Selling the problem first

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Peter Kuyt

January 3, 2018

Peter Kuyt



Strolling around my local market, I’m passing a fruit stand. The vendor is randomly shouting “STRAWBERRIES!” to the passing crowd. Oddly enough, it works too. I might actually get some. They weren’t on my list, and now I’m buying strawberries. Does that make me a pushover? Maybe. But I’ll have strawberries, so who’s complaining?


Still, it’s strange…

It’s actually one of the few situations I can think of, where it works to just shout your proposition to the crowd. If you’re pitching your idea, your project, or your startup, please do not try this approach. It is a route to failure.

Why it works for the strawberry guy, is because everyone likes the taste of a strawberry. And buying them does not conflict with your other priorities. That hardly compares to your pitch. The money or time you want us to invest in your venture is precious to us. So we’ll have to choose wisely where to spend it.

You know this, so you will explain how the market potential is huge, that your product is amazing and your solution beats all your competitors. Hmm.. not so much different from yelling “Strawberries” after all.

It makes sense though. You’re excited about your product. You are working on it every day, passionately. You cannot stop talking about it. So, when pitching, you rush through the introduction and problem statement to get to the sweet part: your solution.

But your audience isn’t there yet. In fact, I may be slowly drifting off. Why is that? Because you haven’t sold me the problem yet. And that, I would argue, is the most crucial part of the pitch.

Your product may be competing with a few alternative solutions to the problem. But the problem itself is competing with thousands of other issues I could care about. So, how do you get me into your world, where this problem is the most important and urgent thing? Have you considered what will make me care about it?

Usually, entrepreneurs will attempt to seduce with the market opportunity: “X amount of people are experiencing this problem and they are willing to pay Y for a solution.” Necessary, for sure. Appealing, maybe. But certainly not enough. There’s plenty of other issues that people badly want to see fixed. So why this particular problem?

You will need to connect with me personally: How is this problem impacting my world? Is it hurting my family? Are my friends suffering from it? Will my kids feel the consequences? Is it frustrating my daily routine? Are my values in jeopardy? Can I not afford to look away?

Of course you will have included a problem statement in your pitch, we all do. We know it’s important. Still, we assume. We assume that our audience agrees that it needs solving.

Whether it’s the next revolution in the Internet of Things, a breakthrough health innovation, or the long awaited boost in the Energy Transition, do not assume I care. Make me care. Make me feel the pain of the unsolved state of the problem. Rub my face in it if you have to. Make it hard for me to just walk away from it.

Once I care, and only then, I will let you explain how you propose to fix it and how you are the best at it. And I will listen. You will not have won the race yet, but at least you’re still in it. And who knows? I may have gotten so engaged that you’ll only have to yell STRAWBERRY at me and I’ll jump aboard.

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About me:
I am a brand designer at Visual Friday. I help serious startups with serious brand building, to make serious impact. Want to know even more about me? Check the About page. Want to see what I’ve done? Check my portfolio. Want to get serious? Send me a note at