Startup from Scratch 4: Designing a Value Proposition

Startups create jobs, new products and disruption. Agreed. We all love startups and we know that many in Iraq work hard to make ideas ‘happen’, with stories of Iraqi entrepreneurs inspiring us everyday. At the same time, around the world and particularly in Iraq, the process is far from easy.

Our Startup from Scratch articles are a new series written for entrepreneurs looking to start a venture or for those already in the process of building one. We will be summarising resources and providing food for thought in the hope of being a part of your startup learning journey. We’re far from knowing all the answers but we know that this series will provoke thinking on important aspects of your business and help avoid obstacles. A work in progress, we’re always curious to know your thoughts and experiences too, what you find helpful or what you may simply disagree with.

When entrepreneurs build startups, they’re often excited to talk about what the company does, but sometimes may overlook their main promise to potential customers, or in other words, their value proposition. A value proposition is simply, the promise a startup makes of performance and benefits about the offer to customers. We say “simply” but coming up with a value proposition is actually far from simple. This is because a value proposition should be two or three sentences that clearly state why a customer would be willing to pay for your product or service. Such a proposition is particularly difficult to come up with because it needs to be distinct, clear, and to the point. 

A value proposition should give the reason why a customer benefits from buying your product or service

Our view of entrepreneurship has been so tainted by the Silicon Valley stereotype that we often assume that a value proposition should be crazy dramatic or technology-oriented. This isn’t always the case. The best value propositions resonate with potential customers. It joins a conversation already in customer’s minds because it relates to a real pain point that the customer feels and encounters in their lives, at home and/or at work.

Put differently, a value proposition should motivate a customer to buy your product and move away from the current way of addressing the pain point you solve. They don’t care about specifics or features at this point – you’ll grab attention when you make clear in a line or two that you’ll solve their problem. 

One way of designing a good value proposition is through using the value proposition canvas, where you ensure there is a fit between perceived value and the value realised by the customer. That’s why one of the best ways to understand this fit is through truly listening to your customers and putting yourself in their shoes.

value proposition canvas
The Value Proposition Canvas

A value proposition should take up space in your potential customer’s mind

This is where having an in-depth understanding and knowledge of competition pays off. For customers to remember your value proposition and identity with it, they need to be convinced that your value proposition promises the best buy to solve their problem. Through knowing your competition well, positioning your offer and value proposition becomes easier and more effective.

Take a look at this example we love. This is the value proposition of a company called Warby Parker. The value proposition is a few lines, but we already know what we need to know. They sell glasses that look good, but they’re different because these glasses will be affordable. The benefit and promise has come across in less than a minute. As it’s short and concise, it’s more likely that you’ll remember it. 

Value proposition
Warby Parker Value Proposition

A value proposition should be substantiated

Entrepreneurs often need to convince potential customers their offer is the best buy in markets that may have bigger and existing players. This is why quantifying or qualifying the offer can motivate customers to respond with “I’m willing to try that”. Let’s look at one you’ve probably used yourself – Trello.

Screen Shot 2021 10 26 at 21.36.25
Trello’s Value Proposition Statement

They’ve clarified their main offer and benefit with collaborating, managing projects and improving productivity. They’ve also made clear you can use it from anywhere and it would help with remote working. What will make me want to try it? They’ve emphasised that signing up is free and the email address box implies that it’ll also be a straightforward process to sign up from this landing page.

Remember when we discussed convergent and divergent thinking, those processes are part of the journey of getting to a value proposition. Value proposition statements are short and concise, but reaching such a statement can be a lengthy process. It involves discussing as much information about competition and market, and then positioning the offer accordingly. Value proposition statements can help connect with potential customers but internally, it also forms a building block for marketing efforts and for designing strategy and prioritising operations. 

One of our favourite value proposition statements locally is The Station.

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The Station Value Proposition

We don’t need to explain what The Station does because they’ve communicated that in the value proposition “beyond just being a place”, along with the right visuals. They’ve also highlighted the benefits of working there through emphasising the collaborative vibe and networking opportunities it provides in “building societies and inspiring a culture of cooperation”. 


Another one we love is Sandooq.

value proposition
Sandoog Value Proposition

Their promise is that they’ll help deliver your promise by delivering products offered online. We nod. No office telephone numbers that will keep ringing forever. We’ll chat on whatsapp and find out more. 

What would your value proposition be? Tell us in the comments!

Special thanks and shoutout to Dr. Nettra Pan, entrepreneurship researcher and educator, for her help in providing input and ideas for this series!

Khamael Al Safi

Khamael is passionate about understanding the work of startups and the stories of entrepreneurs, particularly those in Iraq. She is also passionate about helping young people build employability skills for the job market and has taught subjects in entrepreneurship, organisational behaviour and psychology to undergrad and postgrad students in London and Dubai. Having worked in consulting for both the private and public sector in the Middle East, she has been involved in training and advisory on corporate governance and accountability, as well as building open, trustworthy data ecosystems.

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