Frederik Van Lierde

Y Combinator Question 7 + How To Answer: Who Can You Help First?

Who is your initial target audience is a question that Y Combinator often uses to understand a startup's market entry strategy. This question helps to clarify who will be the early adopters—the first group of users who are most likely to benefit from and advocate for the solution. Y Combinator Question 7 + How To Answer: Who Can You Help First?

1. Why Y Combinator Asks This Question

Y Combinator uses this question to determine whether founders understand their market well enough to identify a specific group of users who will see immediate benefits from their product or service.

Knowing who you can help first shows a strategic approach to market penetration and indicates that the startup has a viable go-to-market strategy that can lead to early traction and validation of the business model.

2. How to Answer the Question

To answer this effectively, describe your ideal early adopter. This is typically a user or customer who has a pressing need for your solution, is aware of their need, and is actively seeking a solution.

Provide details about this group's demographics, behaviors, and preferences. Explain why they are likely to be your first customers and how reaching them will set the stage for broader market adoption.

For example, if your startup offers an online tutoring platform, you might identify first-time college students who are struggling with STEM subjects as your initial target audience. Highlight how this group is readily accessible, likely to seek help online, and could benefit immediately from your services.

3. How NOT to Answer the Question

Avoid vague descriptions of your initial target audience or choosing a group that is too broad or too diverse. Failing to specify who you can help first may give the impression that you haven’t thoroughly researched your market or understood the user needs.

Avoid targeting a group just because it seems lucrative without considering whether your product truly fits their needs or whether they are accessible as early adopters.

4. An Example, Based on a Tech Startup

Imagine a tech startup, StreamlineHR, that develops AI-powered HR tools for small businesses. Here’s how they might answer this question:
  • Target Audience: "Our initial focus is on small businesses in the tech industry, specifically those with 10 to 50 employees who are struggling to manage HR tasks efficiently without a dedicated HR department. These businesses are often in growth phases and require scalable solutions to manage hiring, onboarding, and employee engagement effectively."
  • Reason for Selection: "This group is particularly receptive to adopting new technologies that can streamline operations and reduce costs, making them ideal early adopters for our AI-driven solutions. Engaging with these businesses first allows us to refine our product in a tech-savvy, feedback-rich environment before expanding to other industries."
Y Combinator checks if startups know who will first use their product, showing the importance of finding and reaching out to a specific group of early users to start strong and grow.