A way to evaluate your product is to consider how well it solves the pain for the customer. Always think about your solution in terms of the benefits it provides to its users.
There are three categories that a product can fall into—a vitamin, a painkiller, or a cure. There is also a fourth category, which is “addictions”, something we will cover later in the article.
Vitamins promise indirect, long-term benefits, which the potential customer might or might not be aware of. A vitamin usually helps in preventing something. For example, fitness is a vitamin to prevent bad health, or reading books is a way to not be illiterate or sound dumb.
The problem with vitamins is that they start off as ‘nice to haves’ compared to ‘must-haves’. This is why vitamins are priced much lower than painkillers. However, with regular use, the vitamin products can become a habit as long as users have the right motivation, ability, and triggers to use it, and eventually turn into a painkiller.
Painkillers are the next best solution, which are necessary short-term fixes to pressing pains and issues. While more of a necessity than vitamins, they are means to solve an underlying issue. A painkiller solves a problem that keeps customers up at night.
A painkiller is something the customer can’t live without.
Understanding the actual pain, and knowing what it takes to relieve it, are critical to building the right product. When you have intimate knowledge of a problem, you are better equipped to come up with the right solution, than someone who is researching it as an outsider. Which is why there’s a popular saying – does your product ‘scratch your own itch’?
Perhaps, vitamins are ultimately more valuable as they have the potential to extend lives, but humans are short-sighted by nature. “Fix me now” is a much stronger value proposition, than “you will feel great 40 years from now”.
Compared to vitamins, painkillers pull in customers vs having to push products to them.
That’s why you should aim to build a painkiller product, something people will be lining up to get, rather than a vitamin which is something easy to forget. A painkiller is a solution to a problem. Most startups fail because they build products that don’t solve a particular problem or a solution in search of a problem. Take our problem-solution fit assessment to see if your product is actually solving a problem customers have.
For example, for B2B products, look at something like the sales cycle. Is your sales cycle short? As a rule of thumb, if you are solving a real pain, customers will be pushing really hard to onboard your product. But if you have to keep convincing the same customer, you are probably selling a vitamin.
If you expect to get significant traction in business, your solution should be a painkiller at least. Then, once established, be on the lookout for ways to better solve customers’ problems to make your product that much more important.
Social networks, for example, start off as vitamins. Then, as more people join the network, more content is created, shared, and liked. If enough people join the network, others cannot afford to miss out. So, the success of a social network depends on whether it can become a painkiller for its users.
Finally, cures make the problems go away entirely.
A customer’s willingness to pay depends directly on their need for your product. They’re often willing to pay significantly more for cures than vitamins or painkillers. But cures are much harder to establish and defend. Another problem with cures is that once it solves the problem, you don’t need it anymore (most of the time). This means the customer walks away once their problem is solved. However, not every problem can be solved once and for all, similarly, every cure is not permanent.
Potential cures can become market leaders in their area and if you can come up with one, you can charge customers a premium price.
We mentioned in the beginning of another category, addictions. Products like certain social media apps, games, foods fall into this category.
Consuming these products introduces pain and we want to consume more of them. These products create a problem in the first place and are also the solution to the problem.
It’s hard to build these kinds of products because it’s hard to predict what consumers want versus what they need. Building addictive products are like creating beautiful accidents, there’s no systematic way to create them. But if you can build them, you are not only creating a successful product but a successful category/genre.
Could there be a bigger moat?
Another way of looking at vitamins, painkillers & cures is how long the solution takes to solve the customer’s problem.
Vitamins are a long term solution to the problem. Painkillers react immediately. Whereas, cures are a permanent solution to the problem. Cures can put painkillers and vitamins out of business.
An ideal business is where people buy your product, often, for a long time. And this can only happen if people believe to stay satisfied with your product.
However, not all problems are apparent and can be identified as vitamins, painkillers, or cures. So, a way to find out is by talking to existing customers to find out what pains your product relieves. Then go interview potential customers in your domain and find out what sorts of things cause them pain.
Lastly, as an exercise, you can try to categorize different products you use and see if they qualify as a vitamin, painkiller, or cure.