Frederik Van Lierde

Y Combinator Question 4 + How To Answer: Can You State the Problem Clearly in 2 Sentences?

This question from Y Combinator is designed to test your ability to communicate efficiently and effectively. It's important for startups to be able to pitch their idea succinctly, especially in high-stakes environments where time is limited and clarity is paramount. Y Combinator Question 4 + How To Answer: Can You State the Problem Clearly in 2 Sentences?

1. Why Y Combinator Asks This Question

Investors, especially those in environments like Y Combinator, prefer pitches that are crisp and to the point. They ask for a two-sentence problem statement to see if you can distill the essence of what your startup is tackling without getting lost in details.

This clarity not only helps in understanding the urgency and relevance of your solution but also tests your strategic communication skills.

2. How to Answer the Question

To craft a clear problem statement, focus on the core issue your startup addresses and the direct impact of this problem. Your first sentence should introduce the problem, highlighting its significance or scale.

The second sentence should delve into how this problem affects your target audience or the market. It's essential to be specific and use concrete data or examples where possible to strengthen your statements.

For instance, a startup focused on reducing food waste in commercial kitchens might say, "Restaurants in urban areas lose approximately 15% of their inventory due to spoilage, significantly impacting their profitability. This widespread issue results in over $50 billion in losses annually across the industry."

3. How NOT to Answer the Question

Avoid using vague or generic statements that could apply to many different problems or solutions. Don't use technical jargon that could confuse the listener or dilute the clarity of the problem you're addressing.

Also, resist the urge to ramble or provide unnecessary details that go beyond the two-sentence limit.

4. An Example, Based on a Tech Startup

Let's consider a tech startup, EduTech Solutions, that develops adaptive learning platforms for high schools. Hereโ€™s how they might effectively state their problem in two sentences:
  • Problem Statement "High school students across varying districts show a 30% disparity in math and science test scores due to inconsistent access to personalized learning resources. This educational gap limits college admission opportunities and widens socioeconomic disparities."
The art of simplicity, Y Combinator champions startups who can powerfully distill complex ideas into clear, impactful problem statements.