of these areas means a weakness somewhere along the chain. Likewise, favoring certain areas too heavily may mean some areas are not given enough attention.

So then, why are each of these 3Ps crucial to a startup’s success?

1 — Problems

The first step of a startup’s journey is finding problems that people face in their everyday lives. Having a strong problem from day 1 gives rise to a great product because demand will stem from the problem.

A poor problem may mean slow product adoption as people view it something they don’t actually need to have.

Team morale may suffer due to the amount of time spent solving the problem, only to then find limited success.

Monetisation efforts may struggle because people aren’t willing to pay for a solution to a minor problem.

And the list goes on..

In the context of the 3Ps, Problem has a heavy impact on the other two elements. The type of problem you have will dictate the skills and team you require, and the type of solution you build — whether it is an app, a website or a physical product.

However, finding the right problem is always easier said than done. Here’s a few ideas on brainstorming the problem.

Does it bother people enough that they feel the need to seek out a solution?Is it a type of problem that people are willing to pay money to solve?Do a lot of people face this problem, or only a few?Is it a highly repetitive problem?

Take the time to work through and think about the problem, but don’t forget — there is always a person involved in that problem. That means emotions, social norms, beliefs, and attitudes come into play. Some problems will carry a higher degree of emotional involvement, others may not.

Think about a purchase you’ve made in the past year or two that you haven’t used at all. Whether it was a sandwich press or a fitness band, that product is stashed in the cupboard because your problem wasn’t actually that pressing. You may want to get fit or eat at home more often, but neither problem is pressing enough to make you use either product.

Been in a situation where you’ve made a purchase like so? You’re an example of how a startup may be unable to connect with a user’s actual problem!

Use the problem as your startup’ compass. Click to tweet.

2 — People

For any startup, there’s a lot to do — without  a lot of resources to use.

Accounting. Marketing. Human Resources. Legal. Agreements. Coding. DevOps. Design. Customer Support.  

However, the People element of the 3P model means more than just plucking a bunch of random people and then expecting results. You need to give thought to the type of people you need.


Having a diverse team means everyone can focus on their strengths. If you want results, you need to let team members fire on all cylinders in the areas they know best. If you’ve got a dev onboard and you’re involving them in a course on how to use MYOB, opportunity costs become a big problem. Likewise for a salesperson being pulled into the development world.

A startup’s ability to get shit done is determined by its people. If you’ve got a team of individuals highly skilled in their relevant fields, certain tasks are going to be a breeze. If you don’t have a team full-stop, you’re going to struggle to do certain things.

Investors will look closely at your team before handing over any money. If you’re looking for funding at any stage, the team behind any startup is crucial. After all, say you had money — would you invest in a company with a killer product and problem that almost collapses each day due to internal conflict?

As a result, the 3P model relies heavily on the team and its ability to work collaboratively. Teams that work well together find great answers to problems, which in turn leads to a great product.

3 — Product

The product is a startup’s solution to the problem.

Whether you’re providing physical products, services or software applications, the Product is the outcome of your People’s efforts around the company’s Problem.

Product is a key part of the 3P model because it is the part of your startup that users actually use and interact with. Building a feasible product that is relevant to your user’s problems means you need to always keep the other two elements of the 3P model in mind.

Problem. Ensure what you’re building is actually solving the problems you started with — it is easier to get off course than you think.People. Your team has strengths and weaknesses — they can’t do everything. Consider what is possible within your People constraints.

These considerations are important to remember from day 1 in the garage to launch day because they impact the product’s end result. And your product’s end result is important for a range of reasons.

If you’ve got a poor product, people will seek out competitors. Think about this from your own perspective. Have you ever had a real problem, downloaded an app, opened it and found yourself uninstalling it because it was way too difficult to figure out? Me too!

Your ability to monetise depends on your product’s success. If you’ve got a product that only half-solves a user’s problems, they are unlikely to want to pay for it. Likewise, if you’ve got an expensive product that people think may solve their problems, but can’t access a trial to find out — adoption may suffer.

Reviews and word-of-mouth matter. People that use your product and rave about it to their friends are the goldmine of any startup. However, if you have a poor experience and people tell their friends about the bad aspects of your product, potential users have a bad taste in their mouth before even trying your product.

So, next time you’re thinking about your startup, think the 3Ps — Problems, People and Product.

Nathan Allsopp is a Sydney-based Product Manager/Designer, working with Sydney-based startups on everything Product.

You Might Also Like

I Went from 0 to 100% on Content & Social Marketing. Here’s What I Learnt.
Read More
I Finished the Daily UI Challenge. Here's What I Learnt.
Read More
Product Management
The Unspoken Challenges of Being a Product Manager
Read More
Stay up-to-date with me on
Twitter Footer Logo
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.