The Launch Path
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The Launch Path

Photo by Samuel Giacomelli on Unsplash

A few words about frog-flavored cookies.

Successful startup ventures need to articulate an actual problem they solve, not simply the absence of something.

One of the first things I have my Stanford entrepreneurship students do is to write a problem statement — a sentence that describes the problem their proposed startup venture intends to solve.

What I’m looking for is something along the lines of “Busy parents want their kids to eat healthy but often don’t have time to cook nutritious meals for their families”. A nice, easy-to-understand problem that suggests that there will be solid demand for our startup if we develop a compelling solution to the stated problem.

But there’s always a few students who will write a problem statement that is some version of “On the market today, there is no way to do X, Y, and Z!”

To me, this is like saying your problem statement is “There are no frog-flavored cookies available today!” Maybe there are no frog-flavored cookies because there is absolutely zero demand for them…?

If you really are planning to enter a market that has no existing solutions, you’ll need to spend a lot of money creating demand where there isn’t any. And you still may fail. Saying you are launching something that doesn’t currently exist is a big red flag for investors, and it should be for you too.

To put it another way, selling chocolate chip cookies that are fresher and healthier is much more likely to succeed than launching the first-ever frog-flavored cookies.

So as you develop a problem statement for your startup, make sure you are articulating an rather than simply stating the . Because there’s a reason frog-flavored cookies don’t exist…



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Bret Waters

Bret Waters

Silicon Valley guy. I teach entrepreneurship at Stanford, run the 4thly Startup Accelerator, and coach startup CEO’s at Miller Center. Also, I love fish tacos.