Frederik Van Lierde

Y Combinator Question 16 + How To Answer: How Intense Is the Problem?

Y Combinator assesses the severity and urgency of the problem a start-up is addressing to assess the potential demand and impact of the solution. Understanding and conveying the intensity of the problem can help illustrate the necessity of your product and its potential to attract serious interest from users and investors. Y Combinator Question 16 + How To Answer: How Intense Is the Problem?

1. Why Y Combinator Asks This Question

This question is aimed at determining how critical the problem is to potential customers. A problem that significantly impacts users’ lives, finances, or operations is more likely to drive a rapid adoption of the solution.

Y Combinator wants to ensure that the start-ups they invest in are addressing real, pressing issues that require immediate and effective solutions, which can lead to a quicker return on investment and larger market potential.

2. How to Answer the Question

Detail the consequences of the problem if it remains unsolved and the relief or improvement your product promises. Describe the severity of the problem in terms of economic, emotional, physical, or operational impact.

Use specific data or case studies to back up your claims about the problem’s intensity. Make it clear that your solution provides not just a marginal improvement but a significant change that addresses the problem effectively.

For instance, if your start-up is focused on cybersecurity for small businesses, you might explain that a single data breach can cost a small business over $100,000 on average, which can be devastating and potentially business-ending for many small enterprises.

3. How NOT to Answer the Question

Avoid underestimating the problem or providing a shallow analysis that fails to capture the depth of the issue.

Do not exaggerate the severity without data to support your claims, as this can undermine your credibility.

Strike a balance between demonstrating the seriousness of the problem and maintaining an objective perspective.

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

Let’s consider a tech start-up, HealthAlert, that develops wearable devices to monitor and alert users to critical changes in chronic health conditions. Here’s how they might address the intensity of the problem:
  • Problem Intensity: “For individuals with severe chronic conditions like heart disease or diabetes, sudden changes in health indicators can be life-threatening. Without continuous monitoring, these patients are at a high risk of emergencies that could lead to hospitalization or worse.”
  • Data Support: “Statistics show that heart disease and diabetes lead to hospitalization every 30 seconds in the U.S. alone, often due to a lack of immediate medical response at the first sign of a crisis. Our device provides real-time monitoring and alerts, drastically reducing response times and potentially saving lives.”
Y Combinator scrutinizes the urgency and impact of the problems startups tackle, ensuring they address serious issues that demand immediate and effective solutions for rapid market penetration.