How did we get to product/market fit in 18 months?

‘Product / market fit’. Want to waste 30 minutes today? Go search for an explanation of it. Things are so much simpler than we make them sound. My definition: ‘have you built something people want to buy?’ But hey, I’m doing this for the first time so a genius out there may say I’m wrong. But I believe we have ‘product / market fit’ based on four things:

  1. We have paying customers
  2. Those customers nudge other potential customers to speak to us
  3. The volume of potential customers is growing each week
  4. Our customers are staying and growing

Four nice healthy signs that things are going well and I want to share the five key areas we’ve focused on that I believe got us here in the last 18 months.

Founder-led sales

Tom, our CEO, he’s renowned for two things. His salesmanship and his hair. Seriously, the comments he gets about his hair, particularly from American men, well you give me a dollar for each one of those and I could retire tomorrow. But we can’t productise his hair. Or his hustle for that matter. His hustle is infectious to be around, he’s an unstoppable force. Although, force can make you think bulldozer. Tom’s not that. He’s beautifully calm, disarming and a treat to listen to when in action.

Tom worked damn hard to win us our first clients. He didn’t wait. He was selling a product before he had a live product, he was selling pictures of a product, 6 am pitches to 11 pm pitches, from Canada, the US, UK, Australia, he pushed and pushed.

Many times I’ve heard him speaking to other Founders, encouraging them to get selling, but so many hide behind perfecting the next feature. Is it that selling isn’t seen as cool as developing the product? Is it that the world has sold us the overnight success of a dozen unicorns that we think we’ll flick a product live switch and we’ll win customers? Or is that sales is fucking scary, especially when it’s your own gig and it takes guts to put yourself out there and most are afraid to do it? Thanks to Tom, we never gave our product away, we have customers, we have money and we’ve started learning how to sell fast.

Getting attention

When you’ve got no customers, no website, no reviews or case studies, reaching out as the Founder & CEO really is your strongest card in a one card deck. Tom spent every evening searching for potential customers on LinkedIn and booking in sales demos. We tried hiring an SDR about four months in to help fill up Tom’s calendar but it was far too early and, in hindsight, a silly mistake. We didn’t have the credibility, content or any understanding of how he’d do his role and Tom was far too busy to work close enough with him to figure it out.

What did work very well was partnering with Convertist. I suppose they’re a bit like your outsourced SDR team except more creative and personal than I’ve experienced before. They understood our buyer, they were patient as we revised messaging and they took on Tom’s persona on LinkedIn to match his process exactly. We generated 3–5 meetings per week working with them and it proved a very helpful way to generate pipeline and customers in those early months.

We obsessed about user experience

It literally dominated our lives (and still does). The thing about the word ‘market’ in product / market fit, is it’s so inhuman. We are the market. Tom and I are the ‘market’, we’ve been in sales forever, we get it, we don’t need to put ourselves in our buyer’s shoes. We run, jump and drown in those shoes. We are our customer, so to our discomfort, the pain that our user feels when something goes wrong is very real. And to our advantage, the pain the user feels when something goes wrong is very real. What I mean is, we don’t have to artificially imagine what it feels like, we just know.

And we take it seriously. We treat every user message as a failure on our part, there’s zero room for grey area. we respond around the clock within minutes and we apologise and we learn and fix. That understanding we have is to our advantage, I really believe that. It’s helped us recognise issues quickly and resolve quickly. Not something all Founders are lucky enough to do if they’re solving a problem in an unfamiliar market.

We shipped the product quickly

When it came to getting product out the door, we prioritized getting something into their hands over perfecting something. Our first customers really believed in our mission, they wanted to makes things a little bit better straight away, they were also willing to be patient.

It definitely wasn’t ready, my God, part of our service is a web conference that only worked on two web browsers from launch. Despite that, those who saw it was always impressed by the speed we’d built it with just three engineers — one of them are very talented Co-Founder, James.

The belief in our journey, our honesty and our readiness to apologize and fix quickly bought us 1,000 lives with our first customers. A close friend advised us to be prepared to lose half of the clients we won in our first year, we only lost two.

I’m so glad we shipped early, because the first ten, shit no the first two, taught us so much about what we needed to focus on and without our founding clients sharing our belief, we wouldn’t have evolved the product to be where it is now. God knows what we might have built if we’d waited, if we’d tweaked, tweaked a bit further. We did not get to where we are alone, we did it with our clients and now they’re renewing and our contract values grow by around 50% throughout year one.

We were (and continue to be) the biggest users of our own product

We live in our product, half the team need it to do their job and the other half are fixing or building on it. Being our biggest user makes us all testers and critics of our product. When you have an immature product and a small engineering team, you have to make minute by minute decisions on what to prioritize in the fix and build battle. Those choices can be hard but are made easier by using what you’re building and understanding intimately its strengths and weaknesses. I believe it’s helped us make good choices and kept our users happy.

So those are the things I believe got us to this point. I do wonder, though, why product / market fit is a term associated with the startup world. Surely with every iteration, feature and new product, we should be designing for product/market fit. Don’t businesses go bust when they lose it?

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by + 381,508 people.

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