Brian Bennett applied to Y Combinator on a lark. As the founder of Transcend Lighting, a startup engaged in the important but unglamorous task of creating energy efficient lighting for indoor farming, he figured there was no way the incubator behind Dropbox and Airbnb would pick him.

Luckily he was wrong.

During his tenure in Y Combinator's intensive three-month Boot Camp, Bennett certainly benefited from the opportunity to work with a team of highly successful entrepreneurs and mentors to refine his product and business model. The startup had created an innovative way to generate large quantities of the light frequencies various plants need to grow inside. However, their offering was based on hardcore optical engineering, which made it difficult for investors to understand.

It was a challenge for which Y Combination suggested a truly elegant solution.

Focus on pot.

It turns out that Bennett's lights are perfect for growing marijuana. The recent trend toward widespread legalization of the plant and the built-in multibillion dollar market were both easy to explain and highly attractive to investors. By taking the incubator's advice, Bennett was not only able to raise the money he needed but to become profitable almost instantly.

Regardless of the inherent qualities of what you're selling, it is often the case that your potential buyers will not be able to see its benefits as clearly as you do. The more complex your product or service is, the more difficult it will be to persuade people to pay attention to it.

Often the best solution is focus on emotion rather than logic. One way to do this is to attach yourself to a controversial issue people feel strongly about. By aligning his company with legal marijuana, Bennett was able to interest investors and customers far more effectively than if he had focused solely on the properties of his lights.

Your product most likely has nothing to do with formerly illicit substances, but there is undoubtedly some controversial issue or nonintuitive industry with which it aligns. Pinpoint this, use it as a starting point for how you talk about your company, and go from there. For startups, this approach can make the difference between whether you catch fire or go up in smoke.

Published on: Mar 2, 2016