Is your small business a vitamin or a painkiller?


Don Dodge is famously known in the startup community for asking startups during the investment evaluation process, Is your startup a vitamin or a painkiller? It’s the one question that determines whether your product is a “nice to have” or a “need to have” solution. For many in the startup and venture capital community, painkillers are exciting.

Some, even most, can be both.

Many products start off as a nice to have but can become a need to have based on trigger events. Dodge provides a great example; online backup software. Online backup software is nice to have — until a catastrophic hardware failure… when your laptop dies. Then, you can bet that pain associated with a dead laptop immediately turns online backup from a vitamin to a painkiller.

Moving from vitamin to painkiller.

When we started to build AboutOurWork, our first iteration of the platform fit squarely into the nice to have category. Unfortunately. There was no possible way we could make the argument that AboutOurWork could ever be both a vitamin and a painkiller and that the key to our success was to pivot to a need to have.

That’s when we thought to ourselves, how can we pivot our product to a need to have and during internal conversations, realized that what small businesses needed most was leads. B2B leads. Not a better-than-Salesforce CRM solution, or a project management tool to replace Basecamp. Small businesses need business-to-business connections. Luckily for us, we were already collecting the critical information to start connecting our small business members with one another for leads.

That’s when we discovered “oxygen” for our users.

Humans can go weeks without food or water but take our colorless, odorless, tasteless oxygen away and we’re dead within minutes. Just like humans, plant cells also need oxygen to survive. Practically every living organism needs oxygen.

Connections are the oxygen to small business. Clients, vendors, partners, etc. are all mission critical to the health of any small business. There isn’t a single business on this planet that can work in a bubble and survive without them. Without them, they’re dead.

Creating more oxygen for our users.

When you look at how small businesses still network and connect with one another (for survival) it’s still, even with the advent of social media, very much an offline process with many still attending networking events for leads. It’s an antiquated, time consuming process that for many small businesses, especially those that can work globally via the Internet, offers little value.

AboutOurWork is using data in order help our small business members discover one another and connect with each other in order grow their top lines (rather than manage their bottom line) and giving them the oxygen they need to live and grow.

Creating more oxygen for your users.

Are you working on a startup? If so, are you creating oxygen for your users?

About the author

David Hunegnaw is an Entrepreneur, Mentor, Dreamer, and currently the Co-Founder & CEO of AboutOurWork. To learn more, please visit


(originally posted at

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