Startup Secrets: Value Proposition

In Part 1 of Michael Skok’s Harvard i-lab lecture series, “Startup Secrets: An Insider’s guide to Unfair Competitive Advantage,” Skok laid out one of the first stages of creating a company: defining the value proposition.

A quick glance at the Value proposition

In the dynamic landscape of entrepreneurship, startups constantly seek the elusive formula for success. While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, one of the key ingredients in the recipe for startup success is a compelling value proposition. It’s the magnetic force that draws customers in and keeps them engaged. In this article, we will explore the significance of a value proposition for startups and the secrets to crafting an effective one.

Defining the Value Proposition

A value proposition is the promise of value that a company delivers to its customers. It encapsulates what makes your product or service unique and why it’s better than the competition. In essence, it answers the critical question every potential customer has: “What’s in it for me?” A well-crafted value proposition can be the difference between a thriving startup and one that struggles to gain traction.

Secret #1: Customer-Centric Approach

The first secret to a compelling value proposition is a customer-centric approach. Start by understanding your target audience and their pain points. What problems do they need solving? What are their desires and aspirations? Your value proposition should directly address these needs and desires. It should clearly demonstrate how your product or service can make your customers’ lives better.

Secret #2: Differentiation

To stand out in a crowded market, your startup needs to be unique. Your value proposition should clearly communicate what sets your offering apart from the competition. Whether it’s a technological advantage, a unique feature, exceptional service, or a combination of these, your differentiation should be evident in your value proposition. For example, if you’re launching a new e-commerce platform, your value proposition could be built around a superior user experience, a wider selection of products, or faster shipping times.

Secret #3: Simplicity

In the age of information overload, simplicity is key. Your value proposition should be concise and easy to understand. It should pass the “grunt test,” meaning someone should be able to grasp it in a matter of seconds. Avoid jargon and technical language, and focus on plain, clear, and compelling language that speaks directly to your target audience.

Secret #4: Specificity

A generic value proposition won’t cut it. You need to be specific about what your product or service offers. Instead of saying, “We provide the best customer service,” say something like, “We offer 24/7 customer support with a guaranteed response time of under 15 minutes.” Specificity builds trust and gives potential customers a clear picture of what to expect.

Secret #5: Emotional Appeal

While logical arguments play a role in decision-making, emotions often have a more significant impact. Your value proposition should evoke emotions and resonate with your target audience on a personal level. Ask yourself how your product or service can make customers feel. Can it provide a sense of security, happiness, or relief? Use this emotional appeal in your value proposition to create a deeper connection with your customers.

Secret #6: Test and Iterate

Creating a value proposition is an ongoing process. You might not get it right the first time, and that’s perfectly normal. The secret here is to test your value proposition with real customers, gather feedback, and iterate. Use A/B testing, surveys, and analytics to gauge how effective your value proposition is in attracting and retaining customers. Be open to making adjustments based on what you learn.

Secret #7: Consistency

A value proposition isn’t something you only put on your website or marketing materials. It should be ingrained in your company’s culture, reflected in your products or services, and consistently communicated at every touchpoint with customers. Consistency in delivering on your value proposition is vital for building trust and loyalty.

Secret #8: Relevance

As your startup evolves, so too should your value proposition. It’s essential to keep it relevant to the changing needs and expectations of your target audience. Market conditions change, and so should your value proposition to stay competitive and resonate with your customers.


A compelling value proposition is not a mere slogan or tagline; it’s the lifeblood of a startup. It defines why your business exists and what it can offer to customers that no one else can. By taking a customer-centric approach, differentiating yourself, keeping it simple, being specific, appealing to emotions, testing and iterating, maintaining consistency, and ensuring relevance, you can unlock the secrets to a successful value proposition. In doing so, you will be well on your way to gaining a competitive edge and achieving the startup success you aspire to.