Thoughts on Finding Product-Market Fit, Part 1

Truth is, most of us have no shortage of ideas. But many of us fail to act on our ideas. Some folks decide that they have such genius ideas and buy into the belief: “if I build it, they will come.” I call those people meshugenahs. Fact is, many ideas fail because people waste time and money developing and marketing a product that no one wants.

The real challenge is not one great idea to rule them all, it is to uncover a viable business within an idea. That viable business element is what’s called the product-market fit (P/M Fit).

A startup hits P/M Fit when they’ve developed a product for a target audience that is both passionate about the product, and a large enough group to make the product sustainable. For any given idea, there are many possible features or ways to execute. But what matters most though is finding the pain points or problems and audience has, and then isolating in on the one they’d pay you to help solve.

As I research into how startups reach product-market fit, I’ve captured some of the most essential elements of what I’ve been reading.

Listen to What Your Customers Say, But Don’t Take Them Literally

Without any grounded in ux research, entrepreneurs often listen to customers literally, failing to understand the actual reasons behind their statements and their real wishes. Or they embrace the culture of “customers don’t actually know what they want.”

One suggestion of a simple way to measure customer sentiment with an existing product is by asking early adopters “How would you feel if you could no longer use [product]?

An even better approach would be to dive into more thoughtful deep user research. Because truth is, this whole new notion of “customer development” is nothing new — it is what UX and user research practitioners have been doing for decades.

Don’t Be Afraid to Throw Away Ideas

Any startup founder should be willing to reach P/M Fit with an idea, not necessarily the idea they started with.

This ties in with the lean startup notion of validated learning as the true measure of progress. A lot of the formalities can be forgotten in the early days of a startup. No need to incorporate, no need for an office. Just try to learn about your customers and figure out if your assumptions about your idea and market are correct. If not, make changes. Until you get to P/M Fit, none of this really matters, it’s all noise.