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ITB #7: How to write a quick startup problem statement

Lengthy problem statements kill startup pitches. In this week's weekly email, JDM shares a quick trick you can use to briefly explain the problem.

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Hey, friend 👋 — JDM here.

I’m back with another edition of my newsletter.

One short tip, trick, or mindset shift to launch sooner & scale faster.

4 minutes to read. Enjoy!


This week’s trick: how to quickly explain the problem in your startup pitch

A common struggle for startup elevator pitches is taking too long to explain the problem you're solving, so I'm going to show you a little trick that can help you out here.

I’m sure you’ve seen this before: in a five-minute pitch, the founder spends two full minutes just talking about the problem…and we can’t help but tune out.

We just don’t care enough yet. We need to know what the problem is, and for whom you’re solving it, and that there are lots of customers out there. But we don’t need to know all the ins and outs. They’re just distracting.

The challenge? Your expertise makes summarizing difficult.

This problem is particularly difficult for technical founders, and I don’t mean the engineers and coders. I mean the subject matter experts who start their company because they have experienced a problem in their own industry that they want to solve.

Because of their great expertise in their field, they feel it is their mission to educate the listener on the many nuances of the problem. And they don’t know how to get back to their “beginner’s mind”.

But we don’t need a lot of detail. We need just enough to sink our teeth into it and to frame the story you’re telling us.

In other words, we need only enough to contextualize the solution you’re offering.

The key is to hand-wave away as much as you can

You want to take as much as possible as a given and only explain what has to be explained.

So try this: in thinking about the problem, just finish this sentence: “as you can imagine…”

What you’re doing is priming your brain to connect what can be assumed to what you’re saying out loud. Here’s an example for Uber Eats, GrubHub, DoorDash, etc:

“As you can imagine, it’s logistically challenging for restaurants to run their own delivery operation, especially since they already operate on tight margins.”

Just like that, we’ve gotten to the core of the issue.

One sentence probably doesn’t tell us enough about your problem, but it does tell us enough to frame everything else you might need to say. You’ve earned the right to talk about the current hacky solutions and the unsatisfied customers they produce.

Because we get it.

Based on the time constraints of our pitch, we can choose to expand on that as necessary in support of that point. We can use statistics, facts, research, and (best of all) stories to help us understand the severity of the problem — add nuance, talk about current solutions or competitors, & raise the stakes.

But we’ve already stuck in the hook & opened a story loop that we can close with our solution.

“As you can imagine” is just a tool to get you started in finding brevity. You don’t actually have to say “as you can imagine” in your pitch, and you won’t nail the wording the first time you try. Pitching takes practice and repetition.

But you’re off a pretty solid start.

Hey, do me a favour — give “as you can imagine” a try & reply with your problem statement. I’d love to hear what you’re working on.


That's all for this week: one short tip on startup pitching.

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See you again next week!

-jdm

Published about 2 months ago

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