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Painkiller or Vitamin?

January 17, 2017
Painkiller or Vitamin?
How much your customers want you

Yesterday we attended a presentation held by Mircea Vadan, tech entrepreneur and startup mentor, on the problem-solution fit.

The painkiller vs. vitamin concept came up and it rang more than just one bell when thinking about what the product should do. As George Deeb puts it in this article, it’s about the difference between “nice to have, and not need to have.”

Why did it stick to our minds?

Because it sums up what a product (the startup, implicitly) should be about: solving a real, acknowledged, hard to bear pain. All clear so far.

So why do we find ourselves still talking about it?

Talking about building a product, we agree that one of the ”musts” is to meet a real market need. This concept we speak about here, however, goes even further. It states that it’s not enough to address a need, but that the need has to be a pain. You must have a strong consumer will to solve a particular problem and make the pain go away, so to speak.

How come it’s not working every single time?

Nevertheless, no matter how clear it sounds in theory, it is pretty hard to put it into practice. How can you tell that the product you build with so much effort is merely a nice to have vitamin instead of the real painkiller? The truth is that you can’t. Your consumer will tell you, provided you know how to ask and listen.

Going back to Mircea’s talk, he gave a good example: a startup that was meant to connect people through lending/borrowing objects for different current uses as in “why buy a power drill to use it once when you can borrow it from your neighbor”.

At a first glance, the need was real, people found the idea interesting. But a deeper research, involving one-on-one interviews, revealed that it wasn’t a real pain, a life changing experience, rather a more of a “would be nice” one. The odds of succeeding didn’t seem so high anymore.

Still, the same consumers did point out an interesting turn: a particular category of goods, which, by getting integrated into that model, had all the chances to improve the consumers’ lives – baby stuff. So the platform turned to the new mommies, who were suffocated by the number of objects they had bought for their kids and no longer used. They would happily give them away or sell to other new moms. The pain was there, it was real, and the new platform acted as a painkiller.

The moral of the story?

In its initial form it was just a “nice to have” vitamin which didn’t attract many users, while after pivoting, it became the painkiller young mothers were looking for.

Back to the question: how can you tell the difference?

By talking to people. For that, you need to have a clear view of whom you are targeting and start talking to them. Literally. Organize interviews, use the social media, just go out there and start talking to potential customers. Very important, let them do the talking. Your role is just to launch some open questions, then lean back, listen and take notes.

It’s not an easy task, but it is crucial and it can save a lot of money, time and peace of mind. Better to know in early stages that your product is not the painkiller people would buy instantly than spend months trying to sell vitamins.

Although, if you think of it, the real vitamin market is flourishing and their audience is large enough. But they have the budgets to educate people into acknowledging a need or even creating it from scratch. A startup and even a small business can’t afford to rely on educating the market without a strong product to generate the revenue stream. And that product should “kill” a sharp enough pain.

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