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Painkillers or vitamins- Which one solves your problem?


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Painkillers and vitamins are both popular remedies for many ills. And this expression is exactly how investors will see your product.

But how do you know which is best and will give you a greater result?

When you’re a start-up building your business, you’ll need to figure out what your clients are wanting before then deciding if you’re going to be working with a painkiller or vitamin.

And the key to success here is absolutely understanding your clients inside out. Ask yourself: which problem am I solving for my customers? 

If you don’t already know the answer, take this as a hint to work it out before going much further. It’s the crucial first step to understanding if your product is going to be a vitamin or a painkiller.

Read on to check out the differences between them to discover whereabouts your product or service is sitting. 


Well, vitamins are great! But do you really need them…?

If you think about going to a pharmacy, it’s likely your main focus is probably not vitamins. You may purchase some because they’re visible and sitting there attractively presented alongside the counter, but it’s probably you didn’t enter the store only searching for vitamins. 

Regardless of how these vitamins look – we know that you can find supplements in all manner of shapes, colours and tastes, they’re still something to be added to your bill, and not the main product you intended to purchase.

In business, the idea is really much the same. When you’re offering “vitamins” to an investor, you’re probably talking about an additional feature to the main product – like for example, a plugin for a Magento website that is going to give you some advantage or solve some problem. But if you don’t have a Magento website, you don’t need the feature, right?


It’s no secret that everyone loves painkillers! The human race has, in fact, been trying to deal with pain since before Christ through acupuncture, willow bark, and natural substances such as turmeric, which is an anti-inflammatory agent. 

And yes, pain removal is highly motivating! Nobody enjoys suffering in pain.

Relating it to business though, you’ve possibly experienced the difficulty in getting someone to try a new product when they don’t know or trust the brand. 

So, to motivate an initial purchase, we must present something called “purchase drivers” to make them aware of a pain point – and the more salient, urgent, and high stakes that this pain is for them – then the greater their motivation will be in making sure that what you are selling is wanted by them.

Then, once you’ve earned a customer’s trust by solving their pain, you can move to the next step, offering “purchase delighters” – earlier described here as vitamins!

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Which is best?

Most investors and entrepreneurs will focus on painkillers, advising businesses to build products and services that are “pain killers, and not vitamins” for their clients, BUT in order to build a sizable business that’s then able to go on and scale… I’m going to say the answer isn’t quite that simple.

Perhaps vitamins are ultimately more valuable as they have the potential to extend lives. Or is it that humans are short-sighted by nature and because vitamins “make my life easier now” they’re perceived to be a much stronger value proposition.

My personal advice for you is this: get to know your niche.

Most of the big companies now have become large corporations because of their “customer centred” approach. If this concept isn’t clear for you, think about Spotify, Netflix or any Social Media – the content these platforms present to you, is based on your activity and style.

I’ll give you another great example: Apple founder Steve Jobs was one of the greatest marketers of all time, and he understood that to remain competitive, Apple needed a broad range of products. 

He didn’t just create wildly popular products like the iPhone (universally loved because it solved a customer need = painkiller), but Jobs understood where technology would advance next and what customers wanted. 

With his direction and insights, Apple built the iPod and Apple Watch (vitamins), and customers who loved their iPhones also wanted those vitamins.

Steve Jobs saw a niche opportunity right around the corner and knowing his niche, he was able to solve their problems and identify their wants – via providing them with painkillers or giving them vitamins.

Thinking about your customer and their behaviour – can you answer questions such as:

  • Where is your customer in the thought sequence?
  • Where is your traffic coming from?
  • What conclusions do your prospects need to make before buying?
  • What are their pain points?
  • What do they value?
  • What is powering their motivations?

Understanding a customer’s journey and taking all factors into consideration will help you figure out how your product fits in with their lives.

I have seen many teams starting with solutions and hope they’re addressing a customer need. But the beginning point must be the problem – the solution is your product and you need to know your customer well before you can propose a solution for something. If you don’t know them, and their pain points inside out, how can you say with certainty your problem really is the solution?

Problem identification is step one and can increase your odds of a successful product, but please understand: it’s not an absolute guarantee that you’ll solve the customer problem.

A critical next step is considering the range of solutions that solve customer pain points and brainstorming which one better suits your customer needs. 

An important point to note is that it’s not whether your product is a painkiller or a vitamin; it’s that you are addressing the highest priority customer needs. This means getting out of the room and meeting with your customers to understand who they are and what they need most.

After that, you can build your product, your strategy, and finally, get in contact with investors to propose your solution – whether it’s a painkiller or vitamin. Importantly now you’ll know who needs it and why!

Please let me know if you need help figuring out how to propose your solution or build your product! I hope that by internalizing this “vitamin vs. painkiller” framework you’ll be able to shift the odds in your favour even a little bit!