It all begins with product-market fit

WIP

  1. If you ask successful people why they’re successful, they might not actually know the truth. (Spray Tan Fallacy.) They’ll tell you what they did that felt good and right. But others might do the same things and fail. When you evaluate the difference, it’s typically product/market fit.
  2. Identify a fundamental human behavior and remove steps.

As I’ve spent time reading and writing about ecommerce (and other things), I’ve come to feel that the concept of “product/market fit” is an incredibly useful one.

Product/market fit is a term used in talking about startups, but I think it’s useful in many different circumstances. Product/market fit is the foundation upon which your business is built. There are no customers if there is no product/market fit. Growth is vacuous and futile if there is no product/market fit.

What is product/market fit exactly?

I first encountered it when reading a blogpost by Netscape founder and serial investor Marc Andreessen.

Some people tie the idea of product quality to market fit- meaning that a product is good if people like it, and it’s bad if people don’t like it. This is a somewhat after-the-fact assessment, and it can be problematic, because it implies that anything that’s widely used is necessarily a good thing, and that anything that isn’t is a bad thing. The counter-example Andreessen gives is “The world’s best software application for an operating system nobody runs.”

Andreessen’s point is that in a great market- a market with lots of real potential customers- the market pulls the product out of the startup (or company).

I have some experience with this in much more primitive settings. I started selling t-shirts for laughs, but it grew into an actual business because people liked it and wanted it. I happened to write about local sociopolitical stuff on my personal blog, and it turns out there was quite an audience for it, so I wrote more.

In all cases, a good market pulls the product out of whoever it resides in. (More examples: In Ask Better Questions, I talked about how Oliver Emberton had a Quora question pull an answer out of him, and how Reddit did the same for Rome Sweet Rome.)

Marc argues very compellingly that startups (and by extension, businesses, blogs, etc) die when they don’t reach product/market fit. They die because they don’t have product/market fit. So the goal for any startup (and business, and blog) is to do absolutely anything it takes to get to product/market fit.

Marc’s essay is well-worth reading in its entirety.

So if you’re an ecommerce agent- you’re running a store, or thinking of running one, it’s still useful to think about product/market fit. What is the market that you’re in, and why will those folks buy your product? Testing a minimum viable product makes more sense than trying to reason it in your head. Once you’ve established this, you’ll find that people actually start coming to you with ideas, advice, etc.

Anyway, this is my roundabout way of saying- I think anybody who’s interested in making something for people- whether we’re talking about running an ecommerce store or writing a blog- should read the following set of essays.

  • venturehacks.com – Sean Ellis interview
  • slideshare.net: Ash Maurya – 10 steps to product/market fit
  • Dave Mclure – Marketing, Metrics & Meaning
  • Ash Maurya – Achieving Product/Market Fit
  • Startup-Marketing.com – The Startup Pyramid

If you’re a writer, think of “founder/market fit” as “writer/audience fit”. Naive, ignorant or inexperienced people often fall into the trap of thinking that their products or writings are “for everybody”- in which case they are for nobody. In the ecommerce world, for instance, think of how Tina Roth Eisenberg has founder/market fit as a designer making temporary tattoos for designers, etc.

Of course, don’t spend too much time reading, either. One of the lessons of product/market fit is that you have to let the market teach you what it wants, and that means building minimum viable products. So always work in a cycle of action and reflection, doing and learning.

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