Here’s how to achieve product market fit as a lean startup

Product market fit is all the rage among the startup circles—and deservedly so. Personally, I think it’s as mythical as a fantasy movie’s plot.

You set out on an adventure to start a business. The adventure ends when you find two secret keys which—when combined—will reward you with riches and open new doors of possibilities.

Product market fit is what makes a seemingly trivial invention like the swimming pool noodles a million-dollar success. And when you don’t have the magical PMF combination, it’s what fails million-dollar ideas like Steve Jobs’ NeXT Computer.

But despite all the hype, product-market fit remains to be an elusive subject in the startup communities. For instance, below are a few questions that either don’t have black-and-white answers to them or stir highly opinionated answers from startup experts:

  • What is product-market fit exactly?
  • How to achieve it?
  • Is it a metric or a process?
  • Can you optimize it?

These are a few questions that pester both curious marketers and startup founders alike. In this post, I try to answer them through the lens of a marketer. Let’s begin with the cold hard fundamentals.

What is product-market fit?

You’d assume that it’s a question that belongs in the r/explainlikeimfive community of Reddit rather than in a blog targeted at mid-career marketers.

But it’s a question worth pursuing because—since we don’t have its universally agreed-upon definition—everyone defines product-market fit in their own terms.

The usual definition of product-market fit is finding the right market for your product after you have built it.

But since product market fit doesn’t have a dictionary definition, you can also interpret it the other way around—i.e., building the right product for a specific market.

Most of us gloss over the latter probably because of the term’s syntax—it’s product-market fit and not market-product fit for a reason.

This inverse nature of product market fit is what makes the concept unnecessarily tricky. It shouldn’t be this complicated though. We have plenty of real-world examples around us that explain product-market fit much better than Paul Graham or Marc Andreessen.

Finding the PMF is like looking for a Tinder match and setting yourself up for the ones that show interest in you. When you find the right match, you do everything in your capacity to make the relationship work.

Or, it’s like finding the right memory foam mattress for your bed. Once you find the one that alleviates your chronic back pain, you will stop looking at all the other options.

The only other thing you will agree to is for you to exchange your pillows with a pair of matching memory foam pillows to upgrade your sleeping experience.

It’s also like ignoring the closest grocery stores near your home to shop at a specific deli store because they have everything you want at a price you can afford. And hey, the people there greet you with your first name!

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