I’m getting to the age where if I go play a sport I haven’t played in a while, I ache for days afterwards. I recently played 5-5 full-court basketball for the first time in decades, and could barely walk the next day. Some of those hurts are “good hurts” – sore muscles that are getting stronger from the workout. Some are “bad hurts” – like a partially torn rotator cuff. They all hurt, but it can be important to distinguish between them, because the remedies are different. And no matter what you call them, they still hurt like hell.
Similarly, in startups, we talk about “good problems” and “bad problems”. Bad problems are the ones nobody wants: unhappy customers, products that don’t work, or markets that don’t materialize. Good problems are ones that sure seem like they’d be nice to have: too many customers sign up at once, investors want to put in too much money, etc. Just like bad hurts and good hurts, bad problems generally require outside intervention to fix, while good problems work themselves out through positive progress. Everybody says they want the good problems, but they are still problems – and they still require a hell of a lot of work to get through.