Vitamins Versus Painkillers

During a recent conversation with some folks in the startup world, I heard an entrepreneur call their product a “vitamin” product. Seeing that it was clear to me that this person was not making traditionally edible vitamins, I asked what this person really meant by calling their product a vitamin product. They explained the vitamins versus painkillers metaphor as follows:

A painkiller product solves your important pain immediately. The user experience takes you from having a headache to being perfectly delighted. A vitamin product sets you up for healthy habits over the long term. By using a vitamin product a little bit over many years, you will ensure a healthy lifestyle in all facets of your life, from physical to financial health.

This really struck me as a useful binary heuristic for going about classifying a majority of startups and their corresponding products. Either your product solves an important pain immediately, or the product appeals to the users’ emotions by reinforcing the belief that sustained use will lead to positive outcomes.

I am not able to quickly determine exactly who first coined this metaphor, but Nir Far is commonly referred to one of the authors who has popularized this heuristic. Far writes about vitamins and painkillers in his book Hooked which provides advice on how to build habit-forming products. Check it out:

The Real Reason “Stupid” Startups Raise So Much Money

Nirandfar.com | Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products

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John Marbach

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02 2017