Vitamin or Aspirin – Which are You Offering?

Take the Brown PillI don’t know who came up with this analogy but I’d love to thank him/her because it’s a perfect way to think about your offering and its value proposition.  Is it a vitamin?  In other words, does it create an opportunity for some improvement?  Or is it an aspirin?  In other words, does it solve a problem?

Both might sound like beneficial offerings, and they are.  But there’s actually a big difference when it comes to buyer behaviors.  Imagine you have $2 to spend and, for some reason, you need to spend it today.  Someone presents you with a vitamin and an aspirin and they each cost, you guessed it, $2.  Which do you choose?  Well, if you don’t have a headache or other body pain, then you’ll probably go for the vitamin because of its preventative health benefits.  But if you have even a slight headache you’ll take the aspirin without even thinking about it.  I know, you could substitute a cancer prevention pill for the vitamin and even someone with a headache might go for preventative medicine.  But are you offering a cancer prevention pill?

Even if you are offering an aspirin, do your prospects know they are experiencing pain?  Remember, someone with a mild discomfort all the time tends to ignore it or mentally block it out.  If you’re offering aspirin to prospects that don’t recognize their pain, you will need to enlighten them.  You’ll most likely do this in your messaging by using statements like “Don’t you hate it when ____?”  And the more your enlightenment obligation trends towards full-blown evangelism the more of an uphill climb you’ll have and the less attractive you’ll be to prospective investors.

A partner colleague of mine at Capital Factory (Andrew Busey) commented that some consumer-focused companies aspire for their solution to be crack cocaine.  I love the analogy because it brings the addiction factor into the equation.

In summary, although most startup entrepreneurs would prefer to offer an aspirin (or crack), there’s nothing wrong with offering a vitamin if it promises considerably more value than an aspirin provides when eliminating pain.  It’s just that most of your target prospects have plenty of things that are causing them pain.

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Author: Gordon Daugherty

Over the past 15 years Gordon has seen more than 1,500 startup pitches, given personal advice to more than 500 entrepreneurs and been involved with raising over $45M in growth and venture capital. Throughout his 28 year career in high tech, Gordon has two IPO’s and a $200M acquisition exit under his belt. Now, through his advisory practice called Shockwave Innovations and as Managing Director for Austin’s Capital Factory startup accelerator, Gordon’s focus is purely on educating, advising and investing in tech startups.

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