How to find Product-Market-Fit before you have a product

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This was a question I had often asked myself.

Your team might take weeks or months to build a product. You’re about to ship it. And you find out that your customers don’t use it much, or even worse, they ask you to keep adding minor and irrelevant features that they may not end up using either.

This is a perfect example of how your organization ends up killing precious resources such as available cash, time, and most importantly your team’s motivation.

How can you prevent it? This article will be helpful to both early-stage startup founders and product managers.

Before you build anything, identify a precise pain-point

Customers buy pain. If you haven’t identified a precise pain-point, don’t go any further.

What is a problem that you’ve been dealing with on a daily basis?

A great way to approach this exercise is to write down every single itch, inefficiency, or problem that you have during a given day.

And prioritize the pain-points following a matrix of severity/frequency vs. your personal interest.

Focus on your favorite and most severe pain-points.

Start talking to people in your direct entourage first, ask them how severe this pain-point is for them, and what current solution they use.

Identify existing solutions to your problem

What are you, or other people, doing to fix this problem?

Have as many conversations as possible, and ask people what they’re currently doing to solve them. What shortcuts do they take?

Write down those solutions, and be as imaginative as possible to use them as a proxy to assess how technology can replace them.

Does that existing solution require a lot of effort?

Very often, the higher the effort, the more difficult it will be to build a product that replaces the incumbent solution. But this is also where the biggest opportunities lay.

Approach strangers for feedback

Reach out to your potential clients – but most importantly talk to strangers. You want people to provide you with direct and brutally honest feedback. Present them with the topic you’re addressing, without exposing your solution yet. For instance, if your solution is related to sales onboarding, reach out to your prospect explaining that you’re working on a project linked to the pain-points of sales onboarding. This will avoid any sort of bias in their answers.

If they all shut you down, work on your copy. If you’re still not able to get their attention after that, start wondering whether they’re the right users, if you’re approaching them using the right medium, or if the problem you’re working on is that relevant to them.

Ask them questions, and listen!

Prepare a list of questions related to your problem. You should be assessing these two inputs:

1) How severe and frequent is this problem to them?

2) What are they currently doing to fix it?

Listen to everything they have to say. In your best calls, the talk-to-listen ratio should be 30-70.

A tool like Attention will help you visualize that in real time.

Once you’ve asked all your questions, present your solution and ask for feedback. Once you’ve validated your problem, validate the concept behind your solution. Present your users with mock-ups, and ask them which feature would be the most crucial for them.

I personally love the pyramid below designed by Shivam Gupta for Growth Hackers.

Assess the underserved needs for a target customer, and link them to a value proposition.

And keep iterating until you lock it in. Then focus on feature sets, and finally improve your UX.

Product Market Fit

Now, start building!

You’ve validated your value proposition and designed your features. Now you can start building your MVP. There’s no need to build anything fancy. Simply, build your most basic feature the easiest way without thinking about scalable solutions, and see how your users react.

For example, if you’re building a marketplace that connects customers with product designers, create a quick form where your users specify what they’re looking for. Then, go out and find the best product designers for them. Write down all your steps – these will be the ones that you will want to optimize in the future. And present your users with the candidates. Get their feedback. If they want to use your services again, you know that you can start optimizing the efficiency behind each step.

Last piece of advice

Just find a handful of customers that you can super-serve. Delight them. You’ll notice some patterns as you’re specifically working for them. It will give you a vision that no one else knows about. You will likely have discovered truths that very few people agree with you about. And it will be your best superpower to build a stellar product, and eventually a world-class organization.

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