What Problem Does Your Startup Solve?


What problem does your company solve?

The answer to that question can quite literally be worth millions of dollars. One of the first things investors need to see is a clear product/market fit.

You might think you have a clear answer, but today I want to challenge you to think about if you have the right answer.

The 2 Problems

There are only 2 types of problems that exist: Chronic Pains, and Acute Events.

For a solid 8 years of my life, I had low back pain on a regular basis. If I was standing for more than 30 minutes at a time, my back would hurt. When I would play pick-up basketball, my back would hurt.

It was chronic pain, but I could tolerate it.

One day at the ripe young age of 24 I had just finished riding my bike home. I picked up my bike to lift it over the curb and my back locked up. I couldn’t stand up straight.

I scheduled a doctor’s appointment for the next day, underwent an MRI a few days later, and received an epidural injection the next week.

The day my back gave out is the day I took action.

It was an Acute Event.

Think of the last time your ‘Check Engine’ icon lit up on your dashboard. Did you head to the mechanic that day, or did you keep driving the rest of the day? Perhaps for the rest of the week, or even a whole month? Maybe you’re still driving with the light on.

What about when you’re on the highway and black smoke starts pouring out from your hood. What do you do? You pull over, and your car is at the shop within hours.

That’s an Acute Event.

We tolerate chronic pain. We take action on Acute Events. As a startup, the right problem to solve is an acute event.

It’s your job as a company to find and capture the Acute Event. Otherwise you’re trying to force your product/service on a customer who doesn’t feel any compulsion to take action, and doing a poor job convincing investors there is a real need.

A Case Study

Let’s look at an actual case study.

FanFood is a startup with an in-stadium mobile concession app by the same name. I’ve been working with them the last few months. We spent a lot of time making sure we identified the right problem, and articulating it the right way.

Take a look at how their Cofounder & CEO, Carson, now pitches the company.

What kind of problem do they solve — Chronic Pain or Acute Event?

“There’s nothing more frustrating than going to your favorite team’s game and MISSING the big play, because you were stuck, waiting in line, for a hot dog and beer.”

Think about when this has happened to you.

Last year I went to a Chicago Cubs game. They scored 5 runs in the 6th inning. I missed all 5 runs because I was in line.

Carson has delivered that pitch and had someone cut him off mid-sentence to say, “I missed the Odell Beckham catch!”

What announcer Chris Collinsworth called, “The greatest catch I’ve ever seen,” this particular fan missed seeing, because he was stuck in line.

Pretty much everyone who has been to a live event has a specific moment in time they can think of where they missed out. You can visualize when it happened to you. How you had to look up at the concession line tv screen, then look back at the stadium to see if you could somehow still catch a glimpse. You can feel the frustration.

THAT’S the moment in time that FanFood captures.

It’s an Acute Event — NOT a Chronic Pain.

Capturing this Acute Event led FanFood to winning a $25k competition, along with an all-expenses paid trip to New York for an in-person strategy session with Daymond John — yes, Daymond John.

They are currently using this as the core problem for which to discusss their solution with investors as they raise their Seed Round.

How You Can Apply This For Your Startup

What’s your Acute Event?

Most startups, once they’ve hit product development, take their solution and try to cram it in anywhere they think it makes sense. But that’s solution-led thinking, NOT problem-led thinking.

Instead, step away from the solution for a moment.

Imagine a world where your product or service does not yet exist. What’s happening in your soon-to-be customers life? What does their day look like? At what point in that day (or in that week, or month) does something bad hit them?

To do this, rather than look at them in aggregate through top-level demographic information, visualize ONE person. What’s the deal in her life?

Use this Audience Funnel to drill down into the specific problem, emotion associated with it, and moment in time when it occurs.

NOW you have an Acute Event. And you can come back to your solution, and make it a natural fit.

It’s crucial to have all 3 of the aforementioned components — problem, emotion, moment in time — because even if you are solving for an everyday occurrence (chronic pain), capturing the emotion and moment in time within the day creates an Acute Event.

For example, Jiffy Rides, another startup I worked with, took the chronic pain of traffic, and hyped the emotion around it.

As you listen to that problem statement, you can feel yourself in that moment, white-knuckle-gripping the steering wheel. It’s not that you’re just there sitting around in any old traffic like it’s nothing, it’s that you’re TRAPPED in your car, STUCK in bumper-to-bumper traffic, wasting your time.

This pitch led to them winning a $1 million pitch competition.

So I ask you again, what problem does your company solve? Is it the right problem?

Caroline Pestel