The title here sounds a little odd, but it describes very well something we run into all the time at Pitch Practice, and in about 1 of every 5 mentoring sessions I do for startups at ATDC.  It’s a fairly simple misunderstanding, but the change in the listener’s thinking after I explain it is profound.  Here’s what usually happens.

I ask the question, “what is the problem you are solving?”  The entrepreneur will answer, “We provide X product/service to Y customers in Z marketplace by using A technologies and B business model.”

Do you see what’s going on?  This scenario takes us straight back to Lean Startup methodology, and the business need continuum. I’ll get to the the continuum later. First, start with the basis of lean startup methodology: find a big, nasty problem in a large market, and solve it.  Focus on the problem. What is the problem?  You find out this answer through customer discovery, before you ever build anything that smells like a product or service, by asking 100+ people in the targeted market (usually the space in which you have at least some domain expertise) and finding out what their daily pain is. Here are a few solid examples from Atlanta’s startup community.

    • Voxa – the problem is salespeople must get valuable contact info and customer conversations into Salesforce, but that information is almost 100% in their email.
    • – the problem is that email marketers can’t send their emails via an ESP when just one email recipient complains and gets the marketer blacklisted.
    • Mailchimp –  Creating and sending an email newsletter is horribly complicated and confusing, and the email service provider software UIs are awful.

Do you know what any of the three solutions above are? You can probably figure it out, but these are problem statements, because each of these businesses was started from the recognition of a bad problem in a large market space.  But their idea for a business was not what came first. The problem came first. Each of these businesses set out to solve the problem. That’s what became the business.

Now, to that “business need continuum”.  The lean startup community talks often about creating “pain killers” vs. creating “vitamins” and that’s a good analogy; however, we must take the consideration further.  Voxa is a great pain killer.  Facebook is a vitamin (though Zuck would argue that it solves the problem of personal connectivity, whereas I would argue that it’s more like a narcotic that most people, myself included, could do without more and more).  But there’s another point on the continuum, opposite a vitamin and more needed than a pain killer. You see, you can certainly live without vitamins. You can live without pain killers, though, by definition, your pain will still exist and you’ll find other ways to cope with it.  But you cannot live without oxygen.

The folks at will be the first to tell you that their clients, email marketers who send email marketing for a living, cannot live without’s service.  The email marketer could literally go out of business – die! – if they get blacklisted by an ISP.’s goal is to provide the oxygen that email marketers need to live when they get blacklisted.

So ask yourself, what is the problem you are solving?  Is it a vitamin, pain killer, or oxygen? Focus on the problem, especially when you are delivering your pitch, and make that problem personal to your audience.  And make painkillers or, if possible, oxygen.

What do you think about that?

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