pān/ /point/, n.
A problem thought to be facing a person or group of people that entrepreneurs are looking to solve through goods and/or services.
If you’re a runner, the words “pain point” might have to do with the acute twinge you feel in your right ankle after yesterday’s sprints. If you’re in business, the (often overused) term is all about understanding your customer. It’s become an art form over the last couple decades, with tools like user personas and empathy maps helping companies get into the minds of customers.
But it hasn’t always been that way. According to CJ Alvarado, CEO and founder of Rocklin-based Bamboo Creative, a full-service branding, development and content creation agency, we likely started hearing more about pain points after the dotcom bust in the ‘90s. “You had an industry that had dropped billions of dollars into things that just didn’t work,” he says, because companies didn’t grasp the concept of first understanding their customer. “Around that time, we started doing a lot of different thinking around how we create viable businesses moving forward.”
Pain points can be very real, meaning that consumers actually need someone to solve their problem. Food and grocery delivery services are a great example: Busy people see value in cutting certain tasks out of their day. But companies can also perpetuate the idea of something being a problem — hoping to then sell a perceived solution. Those problems may or may not even exist in the first place.
“In a lot of ways, [pain points are] the basis for how you start or what you’re looking for when you start a company,” Alvarado says. “Anything like that can feel diluted at times because people just kind of flippantly throw it around.”
Bamboo Creative’s services are often consultative and regularly involve having to understand the pain points of the clients of their clients. So Alvarado and his team invest a lot of time and energy in discovery and research to find the right solutions to the right problems. This helps everyone involved understand exactly why certain actions are being taken and how the team should proceed.
Going down a brainstorming path without specific pain points in mind can lead to wasted time, energy and money. “Introducing people to the idea of pain points is like a really good filter to just get people started in thinking about their idea and vetting it,” Alvarado says. “Ideas, in a lot of ways, are like your little baby, you know? Nobody thinks their little baby is ugly.”
But as companies grow, too often they become disengaged or separated from the problems they’re attempting to solve for their customers, he says.
“Knowledge of the actual words is not the issue,” he says. “Knowledge of the frameworks isn’t really the issue. The issue is that we don’t actually get out and experience that pain ourselves so we can’t really speak to, you know, the depths of it. We don’t have a sense of context for it. So that becomes very challenging because then the companies we’re working for aren’t really in touch with the customer.”
The market conditions preceding a bubble, where prices are overvalued and driven up, thanks to unsustainable demand.
An ability to invest time and energy in systems that allow small businesses to grow while still handling increased demands.