All You Need To Know About Getting To Product/Market Fit (Visualized and Analyzed)
A blueprint for getting to the holy grail
This is not just another read on how to succeed and achieve product/market fit. Everyone mildly successful in tech has given their perspective on how to achieve ‘success’. Trust me I’ve read most of it.
Each of these people has a different perspective on what they thought was the ‘key’ to their success. Problem is, there were thousands of different keys.
So I tuned all of that out, focused only on the people who are the most authoritative in the startup industry — Marc Andreessen, Steve Blanc, Paul Graham and Sam Altman — and created a blueprint for achieving product/market fit and therefore success.
This blueprint is meant to cut through the noise of all the countless articles and get straight to the point. Each component of getting to product/market fit — product, team, market — contains a checklist of only the things you need to do (It is by no means exhaustive but contains the most recommended points). Most of this you probably already know, I just structured it as a blueprint come checklist geared towards one goal, product/market fit.
If you’re like me, and want to maximize your chances of success, I hope you find this blueprint well worth the 7 minute read. So let’s get cracking.
What is Product/Market Fit and How Will You Know Once You Have it
“Product/market fit means being in a market with a product that can satisfy the market.” — Marc Andreessen
Marc Andreessen separates the life of a startup as before product/market fit (BPMF) and after product/market fit (APMF).
Before Product/Market Fit (BPMF): Nothing seems just quite right. You want to have a great growth chart but user adoption levels just aren’t taking off.
After Product/Market Fit (APMF): The holy grail of startups. You can’t do anything wrong. You are growing so fast you can’t really keep up. Users are opening their wallets before you can even blink.
You may have noticed above that I used product/market fit interchangeably with success. That’s because your only goal as a startup should be getting to product/market fit. That is success! Sure your end goal may be an IPO or an acquisition but that only comes APMF.
Step 1: You Need A Great Idea Executed Into A Great Product
“How impressive the product is to one customer or user who actually uses it: How easy is the product to use? How feature rich is it? How fast is it? How extensible is it? How polished is it? How many (or rather, how few) bugs does it have?”
— Marc Andreessen
- You should start with an idea not a company. The best ideas don’t stem from intentionally thinking about startup ideas. “When it’s just an idea or project, the stakes are lower and you’re more willing to entertain outlandish-sounding but potentially huge ideas. The best way to start a company is to build interesting projects”. -Sam Altman
- Build things users want. If there is ANYTHING you take from this, it is to just fucking build things people want. If you are solving a problem you yourself have (i.e. you are the user), this becomes easier by an order of magnitude because you understand the pain points of the problem. You will still need a great market though.
- You build things users want by getting out the door, talking to users, understanding their pain points and creating a product that solves their problem. You should get used to this because you will continually be repeating this cycle of talking to users and iterating based on their feedback. A good rule of thumb to remember is that you’re never talking to your users enough.
- While you need to be talking to your users, you need to execute based on their feedback. Keep iterating faster and faster, talking to users, iterating faster…you get the picture. If you’re making things people want, this cycle is natural for you.
- The best ideas seem like bad ideas initially. Think Facebook, many believed it was a toy for college kids until it started taking over the world.
- The best founders and startups obsess about a quality product. They find the sweet-spot for releasing something with enough features yet great quality.
You Need A Great Team
“The suitability of the CEO, senior staff, engineers, and other key staff relative to the opportunity in front of them. You look at a startup and ask, will this team be able to optimally execute against their opportunity?” — Marc Andreessen
Steve Blanc wrote a brilliant piece about a founding team and the nuances surrounding what makes a great founding team. However in accordance with the ‘blueprint’ format, I have created a checklist of things to remember when cultivating a great team:
- Great co-founders usually have a great relationship often developed from being in and around each other for years.
- The founding team should be ‘animals’. They should have a dedication and motivation to see their startup become the best. This is usually also cultivated by a CEO who has a reality distortion field (see next point).
- The CEO has a reality distortion field. He/she has this innate ability to motivate people towards one goal and physically pull the company to success.
- Great co-founders usually have complementary skill sets.
- Hire slow but hire well. Conversely, fire your mistakes quick and fast. Hiring is perhaps the only instance in a startup that you can take your time with.
- You want a culture that prioritizes productivity, moves fast, that’s obsessive about quality, thinks creatively, and can be described generally as ‘animals’.
- A good rule of thumb is to over-communicate with your team.
You Need A Great Market
Is the number, and growth rate, of those customers or users for that product. (Let’s assume for this discussion that you can make money at scale — that the cost of acquiring a customer isn’t higher than the revenue that customer will generate.) — Marc Andreessen
- As Paul Graham says a startup = growth. It is the only metric that really matters. Set a target of week-on-week growth and do everything in your power to achieve that number. Aim for something greater than +7%, truly exceptional companies grow +10% week-on-week. Growth solves (nearly) all problems.
- Your product should generally start of focusing on a small core group of users (think Facebook focusing on Harvard first), however it should have the ability to scale. Scale into other verticals, scale into other markets, etc. Remember you also need to be able to monetize your users at scale.
- You can have all the users in the world but if you don’t have a way to monetize your users, you’re fucked. Don’t underestimate the need for finding your best business model. Ideally you want to generate revenue as early as possible.
- A great market is generally a fast growing market, not a large but slow growing market. You should have the foresight to predict that the market is going to be big even if others don’t believe so. You need to be contrarian and right, not simply contrarian. The problem with a large but slow growing market is that there are usually too many competitors, or worse, a competitor that already has a monopolistic hold on the market.
- You should be the one that is going to have the monopoly. After product/market fit, aim for getting your monopoly. Think Google’s monopoly over search. Once this happens you can then start playing around with self-driving cars.
- You can’t have product/market fit without each of the three components. I think it is fruitless to argue which is most important.
- I hate to say it but a unicorn (urgh!) has all three components locked down.
- Once you have product/market fit, you can lose it, keep satisfying users wants and you will be fine.
- The three most important things are to (1) build things users want, (2) grow fast (3) be animals.
- Great advice not linked to above: Steve Blank on Customer Discovery, Sam Altman on Startup Advice, Paul Graham on Doing Things That Don’t Scale.
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