For any entrepreneur excited about their idea, it’s easy to succumb to startup tunnel vision and assume that as long as you follow your inspiration and emulate certain companies your product can’t fail. But a “perfect product” is a myth and that mindset doesn’t set you up for success. Entrepreneurs who solely focus on features or building their MVP tend to quickly lose sight of the bigger picture. The perfect underwater goggles, for example, could never really take off in the desert. If you’ve found yourself trying to sell goggles to desert nomads either you’ve misunderstood your customer’s needs, or you’ve misunderstood your product. This is an extreme example, but it does happen. In either case, figuring out there’s a misfit after you’ve already invested time and money on a prototype is a big setback.
You may have developed an incredible new software product – something that no one else has been able to accomplish – and you may be excited about the accomplishment. But if that technology doesn't solve somebody’s problem, it's just not going to take off.
Uprise Product Market Fit (PMF) Method
The Uprise Product Market Fit (PMF) Method asks that you focus on your customer and understanding your solution before development begins. Alignment between your customers’ needs and your solution foreshadow a successful reception in the future. Having this confirmation early prevents you from building something that nobody wants. And keep in mind, building something nobody wants is actually the number one reason startups fail!
The Uprise PMF Methods breaks down the complex undertaking of understanding your customers’ most urgent problem, how your solution fits within the landscape, and how you can start testing what will work best.
There are four mindsets you’ll need to uncover your path to product market fit:
- The Journalist
- The Analyst
- The Inventor
- The Scientist
The Journalist and Analyst focus on understanding the customer and their problem. The Inventor and Scientist focus on developing the product best suited to solving the problem and providing value to the customer. These four mindsets build off each other and evolve throughout a startup’s lifespan. Keep in mind, everyone has a particular mindset they are most comfortable with or energized by. Personally, I’m most often The Inventor and least comfortable in the role of Analyst. I like doing best! But a startup needs all four to cultivate PMF.
This blog covers the customer discovery half of PMF (The Journalist and The Analyst). In our next blog post, I will cover the product innovation half of PMF (The Inventor and The Scientist).
Being in the mindset of the Journalist helps to define the “hair-on-fire” problem your product or service will solve. Getting that right and precise is critical for a successful company. Why the Journalist? Journalists uncover. They know how to listen really well, ask probing questions, and read between the lines. In this mindset, your task is to define (and refine) your target customer segment and their problem. You’re reaching out to prospects, talking to other people in the industry, and learning as much as you can about the story.
When you think you’ve finished your fact-finding quest, it’s time to write the story. Write about where you first encountered the problem, other people (or businesses) you’ve encountered who share that problem, your understanding of the “hair-on-fire” problem, and how you arrived at the idea for your solution. This story will likely evolve and change over the course of multiple conversations with potential customers and multiple product iterations, but having a solid starting point helps to distill what you’re setting out to accomplish.
Note: Don’t assume you know your customer. Use your Journalist mindset to gather as much information as possible. Challenge your assumptions. Talk with people who may not fall you’re your target customer profile. Keep following the breadcrumb trail until you’ve identified a customer segment. That first segment is likely a small niche of people who are really suffering from the same problem. They're the ones most eager for a solution. Additionally, if your solution proves effective, they’re also the ones most likely to act as evangelists and help get other people (who may not be suffering as much) excited about your product.
You’ve defined your customer and problem. You’ve collected all the facts. You’ve published your story. Now’s the time to interpret that information in relation to other options your customers may have to solve their hair-on-fire problem.
The Analyst looks at where numbers land within the current competitive landscape. Think about what competitors are doing, what are the existing solutions, and where your business is best situated. Identify your direct competitors, indirect competitors, and begin to map out the characteristics of your specific customer. In other words, you need to know what differentiates your business. Be able to explain what it is about your business or product that attracts certain customers. And understand why those customers are not choosing the competing solutions (or why they are).
There’s a concept known as Blue Ocean Strategy where the goal is to launch your new business in uncharted waters where, in theory, there is no competition. Basically, it’s about doing something totally new and creating your own landscape. In the blue ocean, your customers don’t exist yet. They don’t yet know or acknowledge that they are facing a problem. The tendency with Blue Ocean is to ignore the differentiation question, assuming that because their product is new, there is no need for “differentiation” because customers will come running. If this sounds familiar please remember that 1) you will need to confirm that your startup really is operating in uncharted territory and 2) you will need to prove that the solution you're proposing is better than doing nothing for your customer. “Business as usual” can be a tough competitor! Both require in-depth analysis of your business’s positioning.
Note: Don’t commit to MVP features just yet. Invest in your analysis and focus on learning from past successes and failures of similar solutions, and what competitors are offering.
Don’t worry about building a prototype or MVP until you know exactly why and for whom you are building it.
As a Journalist, work to identify the critical “my-hair-is-on-fire-I-need-a-solution-NOW” type of problem. As an Analyst, work to avoid “analysis paralysis.” The marketplace is constantly changing and if you wait too long before acting on your information, that information may not be relevant by the time you do. Imperfect action is always better than perfect inaction.
And remember, as an entrepreneur, nothing is certain until you test it.
Check out the rest of the method in the following blog: Know Your Solution.
If you want help figuring our product market fit, please reach out to us. We’re happy to chat!