Getting your Product Market Fit

You've got a good idea. You're taking it to market for the first time. You're nervous and you aren't sure what's going to happen next. You want to raise money but you know you need those metrics to go your way before you start the courting process. It's a familiar story and a lot of those nerves are justified because 9 out of 10 startups are going to fail and they are going to fail in the first two years because they don't achieve Product Market Fit.

So, what can you do to give yourself a good chance to succeed? Here are some top tips to help you on your way:

Product Market Fit is less about Product and more about Market! By that I mean that you achieve the Fit more easily, and certainly more quickly, if the drive is about listening to customers and fitting what you have to their needs. Look specifically for the pain that you are trying to solve in their lives (or the joy you are looking to enhance) and make something that does that. The alternative approach is to be a bit 'George W. Bush' about things, and to keep telling people what your product does until you find someone who needs it or you run out of people.

Keep the moving parts to a minimum. Product Market Fit can be a complex journey. When you've made it successfully, the answers will be simple. Clarity will come to the party with its best friend brevity and you will look back at the frustratingly undulating road you've traveled and wonder what all the fuss was about. This road gets smoother, flatter and faster if you keep the moving parts of the solution to a minimum. Less is indeed more. What do I mean?  Not 10 features 1. Not all people in Europe, but women aged 18 to 25 living is Lisbon. If you want people to sign up to your website, don't hand out flyers and hope for the best, go out with an iPad and sign people up in the street. When things start simple, they are easier to change. When you change things you can see what difference it has made and learn from it. When things are complex, you change something and lots of bits and pieces go up and down. You're not sure which did, what and who liked it. It makes it harder to hook customers and keep them. It makes it harder to know when you've done enough or when you've done too much.

Focus! You're a smart person. I know this because you want to build startups and these aren't for just anyone. That very brain power though can get you into trouble, particularly around Product Market Fit. Each conversation you have with a customer will give you new ideas. It will at times make you feel like a little puppy dog who is chasing scents all over the place. If you can get on top of this, and ensure you have clarity and focus in your mission, you will achieve it a lot quicker and more effectively. My top tip is to write each new idea down on a fresh piece of paper and put it in a box, with a lid. Give yourself time each week or each month to come back to that box, but in the interim keep the lid on it! Stay on track.

Time. An infinite number of monkeys given an infinite amount of time will undoubtedly write the works of Shakespeare and it's easy during the Product Market Fit phase to make this your strategy of default. Before you start down this path, my recommendation is to give yourself your own burning platform by limiting yourself to just a few weeks to prove your fit with the market. It will help you scope (down) your ideas, and it will also give you an intensity to your actions. When you reach the end of the time period, assess what you've learnt and see how best to move forward with another if necessary. Keep your time extensions to a finite limit too - maybe 3 or 4. Give yourself budget / runway for that and don't allow yourself to break it.

For me, the process of achieving Product Market Fit is one of the most exciting and enjoyable of the entire startup life cycle. It could be the constant fear of failure nagging away in the back of my head, or it could be the accelerated pace of change that I enjoy the most I haven't quite decided. Whatever it is, whenever I find myself in this phase I tend to have a big smile on my face. I hope you do too and wish you every success :)


Stewart Noakes