How To Craft a Lean, Mean Value Proposition For Your Startup

EasyPeasy Value PropositionMark Twain said "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead." Similar, every business model needs a clear and compelling proposition - a short description of the value or benefit your product creates for a specific customer segment.

In his seminal tech marketing book, Crossing the Chasm, Geoff Moore provided a very useful template for making and baking your elevator test. But as I needed an even more high-concept positioning–one that goes with your social media accounts, your tweets or Google ads–I turned to successful web startups for help. What I found is something that I call the VAD technique.

Guy Kawasaki is a true master of crafting value propositions or mantras, which he prefer over corporate-ish mission statements. On his blog I found the following killer examples:

I like these. They are short, simple, playful and to-the-point. Guy is not afraid of polarizing people. Its premise is that you will rather take a sniper than shotgun approach when targeting your customers with value propositions. Guy seems to put a verb or call-to-action first, followed by the application and a differentiator.

That is [verb; application; differentiator], or VAD if you like.

Another interesting value proposition is that of Xobni. By highlighting "Drowning in Email?", Xobni immediately makes you aware of your problem and invokes some kind of thank-god-I'm-not-alone-feeling. Instead of being everything to everyone, Xobni makes it clear that it offers you an Outlook sidebar plug-in. Following, Xobni highlights it main features and user perceived values - "searching your inbox and finding information about your contacts fast and easy".

Now, consider EasyPeasy, a software startup that I helped found. Its current value propostions are:

  • EasyPeasy: an open source cloud OS for netbooks.
  • EasyPeasy: Linux for the rest of us.

By using the VAD technique we came up with the following high-concept pitches:

  • EasyPeasy: Rediscover your netbook.
  • EasyPeasy: Make your netbook a lean, mean surfing machine.
  • EasyPeasy: Run any web app inside the operating system

I admit being scared of polarizing main audiences within open source and Linux. Yet, VAD helped us drill down customer segments and perceived user value. From a positioning point of view these value propositions polarize new netbook users, and focus on solving the problem of current netbook users that feel pain with their pre-installed OS.

If you would like a more in-depth approach to value propositions and business models, I recommend reading chapter 2 in Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur.

Feel free to slaughter or embrace the high-level EasyPeasy pitch, or throw away the shotgun, load your rifle and share your own VAD-style value proposition.

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