Finding Product-Market Fit

A few tips, tricks, and common mistakes.

2019-03-26

It’s natural to build a product and then look for market-fit, but with ever-increasing consumer standards this spray and pray approach is far from being a good strategy. Let’s talk about a product discovery process based on the assumption that failure is not an option.

Market — Fit — Product

Even the way we talk about it implies the wrong order. If we move the words around, we can turn this goal into an actionable plan.

Step 1: Market

Pick a Market. Who is your product for? Venture-backed companies go for billion-dollar markets, but we believe not every product worth building fits this criteria. You should pick a market based on your goals and priorities for your business considering how well you understand them and whether the market size aligns with your goals.

Step 2: Fit

A. Find a Common Problem. You can pick a problem based on experience, interviews, or observation. You should know your market well or have access to learn from them.

B. Solve it #IRL for 100 people. You should try to find 100 people in your market with your problem and do whatever you can to solve their problem for them. In the case of Uber, this means giving 100 people rides yourself. Your solution should be the most low-tech (and by that, I mean fastest/cheapest) solution possible. In this step you are working towards:

  • Intimate familiarity with the problem.
  • Understanding the weaknesses of the solution.
  • Low-cost iterations on the solution.
  • Building a community for your brand.

C. Automate it to help 1000 people. Now that you have a ton of experience with the problem you can start adding technology to scale yourself. We are not suggesting you start building a product. Instead, focus on finding out of the box solutions for the bottlenecks of your operation. Automated email responses, pre-built e-commerce stores, and explainer videos are just a few examples of tools that can help you deliver your product or service faster.

D. Advertise a Solution to get 10k people onboard. Now that you have a ton of experience solving the problem and have ideally validated the problem by getting 1k customers through word of mouth, you can hit the gas pedal. The next step is to define and describe your technical solution to get 10k real commitments from people who want to pay you to solve their problem for them. These are the people you will send the “We are live!” email once you have a product.

This step is iterative by nature. If you can’t get 10k people excited about the solution, then rinse and repeat.

Note: These numbers could change based on your industry; these are the numbers I would use for a consumer product. If you are building something for a small niche, a smaller sample size could work.

Step 3: Product

Build the Product. Now, you should have no doubt that this is something worth building and you can invest in development with more certainty of the existence of the market you will fit into.


Harsh Truth #1

You DON’T know what your product will be. You need to focus on WHO it’s for and what their PROBLEM is.

Harsh Truth #2

Your first version will be wrong, so it should be the lowest cost and the lowest fidelity of them all.

Harsh Truth #3

If you get attached to a solution, you will build the wrong thing. Don’t get attached. 🙅🙅🙅


Practical Product Tips

In between finding Fit and building Product a practical way to focus your development is making a list of features and divide them into two buckets:

Nothing Special: These are the parts of the app that have currently existing versions. A typical example is a login screen, a payment portal, a calendar, etc. For these parts, you should find an existing implementation that you like and copy it. People will give you feedback on it, but this is the feedback that you should ignore because it won’t make or break your app. You can invest in making these better or more unique once you have product-market fit.

Secret Sauce: These are the features that contain your value add. For these features, you should ideate tons of potential solutions, A/B test, iterate, and take all the feedback you can get. Get. It. Right. Don’t get attached to versions and be very systematic in how you make changes. Listen to a lot of feedback and make sure you find the best solutions here.

Conclusion

The only way to guarantee failure is to build something no one wants. The way to solve this issue is helping people give you honest feedback about the realities of their problem. If you pick a market, solve a problem for them, sell them a solution,then build it; you can be sure that you are building something people want, or better yet, something they need. One of the most harmful things you can do is get attached to a solution without data to back it up. If you are systematic and precise about which feedback to listen to and analytical about how you address it, you will be on the fast track to product-market fit.


Are you interested in learning more? Sign up to get more awesome content explaining the ins and outs of building software products.