Common Value Proposition Mistakes

An Underdog Accelerator Guide for Founders

Having reviewed hundreds of startup value propositions over the years, we've identified common mistakes that hinder founders from effectively communicating their unique value.

Crafting an effective value proposition is crucial yet challenging for startup founders.
With so much riding on those few short sentences, it's easy to fall into common traps.

In this article, we'll highlight some of the most frequent value proposition mistakes founders make during the early stages.

Common Mistakes

Specificity is key. At the early stage of a startup’s journey, you do not want to throw everything but the kitchen sink at your audience.

Niching down is critical:

  • You will want to target a very specific segment of what may become a wider addressable audience.

  • You must help them achieve one thing and one thing only, typically the most important problem or deeply desired outcome that you identify in your customer discovery. 

  • Your solution should be easily understandable by your audience and elegant (on the surface) in its delivery.

  • Your experience/ track record must be aligned directly to your specific audience and the outcome they seek.
For this reason, we force you to use the one-sentence format and encourage you to trim your value proposition to 35 words or fewer.

Going Overboard:

  • Having too wide a target audience. You need to be specific in the first instance. Your value proposition should speak directly to your target audience and there should be no doubt in their minds that ‘this is for me!’

  • Having too broad or too many desired outcomes that you are trying to address. Less really is more. If you can help your audience with one specific problem they face, or one very particular desired outcome they wish to achieve, then they will have trust that you can help them with more later.

  • Having too complex a solution. Behind the scenes, it may be complex. But on the service it needs to be easily understood by your audience.

Thinking this is Forever:

Your value proposition will evolve and improve over time. As an example, we are not suggesting that you remain a niche player into perpetuity. 

As you progress, you will expand your target audience, and you will find other ways to help them achieve a broader range of desired outcomes.The danger of going too broad initially is that you end up serving no one.

Your goal is to be able to easily target and convert prospects. Now is the time to be a spear fisherman. Over time, you will evolve to become a fishing trawler.

Missing the Boat on Experience/Track Record:

There are two main ways of approaching this, and in the ultimate version, you combine both.
  1. Show your audience that you are scratching your own itch. You are one of them! You just happen to have developed a solution that you know will work for them (because it worked for you), and therefore you are just a few steps ahead. Invite them to join you on a journey of self-improvement.
  2. Demonstrate to your audience that you are a subject matter expert in this field. You have a tonne of credibility and ideally you have helped people just like them achieve their desired outcome in the past.
Ideally, your experience/track record maps over directly to the specific audience and the specific target outcome they desire.
If you do not yet have a track record, now is the time to start building it. You can also borrow the track record of others in your field by inviting them to collaborate with you.


Your value proposition can act as a sales tool. However, it is important to keep it factual. You will want to remove any superlatives and stick to reality. We do not need to hear about how you are ‘the best’, ‘the fastest’, ‘the cheapest’, etc.
We, as customers, will decide that for ourselves.

Focusing on you, not the Customer:

It can be easy to build what you desire, as opposed to listening to market signals. This is particularly true if you are ‘scratching your own itch’.Avoid this. Instead, undertake deep customer discovery and identify what precisely your target audience wants to achieve. Prioritise based on what the market is telling you, not your gut feel.
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