Most startups fail because they build a product no one wants. That sounds crazy right? It’s because entrepreneurs can often get so excited and focused on their idea, that they become disconnected with who their customers are and what their most urgent problem is – what I like to call the “hair-on-fire problem.” Without being grounded in that problem to solve, products or services don’t hit the mark with customers and sales don’t happen.
Product Market Fit (PMF) is “being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market” according to Marc Andreessen who coined the term. I developed a method to help uncover the key building blocks to PMF.
To briefly recap from my last blog that introduces this method, The Uprise PMF method asks that you focus on understanding 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.
The Uprise PMF Methods breaks down a 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 perspectives build off each other and evolve throughout the startup’s lifespan.
I covered the customer discovery half of PMF (The Journalist and The Analyst) in a previous post. This post assumes that you’ve refined your problem down to a single succinct sentence like “Over 300,000 cyclists are killed each year by motorists.” It also assumes you’ve identified a key customer segment eager for your unique solution.
Here I will cover the product innovation half of PMF (The Inventor and The Scientist).
The Inventor is focused on finding your product’s “value lever.” This is when the innovation happens and you land on a list of features. Ultimately, you are determining what your product must have in order for it to provide the greatest value. Think about what will excite customers and motivate them to purchase.
Keep in mind that your product’s “value lever” could be something that accommodates customers’ emotional needs better than the alternatives. Take Zappos, for example. Zappos is an online retailer that took a lot of people by surprise. They started by only selling shoes and made excellent customer service a top priority. Zappos was clear on why they existed. Their website identifies Zappos as “a service company that just happens to sell.”
Note: Don't assume that a completely new type of product will be an easy sell, nor that a congested market means no opportunity. What was true yesterday may not be true today. You’re blazing new trails whether or not your business operates in a new field. Take the necessary time to create your own roadmap that realizes your unique value.
You’ve done all the research, all the brainstorming, all the innovative thinking. Now, the final step is to test your product in-market.
The Scientist is the pragmatic realist poking holes in everything the Journalist, Analyst, and Inventor did. In a nutshell, this is when you confirm (or disprove) your previous hypotheses. After you discover what works and what doesn’t, you then build more of the product. And then the cycle begins all over again. The Journalist asks customers for feedback, The Analyst keeps an eye on the fluctuating landscape, The Inventor develops new ideas for features to better compete with other similar products, and The Scientist is back to test what is feasible.
The first time around your product (your prototype/MVP) is not going to be your best iteration. I understand the hesitancy with showing real customers a “Frankenstein” version of your future product, but early feedback is always helpful. Customers will point out the main flaws your team needs to correct. And those flaws might be different from what you originally suspected. Another option, however, would be to do a private beta launch and offer something in return for feedback.
Lastly, you need to keep track of every test. Start a backlog of ideas on day one and track which assumptions proved true and which proved false. This prevents you from making the same mistakes over and over again. It also ensures that you remain connected to your customer and their needs.
Here’s a watch-out – as the business grows, there’s a tendency to become distant from the customer. Other aspects will take up your time (managing a team, delegating tasks, creating marketing content) but customer interaction and continual customer discovery should always be at the forefront. Knowing your customer is the key to continuously unlocking the next innovation.
Product Market Fit requires ensuring a match between the customer problem and your solution. As an Inventor you are developing novel ways of meeting their needs and discovering ways to provide the most value. As a Scientist, you are testing how the product sells, how it functions in the customer’s hands, and how your business should best interact with customers.
Know that your product will not pass every test. You will likely fail over and over again. But every failed test presents you with more knowledge and better understanding of what you’re trying to achieve. Don’t let the possibility of failure prevent you from trying something new. Definitely learn from the past, but don't let it bind you.
Afterall, that’s why we’re entrepreneurs.
If you want help figuring our product market fit, please reach out to us. We’re happy to chat!