Frederik Van Lierde

Y Combinator Question 1 + How To Answer: What Problem Do You Solve?

When it comes to pitching your startup, whether to potential investors, partners, or even your first hires, clarity is king. This question, often posed by Y Combinator during their rigorous selection process, cuts right to the core of what your startup is all about. Y Combinator Question 1 + How To Answer: What Problem Do You Solve?

1. Why Y Combinator Asks This Question

Y Combinator focuses heavily on identifying startups that not only address real, tangible problems but also have the potential to scale significantly. They ask "What problem do you solve?" to gauge the clarity of your vision and the direct impact of your solution.

This question helps them understand if your startup is just a 'nice to have' or if it's essential—something that fulfills a critical market need or resolves a significant pain point.

2. How to Answer the Question

To answer this effectively, start with the specific problem you’re addressing. Be concise and articulate about the pain points of your target audience.

Explain why these issues are important and how your product or service provides a unique solution that isn’t just better, but different from what’s already out there. Focus on the results of your solution and the benefits it brings to your customers.

For instance, if your tech startup is developing a cybersecurity tool, you could frame your problem statement around the increasing complexity of cyber threats and the lack of accessible, user-friendly tools for small businesses to protect themselves.

3. How NOT to Answer the Question

Avoid vagueness or generalities that make your answer seem unfocused or generic. Statements like "We make life easier" or "We help people" are too broad and don’t convey the unique value of your startup.

Also, steer clear of jargon or technical terms that could alienate those who aren’t familiar with your industry. Your goal is to make the problem—as well as your solution—as relatable and understandable as possible.

4. An Example, Based on a Tech Startup

Let’s consider a hypothetical tech startup, SecureStart, which develops cybersecurity solutions for small businesses. Here’s how they might tackle this question:
  • Problem Statement: "Small businesses today face a significant challenge in protecting their digital assets from cyber-attacks, largely due to the complexity and high cost of existing cybersecurity solutions. Many small business owners lack the technical expertise to implement robust security measures."
  • Solution: "SecureStart provides an affordable, easy-to-use platform that automates cybersecurity protection by integrating the latest technology without the need for in-depth technical knowledge. Our solution adapts to new threats in real-time, offering peace of mind and robust security to small business owners."
  • Benefit: "With SecureStart, small businesses can now defend themselves against sophisticated cyber threats without the need to hire specialized IT security staff, thereby saving on overhead costs and focusing more on their core business activities."
Use a structured approach that not only highlights the problem and the solution but also showcases the direct impact and benefits, making it a compelling pitch to potential stakeholders like Y Combinator.