"Let me tell you a secret..."

Jason Yeh
August 22, 2023

How to test if you have a unique insight

If you’ve learned about the importance of having a unique insight in order to attract venture capital, you might be asking yourself if you actually have one yourself. Figuring that out is as simple as deciding if it feels like a secret.

I previously wrote an essay about seeking Alpha in startups and hosted Ryan Hoover, founder of ProductHunt to gain insight into why it’s so important for raising capital. But I still run into founders who grapple with the idea of what a unique insight really is and whether they have one.

The value of unique Insight in startups

Quick recap: With unprecedented access to technology and the growing ease of building, I believe that almost any idea you can dream of has already been thought of by some smart people. If you've thought of something, chances are that someone in the world is in the process of building around it. That's the baseline. Where you have huge opportunities to create value is when you have something truly differentiated and special about the way you think about a problem space. It must be truly unique from what’s already on the market.

However, pinpointing this often-ambiguous unique insight remains challenging for many founders.

The "Secret" test

To help founders arrive at their unique insight, I’ve developed a straightforward exercise. Imagine you only have one shot to share what you’re working on with a potential investor. What are the core differentiators that make your business/approach unique and separate you from all the competition?

What would you be comfortable prefacing with, “Let me tell you a secret. This is what sets us apart”?

If you're able to preface the description of your unique insight with "Let me tell you a secret..." and not feel silly or self-conscious about it, you're on the right track. However, if your “unique insight” seems too commonplace to warrant such a dramatic introduction, you need to dig deeper.

The "Secret" test in Action

Let’s go through some examples of “Let me tell you a secret…” in action.

  • Let’s say you’re building a niche competitor to Twitter (sorry, X 😂). If your unique insight is " Let me tell you a secret. We want to build an app that lets you post short-form content limited to 280 characters…and we’re going to do it better than anyone," that would sound silly since there’s nothing unique and even companies with limitless resources have tried doing this and failed.

    What if you can say instead, "Let me tell you a secret. I worked at Twitter for five years in the creator relationship space. And what I discovered is that 90% of views come from 10% of the creators. The problems these creators have are very specific. Here are the ones that no one in the world is addressing and where existing solutions fall short. That’s what we're going to address in order to create the next massive short-form publishing platform."

  • Now you’re sharing your rare personal experience, industry expertise, and a novel perspective. That’s what makes a viable unique insight.
  • Some founders will think “Well look, we’re doing something that people have already done. We just know that we can do it better.”

    You can have a unique insight without a groundbreaking invention — it can also be a novel approach to a business that’s been done a hundred times.

    Consider True Classic, a company that’s grossed over $250M in just a few years by selling better T-shirts. Their unique insight wasn’t "Let me tell you a secret. We're going to sell better T-shirts.”

    It was probably something more along the lines of “Let me tell you a secret. We have the best online retail e-commerce operators in the business. To be great at e-commerce, you have to know how to maximize your CAC to LTV. You need to be great at supply chain and fulfillment. We've done that for ten years. We are the best at this. No team of this quality has gone after a space like this.”

    Another variation of this might focus on the founder’s experience building and running successful online brands in a way that would allow them to capture a huge share of the market.

    These are all unique differentiations for a company that on the surface is not unique at all. Running the “Let me tell you a secret” test helps you uncover what will really help your business win.

What if there are no “secrets” to share?

What happens if you can't find anything within your company that you feel comfortable about prefacing with, "Let me tell you a secret..."?

This could be a wakeup call and I think you have some work to do.

Perhaps you need to reassess whether you're building the company you should be, or whether your skills and strategy need an upgrade to capture a big share of the market and/or attract investor dollars. Running this test for yourself can not only help refine the way you pitch your company, but also help you solidify the “why” behind everything you’re building.

Final Thoughts

Challenge yourself to run through the "Let Me Tell You a Secret" exercise and find at least one secret within your business that truly sets you apart. Use this insight as a springboard to refine your unique value proposition. This is absolutely essential in your ability to differentiate from competitors, attract investors, and tell a compelling story.

Looking forward to hearing what you come up with!

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