Frederik Van Lierde

Y Combinator Question 20 + How To Answer: Does Your Product Actually Solve the Problem? Be Truthful. How and Why Not?

This question from Y Combinator demands honesty and critical self-assessment from founders about the effectiveness of their product. It’s essential for start-ups to be transparent about their solution’s capabilities and limitations, as this shows self-awareness and a commitment to continuous improvement. Y Combinator Question 20 + How To Answer: Does Your Product Actually Solve the Problem? Be Truthful. How and Why Not?

1. Why Y Combinator Asks This Question

Y Combinator aims to gauge the founder’s integrity and realism about their product’s performance. This question tests whether founders are aware of their product’s shortcomings and are taking steps to address them.

It also helps investors understand whether the product is on a viable path to truly solving the problem it targets, which is crucial for long-term success.

2. How to Answer the Question

To answer this question, start by affirming the ways in which your product successfully addresses the intended problem, supported by data or user feedback.

Then, critically and honestly discuss any aspects of the problem that your product does not currently solve. Explain why these gaps exist and outline your strategies or plans for addressing them in future iterations. This shows proactive problem-solving and a commitment to evolving your product based on user needs and feedback.

For instance, if your product is a mobile app designed to help users manage chronic illness, you might explain how it effectively tracks symptoms and medication but doesn’t yet offer predictive analytics to forecast symptom flares, which is something you’re working on.

3. How NOT to Answer the Question

Avoid denying any shortcomings or overselling your product’s capabilities without evidence. Do not create excuses. It’s important to remain factual and forward-looking, demonstrating a clear plan for improvement.

Ignoring or glossing over parts of the problem that your product doesn’t solve can undermine trust and suggest a lack of commitment to genuine solution-building.

4. An Example, Based on a Tech Start-up

Let’s take a hypothetical tech start-up, EcoDrive, that develops an app to optimize driving routes for fuel efficiency. Here’s how they might address this question:
  • Effective Solutions Provided: “EcoDrive successfully reduces fuel consumption for our users by optimizing routes based on real-time traffic data, which has shown to decrease fuel usage by up to 20% according to our user feedback.”
  • Limitations and Future Directions: “However, our app currently does not address fuel wastage caused by vehicle idling, a significant part of urban driving inefficiencies. We acknowledge this gap and are developing a new feature that will alert drivers to excessive idling and suggest optimal times to turn off engines at long stops, which we plan to roll out in the next version of our app.”
Y Combinator’s question pushes founders to be transparent about their product’s performance, promoting honesty and self-awareness which are key to continuous improvement and genuine problem-solving.