The 4 types of ‘Why’: What is the driving force behind your product?

I recently wrote about a framework I created called the Ladder of Needs, a simple tool for product people to create a compelling vision. It combines the best of Simon Sinek’s ideas from Start with Why and Clay Christensen’s classic framework of ‘jobs to be done’.

So, how do you determine the ‘Why’ behind your product?

Start by considering this gem from Jeff Bezos:

“People often ask what will be different in the world in 10 years, the more important question is what will be the same” — Jeff Bezos

So true, because the fundamentals of what people want and need are exactly that…fundamental truths. In my time as a product leader, I have found 4 models that apply to almost all consumer experiences and products. These are not mutually exclusive — they are ideas that overlap in many ways, but one will likely call to you more than the others.

What is your customer’s scarcest resource? It tends to be either money, time, energy.

You may have seen this meme on Twitter or Instagram before (I’d love to know whom to credit with it’s creation). It’s a great framework for products.

This is why Bezos’ answer to his own question, ‘what will be the same in the world in 10 years’, was that Amazon customers would always want lower prices (money) and faster shipping (time). Amazon’s strategy was built by focusing on these core customer needs.

This is also why Uber isn’t in the business of selling rides, it is in the business of selling time.

I have found that Tony Robbins is a bit of a lightning rod figure. When I mention his name people generally respond in one of two camps: ‘I love him, he is awesome’ or ‘he is a cult leader’. No matter what your personal perspective is, his framework on the 6 core human needs is still a classic.

Tony advocates that there are 6 core human needs that drive our behaviors:

  • Certainty: The need for safety, stability, predictability, comfort
  • Uncertainty/Variety: The need for surprise, excitement, novelty, change
  • Love & Connection: The need for social attachment, approval. To feel connected and loved
  • Significance: The need to have meaning, pride. To feel special and wanted
  • Growth: The need for constant development, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually
  • Contribution: The need to give to others. To protect, care for, serve

Even more fascinating, is that Tony believes any experience, product, or action is addictive if it serves 3 of these needs.

For example, Facebook solves for (1) love & connection…by feeling connected with your friends, (2) significance…by receiving feedback/prominence from what you post and (3) variety….you never know what will appear in your feed.

Taking a slightly more negative spin, many products also solve for one of the seven deadly sins:

  • Pride
  • Greed
  • Lust
  • Envy
  • Gluttony
  • Sloth
  • Wrath

Targeting one of these seven deadly sins often makes a product addictive. In this framework, Facebook solves for pride. Uber and Amazon solve for sloth and greed.

Last but not least, several psychologists have offered up frameworks for the purpose of life:

  • For Freud, it was the search for pleasure
  • For Nietzsche, it was the search for power
  • For Frankl, it was the search for meaning

One key principle behind behavior change and our cognitive biases is that we seek pleasure and avoid pain. This has always been a great insight to use as you design your product experiences.

We are seeing the rise of products and services that focus on customers’ search for meaning. For example, the rise of mindfulness and meditation products. Or, products such as Toms and Feed which give back to the world.

Have I missed a framework you love? If so, please add it to the comments below. I’d love to hear any and all reactions you have.


I am a product-driven VC @FirstMark. If you are building one of tomorrow’s great companies, I’d love to hear from you and help. Email me at