Frederik Van Lierde

Y Combinator Question 6 + How To Answer: Can You Define This Problem Narrowly?

In startup pitches, especially within the rigorous screening process of Y Combinator, being able to narrow down a problem indicates a clear understanding and a strategic focus. This question seeks to explore whether the founder can isolate a specific segment of a larger issue, which often enables more effective and innovative solutions. Y Combinator Question 6 + How To Answer: Can You Define This Problem Narrowly?

1. Why Y Combinator Asks This Question

Y Combinator wants to ensure that founders are not just chasing broad, undefined problems but are focusing on specific, addressable challenges. Narrowing down a problem helps in crafting tailored solutions that are likely to be more effective and scalable.

This specificity also aids in market segmentation, making it easier to identify and target early adopters.

2. How to Answer the Question

To answer this question, you should identify a specific aspect of the broader problem your startup is addressing. Explain why focusing on this particular part of the problem is crucial to your strategy and how it aligns with your business goals.

Describe the defined scope of your solution and the specific user needs or market demands it addresses.

For instance, if your startup is tackling food waste, you might narrow it down to reducing food spoilage in small urban grocery stores through AI-driven inventory management. This focuses on a specific part of a larger issue, which is both manageable and measurable.

3. How NOT to Answer the Question

Avoid presenting a vague or overly broad aspect of the problem, which can make it seem like you lack understanding or a clear plan.

Refrain from narrowing down the problem to something so specific that it becomes trivial or irrelevant. The key is to find a balance where the problem is significant enough to warrant a solution but focused enough to be manageable.

4. An Example, Based on a Tech Startup

Let's consider a tech startup, HealthTrack, that develops wearable devices to monitor chronic diseases. Hereโ€™s how they might define a problem narrowly:
  • Narrow Problem Definition: "Chronic disease management often fails because patients do not receive real-time feedback about their condition, leading to preventable complications and hospitalizations. Our focus is specifically on improving self-management for diabetes patients by providing instant feedback on blood glucose levels and personalized health insights."
Y Combinator probes the precision of startups, ensuring they can carve out clear, strategic niches within broader markets to foster innovative, targeted solutions.