When you’re building a product, getting to product/market fit is the holy grail. You’re looking for a market that has the ability to pay, and a product they’re willing to pay for.
We’re desperate to build something people want. In our hurry, we don’t stop and consider what we’re getting into.
I’ve come around to the idea that I just need to work on something that truly matters to me. I bought into all the talk about “product market fit” without really thinking hard about where I fit.
– @joshsmith, Talking Code
Yes, product/market fit is important, but it doesn’t paint a complete picture. If you’re going to run a business, there’s other factors you need to consider:
- Is this market a good fit for me, as a founder?
- Is this product a good fit for me, as a founder?
- Is the company structure a good fit for me, as a founder?
Get founder/market fit first
Before rushing to create a product, we need to stop and ask: “do I even want to serve this market?”
Here’s Marc Andreessen’s definition of product/market fit:
“It’s a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.”
When he says “good market” he means an audience that can pay for products. By that definition dentists are a good market. They run profitable businesses, and they have business problems that need to be solved.
“Is optimizing the schedule of dentists’ offices your passion?”
When Patrick answered “no,” Peldi was exasperated:
“Then why are you committing to working on that for the next several years?!”
Serving an audience you don’t like is one of the worst feelings in the world. You have to show up every day and answer their emails, fix their bugs, reset their passwords. To do customer research you need hang out with them a lot. To get sales? You have to go to tradeshows, make contacts, call them on the phone.
If you don’t like cats, don’t start a feline rescue center.
Why product/founder fit matters
In September, 2015 Marco Arment woke up to discover he had the #1 paid app in the App Store. Despite earlier successes, Instapaper and Overcast, he’d never achieved this before.
This should have been the crowning achievement of his life. He should have been ecstatic; but instead, he was miserable. He described his inner conflict on his blog:
Achieving this much success with Peace just doesn’t feel good, which I didn’t anticipate, but probably should have.
I still believe that ad blockers are necessary today, but I’ve learned over the last few crazy days that I don’t feel good making one.
Even though I’m “winning”, I’ve enjoyed none of it. That’s why I’m withdrawing from the market. I’m just not built for this business.
Here’s another example:
I was at a conference when I met Chris. Chris was a driven guy. He’d spent his whole life in the lottery business. He noticed a huge opportunity: China and India were just getting into legal gambling. He’d already inked deals worth millions of dollars. He asked me if I wanted to join him.
I thought about it. I could see the potential: he had a product that governments overseas needed and wanted. Getting to that market first has huge advantages.
I declined the offer.
For me, gambling just doesn’t fit. It’s not a product that fits my values. I don’t gamble, or play games at all, really. The money was attractive, but I couldn’t see myself working on a lottery product every day. It’s just not the right fit for me.
Note: this isn’t about building “exciting” products. A lot of products are boring and unsexy. That’s OK. The key is to solve problems for a group of people you’re passionate about. If you can make money doing that, without undermining your values, you’re winning.
How do you get there?
For Nathan and Rob, they had to move past being solo-founders. They had to hire people.
In his interview with WPCurve, Rob spells it out:
I wanted to build something bigger, and I could not have built Drip alone.
Having full-time employees makes running a business much more complex. You have to pay the salaries, you have healthcare to cover, etc. But if you want to build a 7-figure SaaS business, you need people who are committed to your company and focused on making your product succeed…and the best way to get that is to hire a full-time team.
You may have said “I want to get to $1 million in sales” without considering what it takes to get there. Does becoming a boss fit into your dream?
Managing a team requires a lot of sacrifice. You’re responsible for making payroll, hiring, and firing. There will be months where cash is tight: in addition to stressing about your family, you’ll be stressed about making payroll.
What are you running away from?
Often, “building our own thing” is an escape. We’re running away from that soul-sucking job. We’re tired of working on projects that didn’t mean anything to us personally. We’re looking to do significant work.
Don’t fall into the trap of looking for product/market fit to the exclusion of everything else.
- Serving an audience you don’t like? That’s like working with people you don’t get along with.
- Building a product you don’t believe in? It’s very similar to working on a bad client project.
- Being the boss of employees? You might embody the very things you dislike about your current manager.
You could do the hard work to build “your own thing” but find yourself right back where you started.
This is why product discovery is so important. Not only do you look for a problem to solve and a business opportunity along with it. You should also consider your (or your team’s) core competencies. And that should not only include asking “can we do this?”, but also “do we want to?”
If you’re running away from a job you hate, don’t run into a business you despise.
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Originally published at justinjackson.ca on June 29, 2016.