Are You Selling Aspirin or Vitamins? The Essence of a Business Model

Quote: “The aim of the wise is not to secure pleasure, but to avoid pain.”  Aristotle

Sorry – I did not mean to get so deep, philosophically, but Aristotle may have been a Venture Capitalist.  Time and again we hear from financing sources that if you want to make an impression about what your product/app/service is, show how it alleviates the “pain.”  Too many models I see are nice to have (like a vitamin) but nothing bad really happens if you don’t use it.  Let’s look at just one example.Vitamin

I think the case I cite most often is Zappos.  I know Tony Hsieh from Zappos has done a remarkable job of professing how ultimate customer service built around a culture with guiding principles has driven Zappos to unbelievable success.  But, think about the model – he has brought the “shoe store” right into our homes.  With a painless return process and built upon the fact that for most of us, our shoe size hasn’t changed since high school, he has made shopping for shoes a painless experience.  A few years ago, my daughter (the fashion police) came to me proclaiming that the 70’s were calling me and my shoe attire was abysmal.  We got online and ordered 10 pairs of shoes from Zappos – from dress to casual. They delivered in two days.  When I reviewed the order, I realized I would probably have to go to 3 – 4 malls to get everything from Johnston & Murphy to Sperry’s.  But, here they were… all in one place and it took me less than 10 minutes to order.  I tried them on at home, walked around in them and bought 7 pairs.  I left the three I did not want at the front door and that was it.  Why would I ever shop for shoes anyplace else?

Look at success stories like those that make it into ERA, TechLaunch, DreamIt and other accelerators and you will find great teams focused on addressing pain points.  LinkedIn, tumblr and others that have success are focused on “pain relief.”  Too many of the pitches we see are nice ideas that might be beneficial but customers and investors like “pain killers” (aspirin) and not “nice to have” (vitamins.)  If you forget to take vitamins for a day or two big deal, but if you have pain and don’t take your aspirin or prescribed painkillers, the impact can be devastating.

The essence of your model should be to focus on the pain vs. better health, alone. So as a young entrepreneur, focus on your target market in the same way.  In the end, it is the business model, not just the business plan that is the road to success.


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