A Solution Looking for a Problem: The Wrong Way to Build a MVP

Creating a Minimum Viable Product is all about validation…


At ThriveStreams, this is one of the main challenges that we dealt with. After our first product failed to ship because of feature-itis, we decided to work on a product that we could ship fast. We decided on a customer segment to service because of our own personal experience with overcoming mental health challenges.

Mistake 1: Build a solution looking for a problem

In the beginning, we began designing a better mental health tracker and called it ThriveSync. We went straight into development with what we thought was an MVP because it only had two features. We overestimated our ability to ship the product in one two week sprint. It actually ended up taking 3 months working part time.

We released the product with great media coverage (including TechCrunch and CNET). Feedback led us to believe that there was an opportunity to provide value to mental health providers and their patients.

Mistake 2: Continue to build without validation of the customer problem

We then began to develop a dashboard for mental health providers to access their patients’ mood data. Our unique value proposition was that we would help providers to decrease the number of hospital readmissions with a remote patient monitoring platform.

We did not test our assumption that this was even a problem for mental health providers and that it was painful enough for them to pay for the solution.

Mistake 3: Going straight to our code editors to test our assumptions

We consistently made the mistake of going straight to code after we designed what we thought was a solution to a problem we had not validated. We should have known better when it took us three months to rebuild our platform to be HIPAA compliant.

ThriveSync = 3 Months of Development

This was a very expensive effort that we thought was the correct approach and we had already committed to building this solution to be tested for a research study funded by the National Institutes of Health.


Code is expensive resource-wise in terms of time and money.

It wasn’t until our acceptance into the Blueprint Health accelerator program that we finally learned how to build a true MVP. We tightened our Build > Meaure > Learn cycle to fit into a 2-week sprint. We brainstormed a collection of customer segments, picked one to test, made an assumption about their problems, and then went out to test our assumptions.

We would go into customer meetings with a sales deck that included a screenshot of our proposed solution. We only showed them this slide at the end of the presentation after we had the opportunity to discover their true challenges in a conversational manner.

ThriveStream (Passive Tracker): Lines of Code = 0

Every sprint ended in an evaluation of the data we collected and a decision to pivot or persevere.

In the end, after 3 experiments we were able to identify a problem for employers. Employees facing mental health challenges increased the cost of providing health care and productivity would decrease due to both absenteeism and presenteeism.

Thrive.ai (AI Digital Mental Health Companion): Lines of Code = 0

Unfortunately, by the time we found a problem we did not have enough financial runway to go to our code editors and develop the Minimal Viable Product with code.

We share this lesson as our real-world experience of how we learned to make a true Minumum Viable Product to validate our assumptions.

A Tale of Two Pitches: How to Create an Elevator Pitch

An elevator pitch is the entrepreneur’s chance to spark interest in their company.  It is meant as an intro and a successful one is clear, concise, and catalyzes a more in-depth discussion.

Here we present two versions of the ThriveStreams Elevator Pitch.

The first one we used for Launch Day at Blueprint Health.  This event was meant as an opportunity for the accelerator’s cohort to formally introduce themselves to the healthcare community.

Blueprint Health Version

Hi my name is Adrian Cunanan and our company is ThriveStreams.

Previously I worked in IT consulting and my cofounder Ryan is an experienced mobile developer. We’ve both experienced mental health challenges, bringing first hand patient experience to our work.

Our software uses narrow artificial intelligence to identify and support individuals that can benefit from mental health care. We deliver evidence-based surveys, wellness reports, and coaching via a conversational mental health bot.

This can be very valuable to employers, allowing them to increase productivity and reduce medical costs due to mental health conditions.

Currently, we have one paid customer and our solution is being used for a research study funded by the NIH with 3 mental health organizations. We look forward to meeting you and sharing more about our progress at ThriveStreams.

The second version is one we crafted using directions available from Y Combinator.  We used it for every other opportunity to pitch the company.  The first 30 seconds can buy you the opportunity to complete 2 minute version.

Click Here for instructions on how to craft your own YC Elevator Pitch 

Y Combinator Version

30 Second Pitch:

ThriveStreams helps employers to reduce the cost of mental health in the workplace with technology for early identification and intervention of employees facing mental health challenges.

The current paper-based employee assistance program market is valued at $5 billion dollars.

We signed our first customer, QBIS Group, and our solution is being used for a research study funded by the National Institutes of Health.

2 Minute Pitch:

(Insert 30 Second Pitch)

Traditionally in mental health, individuals are screened and connected to the most expensive resource in the form of a human provider.

Our scalable solution uses low-level artificial intelligence to deliver evidence-based screening and therapy programs before escalation to a human.

We charge employers $30 per employee per year, which is in-line with the cost of current paper-based employee assistance programs.

Our founding team is made up of a two technologists with unique first-hand patient experience of overcoming mental health challenges.

We are currently raising $500,000, which will help us sign 25 customers and reach a $750,000 annual run rate by the end of 2017.

We hope that these pitches can help you to form your own “Accelerator Quality” Elevator Pitch.

Good luck and feel free to comment on which pitch you like better in the comments.

Demo Day

What we did well:

  1. People only remember the beginning and ending of presentations.  We capitalized on this hint with a memorable start and finish to our pitch.
  2. Our intro was a great warm up for the crowd… Meredith Ressi rocks!
  3. Slide Driver was able to keep slides aligned with messaging adjustments.

Where we could improve:

  1. We practiced so much… Even with mock responses from the crowd.  So when the crowd response differed from our practices, I was jarred and missed a complete section of my presentation.  I forgot to tell the crowd what we were asking for in terms of investment.
  2. We didn’t get signed checks after our Demo Day pitch.  But we got business cards.  Demo Day is about introductions and updates not about closing deals on the spot.
  3. We spent so much time preparing for the Demo Day presentation when we could have been more focused on building the business by selling customers.

What we’re going to do about it:

  1. Focus on getting to “ramen profitability” as soon as possible so that we don’t NEED to raise money for survival but rather for growth.

ThriveStreams Post-Mortem

ThriveStreams set out to build a technology platform that would improve mental wellness and healthcare.

We approached the improvement of mental wellness and healthcare in the following ways:

  • Active Mental Health Tracking: Encouraged people to take a more active role in managing their mental well-being by logging key mental health data based on the NIHM Life Chart Method.
  • Passive Mental Health Tracking: We developed technologies that would enable users to collect key mental health indicators passively from their smartphone.  The data collected would be run through algorithms we discovered from existing research conducted at Cornell, Dartmouth, Northwestern, and Oxford Universities in order to generate a mental wellness score.
  • Digital Mental Health Companion: We began to develop an interface powered by Artificial Intelligence APIs via IBM Watson.  This technology could engage the user conversationally to collect mental health data and deliver mental health coaching content.

We launched our iOS app in October 2014 and officially closed shop in August 2016.

What went right

  1. We placed huge value on user-centered design, and it paid of.  When we started working on our first iteration of the mental health tracker (formerly known as ThriveTracker), we didn’t know how we could reach a stigmatized community.  Our focus on our community of Thrivers (aka Users) allowed us to iterate on a solution that was based entirely on user feedback.  The product experience improved as a result.
  2. We injected our mission into the mental health community. ThriveSync (fka ThriveTracker) started out as passion project of two individuals that had first hand patient experience with mental health challenges.  We didn’t have any connections in the mental health community.  It was our personal story and mission that enabled us to get referral after referral from key thought leaders.  We even got involved on a research study funded by the National Institutes of Health.
  3. We got incredibly amazing people to believe in the idea [READ: SOMEONE NEEDS TO DO AND NAIL THIS MISSION]. We had some of the brightest investors and advisors out there who got the big vision for the company and believed in its potential impact.  And I can’t emphasize enough how amazing it was to watch people in  our community transform their mental health management.  Every day I felt inspired.

What went wrong

  1. We built a solution looking for a customer with a problem. What started out as a side passion project was a solution to an unvalidated problem.  Without knowing the customers’ painpoint, how could we build the “must-have” painkiller?  We ended up building a “nice-to-have” vitamin.  This made it challenging to formulate a unique value proposition for any potential customers.
  2. Our Build > Measure > Learn Cycle Time Period was too long. Lean Startup is based on hypothesis generation and collecting data to learn how to move forward.  In the beginning and middle, we did not focus on keeping this cycle of learning to fit in a 2 week sprint.  It took us 2 years to fail at a previous product, 1 year to build a HIPAA complaint platform we didn’t know if anyone would pay for, 1 month to figure out that Medicaid Health Homes were not a viable customer, and finally got started to focus on a 2 week learning loop.  Unfortunately, we were too close to the end of our runway by the time we got our learning loop tight.
  3. We focused too much on fundraising instead of revenue generation to keep the lights on. In the beginning, we were focused on getting our first customer so that we could show traction and secure funding to continue working on our venture.  What we could have been focused on was creating revenue to get to “ramen profitability” as soon as possible.  If we could have done that then we might not need funding and could have focused on product-market fit.  Having to pay for rent and food is not as good a reason to fundraise… Needing more funds to pump into a vetted sales cycle that generates revenue is the best reason.

Important Takeaways

Pick a Customer > Identify their Problem > Unique Value Proposition > Sell, Sell, Sell > Build to Learn > Ramen Profitability

Big thanks to Ryan Bruce Badilla, Carlos Araya, Jessica Kosturko, Katie Colton, Elaine Matthias, Joey Chung, Startup Leadership Program, Brad Weinberg & Jean-Luc Neptune (Blueprint Health), Bill Tan (Transcendent Endeavors), Michael Thompson, Wendy Brennan (NAMI NYC), Thor Ernstsson, Meredith Ressi, Kevin Nadal, Omer Yariv, our friends and families for supporting us on this venture called ThriveStreams.

Start With Why?

We failed…

  1. I started a company in 2012.
  2. The company set out to revolutionize behavioral healthcare.
  3. Closed the company in 2016.

This is my attempt to document and pass on my learnings along the way.

My experience spans a range including Entrepreneurship/Product Management, Design, and Development.

This is my story about learning about the Startup Life.