Painkiller or Vitamin? Time to question the question…

Published in
3 min readDec 28, 2015


Painkiller or Vitamin?

If you’re in the world of startups, or new product development, chances are that you encounter this question often. More likely if you are on the other side of the table discussing your idea with potential funders.

A painkiller is usually valued at premium. Its essential. Vitamins are supplements, add-ons, good-to-have. Vitamins are desirable. But are they what we think they are? Especially in the brave new world of mobile apps.

Take for instance the Indian startup Practo — it’s app helps you discover medical practitioners of varied specialities closest to you — shortlist them based on reviews. Its a real painkiller. But something that you wish you don’t have to use often. It isn’t surprising that many users I know, including myself, frequently uninstall the app only to re-install it as needed.

And consider Facebook — I am not sure what pain the app solves. For me and for a substantial percentage of its many many users worldwide. On a rare occasion you can mark yourself as safe, but largely we all stick to changing profile pictures and uploading more images, like and unlike things, express the occasional (or frequent) political opinion, check-in, put up holiday pics. Its a lot of ‘painkilling’ if your pain was not able to share cute or grumpy, canine or feline pictures with an unsuspecting bunch of friends.

Anecdotal evidence suggest that most can’t recall a time when it was uninstalled. And we all possibly know a vast multitude who’ll launch it multiple times a day — or possibly never even quit. True, many hate it for its addictive uselessness — but that ‘many’ is but a tiny minority.

I see Facebook as a vitamin. Taken, twice or thrice a day. Or multiple times between meals. It can be a healthy supplement to mass demonstrations and a possible concoction of ‘chemical’ goodness for those social revolutions spilling offline.

Think Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram et al and consider Practo, Tripadvisor, Kayak and more. And rethink the question of vitamins vs painkillers. Its time to look beyond this simple construct. Put on a lens of dosage frequency and usage patterns — and the metaphor changes.

Put on a lens of dosage frequency and usage patterns — and the metaphor changes.

And it may be time to ask — would you rather be an infrequent painkiller or a daily vitamin? Or can a painkiller be also frequent — even habit-forming? Perhaps Uber fits well in this category? Its time to rethink, adapt and adopt metaphors we take for granted.

Would you rather be an infrequent painkiller or a daily vitamin?

Postscript: I initially floated this idea to an eclectic group of product folks: engineers, designers, product and marketing pros at the InDecode talk I gave in Bangalore. It turned out to be an interesting spring board for discussion. Look forward to your comments, alternate metaphors and examples…


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Founder/Curator @DesignUpConf ⚡Sender of a sporadic Newsletter ⚡️Wrestles with too many side projects