How do I know the right time to scale or “go big”? (Product-Market Fit)

There is not a shortage of inspirational content to “go all in” with your idea these days. And, the message resonates because most of us are drawn to the stories of people who muster up enough courage to take a big risk and silence the naysayers with a triumph. It is why we love movies where the underdog takes down the favorite or when the hero overcomes against all odds. So, how do you know when it is the right time for you to increase your commitment to your business or idea?

As much as we secretly envision a glorious moment of breakthrough, we also dreadfully fear the potential failure. Believing in something is great, but how can you be sure you won’t step out with courage, double down on the vision, and fall flat on your face? Or even worse, become overconfident in what you have to the point where you ignore fundamental flaws and overinvest in an underdeveloped concept. Unfortunately, startups fail often; and that failure is most commonly a result of one thing that goes wrong.

Tech Startup Term : “Product-Market Fit”

Startup for Everyone Definition: Matching your solution perfectly with the people experiencing the need for what you are selling — making it irresistible to buy.

We all want our thing to work. Yet too many founders find themselves with slow sales and a mediocre response to their current product from customers. The natural temptation is to try to solve this problem by pouring more marketing, more salespeople, more effort, or more new offerings to create some momentum. This results in what Steve Blank, well-known entrepreneur and investor, calls “premature scaling”. Founders are in a hurry to be successful and start overcooking something that customers didn’t want to eat in the first place. Instead, it is essential to dig deeper to discover the elements that would make your product or service irresistible. What would make your customers want to bring it up in conversation at a dinner party without you asking them to?

In a customer’s mind, Product-Market Fit translates to:

Exactly what I want (Market) = Exactly what you made (Product)

Your product or service solves their problem or meets their need in such a way that they will buy it despite your ability execute perfectly. When this happens, you can be relatively confident that it is going to work because it is already working.

Here are a few characteristics of a product or service that has arrived that this point:

1. You can’t keep product on the shelves

2. Your sales are growing with no marketing effort

3. You are getting referrals regularly from “happy customers”

4. You don’t have to negotiate price or contract terms

5. You love your product, and use it regularly

This is the right time to scale, double down, and “go all in” on the business. You have found the magic recipe. Success will still require a lot of work, fine tuning, and adjustments, but you’ve got something special. Now, it needs greater commitment and investment from you and others to turn it into everything that it could be. And then, the concern becomes more about managing growth than it does about creating it. Spending money on marketing is like pouring jet fuel on an already blazing fire.

Bottom Line

Create a great product that fits an explicit need for someone you care about and empathize with — and build from there. Get it to fly off the shelves, be the talk of the town, and be something you would use. Hit Product-Market Fit before trying to scale or investing too much. It sounds basic, but it is so easy to overlook when starting something new.

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For a great article describing this concept in more detail, go here.

For a helpful video that shares real case examples, go here.

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