While established companies have familiarity and brand as a currency of trust among customers, a startup has to rely heavily on building trust through a strong value proposition that leaves the customer feeling understood and motivated to act. Therefore, value propositions are important for startups to win early sales. Developing a strong value proposition can be challenging. It requires a deep understanding of what a customer wants to accomplish and why it is important. In the beginning, a startup assumes answers to these questions of what and why but they usually need to be tested and refined to find a scalable business model. This post will cover how to develop and test value propositions that win early sales.

What is a value proposition?

Value Propositions are not trickery, they're a chance to cut to the chase and give people what they really want.
Isaac Jeffries

A value proposition is a promise to customers or users about what end outcome they will derive as a result of using the product. Value propositions are not taglines; for example, Nike’s “Just Do it” while catchy, does not specify the value gained by wearing Nike. Nor does it reveal positioning statements, which describe unique benefits as compared to competitors.

Value propositions succinctly summarize what the customer gets as a result of the product creating desired gains and relieving existing pains. The essence of every compelling value proposition is understanding what people want, and making it clear that you get where they’re coming from.

Why are they important?

Value propositions are important for a few reasons they:

Build trust with customers

In absence of familiarity and an established brand, a startup relies on demonstrating empathy with a value proposition that leaves the customer feeling understood. This empathy enables customers to feel confident in making a purchase. Customers make split second decisions to click on an ad, continue a phone call, or bounce from a website. Having a strong value proposition that resonates with the customer is the difference between being noticed and being ignored.

Are the foundation for great design

A strong value proposition is the foundation of great design. Designers create better experiences for users when they understand a customer’s desired outcome, the pains to be relieved, and gains to be created. It enables them to have a clear vision for how a product will function and what features will deliver value. This clarity saves time and money in the design process as a result of fewer design iterations and not building unnecessary features.

Provide clarity across the startup team

A startup team is comprised of diverse backgrounds and specializations. Startups face the risk of teams working in silos or being misaligned on how value is created and delivered to customers. A strong value proposition can keep team members aligned in what value is being created for the customer and how. This ensures consistency across landing pages, digital marketing, sales conversations, and design.

Qualities of a strong value proposition

There are four qualities to a strong value proposition: simple, empathetic, unique, and valued.


Keep value propositions to 10-14 words about the end outcome for a customer or user. They should not be overloaded with multiple features or benefits that dilute the message. Much like the classical novelist Miguel de Cervantes said about proverbs, value propositions are “short sentences drawn from long experience.” Having a deep understanding of the customer or early adopter will help greatly in being concise. For example, Google Drive’s value proposition, Easy and secure access to all of your content, is concise, addresses the main problem: access to content, and the main objection: security.

Figure 1- Google Drive Value Proposition on Landing Page

Creating a strong value proposition requires a clear picture of your target customers, the outcome they are looking for and what is getting in the way of achieving the outcome. The value proposition then takes all this and communicates with customers in a way that speaks their language. The value proposition for Clue, an app that helps women to track their menstrual cycle, is Never be surprised by your period again. Although we don’t typically look at typeface in a value proposition, its use here conveys the frustration of being caught out at the start of a period.

Figure 2 – Clue Value Proposition on YouTube Ad

To create value for customers, there needs to be something unique in what problems you are solving or gains you are creating. What is it about the existing alternatives that is lacking? Use competitors or customers makeshift solutions as the basis for uniqueness. Navigation app Waze’s value proposition, Get the best route in real time with help from fellow drivers, highlights its uniqueness in how it crowd-sources valuable information in real time to create better routes.

Figure 3 – Waze Value Proposition on Landing Page

If we are saving time or money, what will customers do with those resources as a result? If we are meeting an emotional need what does that help them do or become? If customers are going to pay with their money or time as users, then they need to get something out of it that is important to them. Goodbudget’s value proposition, Budget with a why – Spend, save, and give toward what’s important in life, implicitly speaks value. It works because most people have strong opinions about what’s important in life and will experience emotions and imagery in response to the value proposition.

Figure 4 – Goodbudget Value Proposition on Landing Page

Here are some additional examples of great value propositions. Take a look at how they incorporate the four qualities.

Pitfalls in creating value propositions

Creating a value proposition can be tricky work. Watch out for these pitfalls:

Don't summarize the product

Value propositions are not a one sentence summary of the product. Don’t describe the technology or functionality in the value proposition.

As an example, a wearable and app that measures fatigue among a company’s workforce, should not use a value proposition such as a wearable that provides real-time data that indicates who is a risk for fatigue. It is best to emphasize delivering outcomes to customers and users, a much stronger value proposition would be Know where your fatigue risks are before work starts.

Don't use comparative statements about being better

There is a tendency to use comparative words in value propositions such as faster, more effective, or more efficient. The use of these words results in value propositions that are vague and not unique. They do not communicate value well and don’t define whether something is incrementally or exponentially better.

Using a dating app as an example, comparative words might result in a value proposition like a faster way to find a date or a more effective way of finding a partner. Now let’s compare that to outcome focused value propositions such as Meet the love of your life or Find your match for a wild night of sex. There is no comparison as to the clarity in what value is being promised.

Don't make exaggerated claims

Exaggerated claims (e.g. Best cup of coffee in the world) are problematic for a number of reasons. One, consumers are less likely to believe exaggerated claims so it immediately creates distrust, which is already scarce with startups. They are also an old form of marketing when messages were delivered to the masses. Marketing in startups is focused on niches. In this world hyperbolic claims are generic and don’t make you stand out from the competition. If your competitors can make the same claim, you don’t have a strong value proposition.

How to test a value proposition

Developing value propositions can be challenging in the early stages of a startup, it is often an iterative process that requires testing with customers. Testing business ideas generally fall into one of two styles: (1) discovery experiments that help to generate new customer insights, and (2) validating experiments that test the validity of insights by achieving measurable results from customers.

Discovery experiments are qualitative in nature. Examples include customer interviews with open ended questions or going out to where your customer is experiencing the pain points and making observations on behaviour. There is a lot of content on designing customer interviews and a good resource to start with is the book Talking to Humans by Giff Constable.

Validating experiments are quantitative in nature and use clear calls to action to test behaviour. The goal with these experiments is for the customer to take a specific action in the process of converting from an unaware prospect into a paying customer. Examples include A/B testing with ads, landing pages, buy now buttons, and pre-sales.

In using the lean startup methodology, we validate the product before we build it. To do this we run an offer with our early adopters. An offer is essentially a stand-in for the solution that validates sufficient customer pull for that solution. The offer combines the value proposition, price, and demo of the solution to achieve early sales. It is the real test of all the discovery and validating experiments done to that point.

As an offer is a promise of value, the customer needs to trust that the startup will deliver the value and be motivated to act on the solution. The value proposition is a big part of creating that trust and motivation. In order for the startup to grow, it needs to make good on that promise.