By
Tim Bichara

Getting to product/market fit (and what to do when you don’t)

We’ve talked a lot about MVPs on this blog as it’s often what our clients focus on when they’re first thinking about building products. But we don’t build MVPs for fun. Getting to product/market fit is the primary goal of any company with an early stage product. In this blog post we’re going to take a look exactly what product/market fit is and what your best chance of getting there is, after you’ve launched your MVP.

Success in product/market fit

What is Product/Market fit?

In software development terms product/Market fit is when you’re making something that people really want. There’s a gap in the market for your product, and your product successfully fills that gap.

As Marc Andreessen says:

…customers are buying the product just as fast as you can make it – or usage is growing just as fast as you can add servers

There’s a myth that product/market fit always happens instantly, like some kind of big bang. This might happen occasionally, but in the majority of cases it’s not like that. Slowly but surely you reach a point where growth and engagement starts to accelerate and users are coming in faster than they are leaving.

Getting to product/market fit before the cash runs out is the primary focus of any early stage product business.

But it’s not easy…in fact, making something that people actually want is the single biggest challenge in software development.

What do you do with your MVP doesn’t work?

Panic

Panicing is not a option.

In my whole career, I have NEVER seen a product behave as we expected it to once it hit the market. In the vast majority of cases the initial traction was disappointing and sometimes downright depressing.

During the MVP build phase you might have been imagining how your product will be embraced by users like a long lost relative, and thinking about what you’ll say to Techcrunch when they run their profile piece on you.

But if, when your product hits the market you find yourself staring at your stats and wanting to cry, remember that we’ll all been through it.

And it’s your attitude right now that can make the difference between long term success and failure.

Figuring out why you’re not reaching product/market fit

There can only be 3 reasons why you’re struggling to reach product/market fit. Let’s examine them in turn.

Reason 1: There is no market for your idea (people just don’t want it)
It happens – sometimes assumptions are just plain wrong. Although your initial market research was positive, in the long run people just didn’t want an Uber for bouncy castles. Or at least they didn’t want to pay for it.

Reason 2: There is a market for your idea but your product doesn’t meet the needs of the market
One of the biggest mistakes that product businesses make is mistaking product/solution fit for product/market fit. They’ve correctly identified a pain point in the market, but the solution they’ve built does not actually solve it – at least not in a way that resonates with users.

Reason 3: Your product will meet the needs of the market but you’re not reaching the right people
This is primarily a marketing issue. You’re product is a great solution for an existing problem, and a certain sector of users will absolutely want it. For whatever reason, you’re just not finding them, and/or convincing them to try your product.

It’s quite common to find a 2&3 appearing together but reason 1 tends to appear on its own. After all, if there really is no market for your product, tweaking it or telling more people about it really wont make a difference.

What to do when product/market fit is proving elusive

When your product is not getting the traction you want. Figuring out which of the 3 reasons above is to blame is one of the hardest things in the world to do.

If it’s truly a market problem (reason 1) then you’ll need to pack up or pivot as quickly as possible. You might have spent a lot to get where you are, but carrying on is just throwing good money after bad.

If it’s a product issue (reason 2) then you’ll need to concentrate your resources on fine tuning the product and releasing features that your users are going to love.

If it’s a marketing issue (reason 3), then you’ll be better off focussing on getting to the people that will appreciate what you’re doing – essentially working on and refining your marketing funnel.

In my experience, most early stage product businesses focus a lot of 2, a little on 3 and almost never on 1. And while it’s never nice to admit you might have made some wrong assumptions. The earlier you figure it out, the quicker you can move on to something that does work.

Ben Horowitz said:

When one or more things happen, no pattern matching will save you. You will have to figure out for your own unique situation a)
whether there is a clear and present market and b) if there is, how you can
take it.

Making something that people want is not easy, in fact it’s probably the hardest thing that any product business can do – harder than raising money, and harder than hiring a good developer in a major technology hub.

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