Product Market Fit Guideline 📚

If you’re a startup founder, product/market fit may be the thing that you always care about. As I'm constantly reading and highlighting articles about product/market fit, I'd like to share some of my favorite reading materials that helped me figure out the big picture of product/market fit.

There are countless must-read articles and it’s hard to put all, so I picked up some to map out the whole picture for you.

Don’t just read this article or the attached articles. Instead, highlight where you resonate with and leave your thoughts and learnings with Glasp so that you can look back at them anytime and we all can get smarter at the same time ;)

If you're ready, let’s move on.

Before Product/Market Fit - What Matters Most?

According to Benchmark Capital co-founder Andy Rachleff [1], the concept of product/market fit (PMF) was initially created by Sequoia Capital founder Don Valentine and popularized by Marc Andreessen.

There are 3 elements of each startup: team (people), product, and market. Andy Rachleff, Marc Andreessen, and other business leaders say that market matters the most. The #1 company-killer is lack of market.

Pmarchive - The only thing that matters

By: Marc Andreessen (@pmarca)

Product/market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.

In a great market—a market with lots of real potential customers—the market pulls product out of the startup. [...] Conversely, in a terrible market, you can have the best product in the world and an absolutely killer team, and it doesn’t matter—you’re going to fail.

Andy Rachleff’s Law of Startup Success:

  • When a great team meets a lousy market, market wins.
  • When a lousy team meets a great market, market wins.
  • When a great team meets a great market, something special happens.

If you are before product/market fit (BPMF), the only thing that matters is getting to product/market fit. Focus obsessively on getting to product/market fit. Do whatever is required to get to product/market fit. (e.g. changing out people, rewriting your product, moving into a different market, telling customers no, etc.)

The Real Product Market Fit: Product Market Fit | Y Combinator

By: Michael Seibel (@mwseibel)

Finding product market fit = focusing on the market first. [...] The problem, i.e. the market, is the real opportunity.

To find product market fit, choose a market where users have a real, meaningful problem, launch quickly, and listen to your users.

You need to find problems so dire that users are willing try half-baked, v1, imperfect solutions.

When has a consumer startup hit product/market fit?

By: Andrew Chen (@andrewchen)

A market consists of all the consumers who can search for and compare products for a use case they already have in mind.

Market matters the most, but what is a market anyway? How can we validate it’s real or fake? Andrew Chen shares a smart way to see if pre-existing demand exists or not:

  1. What keyword do people search to get to your site?
  2. Put those keywords into Google Keyword Tool
  3. How many people are searching for this keyword?

If the answer to #3 is more than millions, then you have a big market. For consumer internet, a great market is composed of the following three things:

  1. A large number of potential users
  2. High growth in # of potential users
  3. Ease of user acquisition

Leading with a great market helps you execute your product design in a simpler and cleaner way. The reason is that once you’ve picked a big market, you can take the time to figure out some user-centric attributes upon which to compete. This leads to a strong intention for your product design, which drives a clean and cohesive UX.

Product/Market Fit - What It Feels Like? Any Myths?

People have different opinions on what it feels like when you’ve found product/market fit.

“The customers are buying the product just as fast as you can make it—or usage is growing just as fast as you can add more servers. Money from customers is piling up in your company checking account. You’re hiring sales and customer support staff as fast as you can.”

- Marc Andreessen

“You have very strong customer feedback, even from a small group of people. For example, at Color early on, we were getting literal love letters from customers.”

- Elad Gil

“You have reached product/market fit when you are overwhelmed with usage—usually to the point where you can’t even make major changes to your product because you are swamped just keeping it up and running.”

- Michael Seibel

“The real metric for both consumer apps and enterprise is — do someone’s pupils dilate when they use your stuff? Whether you’re handing them a demo or if you drew something on the whiteboard. Do they say, ‘You’re not leaving’ or ‘Where have you been all of my life?’”

- Steve Blank

“You know you have fit if your product grows exponentially with no marketing. That is only possible if you have huge word of mouth. Word of mouth is only possible if you have delighted your customer.”

- Andy Rachleff

“Product/market fit requires you to figure out the earliest tells.”

- Reid Hoffman

  • Myth #1: Product market fit is always a discrete, big bang event.
  • Myth #2: It’s patently obvious when you have product/market fit.
  • Myth #3: Once you achieve product/market fit, you can’t lose it.
  • Myth #4: Once you have product/market fit, you don’t have to sweat the competition.

- Ben Horowitz

“In general, hiring before you get product/market fit slows you down, and hiring after you get product/market fit speeds you up. [...] Until you get product/market fit, you want to a) live as long as possible and b) iterate as quickly as possible. small teams FTW for both.“

- Sam Altman

“Startups need 2-3 times longer to validate their market than most founders expect. This underestimation creates the pressure to scale prematurely […] In our dataset we found that 70% of startups scaled prematurely along some dimension. While this number seemed high, this may go a long way towards explaining the 90% failure rate of startups.”

- Startup Genome Report

What it feels like when you've found product-market fit – Issue 45 - Lenny's Newsletter

By: Lenny Rachitsky (@lennysan)

Source: What it feels like when you've found product-market fit – Issue 45 - Lenny's Newsletter
Source: What it feels like when you've found product-market fit – Issue 45 - Lenny's Newsletter

There are some signs of product/market fit. They are (1) sudden and significant pull, (2) gradual but compounding pull, and/or (3) hitting a milestone that proves it’s working.

Market “pull” comes in many forms:

  • An inflection in organic growth including word of mouth. (e.g. Uber, Tinder, Stripe, PagerDuty, etc)
  • Customers complain when your site goes down. (e.g. Nextdoor, Carta, etc)
  • People use the product even when it’s broken.
  • Customers ask to pay for the product before you ask. (e.g. GitHub)

The intensity of the pull depends on:

  • How good your product is at solving the problem
  • Initial market size (niche or broad)
    • Broad: Dropbox, Netflix, Tinder, etc
    • Niche: Instacart, Superhuman, Substack, etc

Some startups found PMF immediately after launch but some took a long time as shown below:

  • Netflix: 1.5 years
  • Segment: 1.5 years
  • Airbnb: 2 years
  • PagerDuty: 2 years
  • Superhuman: 3 years
  • Amplitude: 4 years

How to Measure Product/Market Fit?

There are many approaches to measure product/market fit such as survey (NPS, 40% “very disappointed” responses, etc), gut feeling, metrics (cohort retention analysis), and so on, and there’s no wrong answer. Reforge founder Brian Balfour, however, gives us a clear path on product/market fit. In the end, as Casey Winters, Jeff Chang, and other thoughts leaders say, the cohort retention rate is a fair product/market fit metric.

The Never Ending Road To Product Market Fit

By: Brian Balfour (@bbalfour)

Knowing where you are along a product/market fit path helps you understand when to go from traction, to transition, to growth.

Source: The Never Ending Road To Product Market Fit
Source: The Never Ending Road To Product Market Fit

There are 4 checkpoints to get to product/market fit:

  1. Leading Indicator Survey (= what they say)
    1. Sean Ellis’s survey (aka 40% “very disappointed” responses)
    2. NPS (Net Promoter Score)
  2. Leading Indicator Engagement Data (= what they do)
    1. Events or actions, not views
    2. The core purpose of the product
  3. Flattened Retention Curve (= PMF for some market or audience)
    1. Segment by key demographics (age, location, industry, etc), time, and user source to identify the characteristics of retained users
    2. Qualitative survey to identify the characteristics of retained users
  4. Trifecta (= 100% PMF among a meaningful market)
    1. Top-Line Growth
    2. Higher Retention
    3. Meaningful Usage
Source: The Never Ending Road To Product Market Fit
Source: The Never Ending Road To Product Market Fit

Rahul Vohra Shares Superhuman's Product Market Fit Framework | First Round Review

By: Rahul Vohra (@rahulvohra)

Rahul explains the measurable indicator of product/market fit for companies pre-launch. If you can measure, you can optimize it.

In short, product/market fit is when 40% of your users answered that they would be “very disappointed” without your product (aka Sean Ellis’s leading indicator).

In essence, it's better to make something that a small number of people want a large amount, rather than a product that a large number of people want a small amount. In my view, the product/market fit engine process of narrowing the market massively optimizes for a product that a small number of people want a large amount.

Ask the following questions to users who used the product at least twice in the last two weeks:

  1. How would you feel if you could no longer use Superhuman? A) Very disappointed B) Somewhat disappointed C) Not disappointed
  2. What type of people do you think would most benefit from Superhuman?
  3. What is the main benefit you receive from Superhuman?
  4. How can we improve Superhuman for you?

If more than 40% of people answered that they would be “very disappointed” without your product, then your product has reached product/market fit.

Casey’s Guide to Finding Product/Market Fit

By: Casey Winters (@onecaseman)

Product/market fit is not when customers stop complaining and are fully satisfied. They’ll never stop complaining. They’ll never be fully satisfied. Product/market fit is when they stop leaving. - Casey Winters

Casey defines product/market fit as the satisfaction that allows for sustained growth. In other words,

PMF = (flattened retention curve) + (MoM growth in new users)

Source: Casey’s Guide to Finding Product/Market Fit
Source: Casey’s Guide to Finding Product/Market Fit

The best metric for determining quantitative product market fit

By: Jeff Chang (@JeffChang30)

There are many definitions of product/market fit such as NPS score, 40% “very disappointed” response, gut feeling, good distribution channel, and so on, but cohort retention rate is the most important product/market fit metric.

Why other metrics are not good?

  • NPS: the biggest tech companies have terrible NPS scores but they are still able to grow over a billion users.
  • 40% “very disappointed” responses: there might be response bias. It’s hard to get everyone to answer a survey. Also, responses don’t match behavior.

Why cohort retention rate?

  • No response bias
  • Full user lifecycle data
  • Measuring actual user behavior
Source: The best metric for determining quantitative product market fit
Source: The best metric for determining quantitative product market fit

You should find the retention rate of some comparable products that have been able to significantly grow to find the right benchmark for you.

A good rule of thumb is for consumer products, 25% is a good floor and for B2B SaaS products, 70% is a good floor.

Once you have a few cohorts that level off at a vertical-specific number, then you’ve achieved product market fit!

How to Get to Product/Market Fit?

Startups need to get to product/market fit or die trying. There are some approaches to get to product/market fit.

  • Understand the type of business and personality
  • Shorten the time to PMF by copying predecessors
  • Focus on core users / high-expectation customers

Casey’s Guide to Finding Product/Market Fit

By: Casey Winters (@onecaseman)

I think this is an area where despite all the news we hear about successful pivots that leaning more towards the Rabois model is a dominant strategy. Blindly trying out a bunch of startup ideas is like being in a dark room and feeling around for a door. A successful vision can turn on a light to that room so everyone can see the door and run toward it. Even many of those major pivots were guided by a strong, albeit new, vision from their founders. - Casey Winters

The Paths to Product/Market Fit:

There are two main schools of thought for how to reach product/market fit (Eric Ries Model vs. Keith Rabois Model), and success can be achieved by both modes.

Founders should build a strong opinion over which parts of which model they need to apply to maximize the chance of finding a product/market fit for their business. Casey’s personal belief is a strong vision combined with market feedback is a pretty dominant combination.

Eric Ries Model:

  • Market (demand) first, then find product idea (supply)
  • Driven by customer feedback/needs
  • Focus on a specific customer segment
  • Lots of iteration
  • Launch narrowly to get feedback from target customers
  • Applicable to Enterprise Companies (unsolved day-to-day problems), Marketplaces (quick to launch)

Keith Rabois Model:

  • Product idea (supply) first, then find a market (demand)
  • Driven by the vision of the founders
  • Focus on a strong vision of both a problem and a solution
  • Little iteration
  • Launch broadly to achieve the vision and find a potential market
  • Applicable to Consumer (creates new habit or interactions), Hardware (iteration has long timelines)
Source: Casey’s Guide to Finding Product/Market Fit
Source: Casey’s Guide to Finding Product/Market Fit

Minimize your Time to Product/Market Fit

By: Andrew Chen (@andrewchen)

To get to product/market fit, you need to keep the time to product/market fit (TTPMF) in mind. Lower TTPMF is good and it’s very easy to get: Just completely copy something that’s already at PMF.

Sure, cloning products have a lot of business (and ethical, and personal) weaknesses:

  • It’s uninspired.
  • You’ll never get to #1.
  • You let a competitor define the market, and you play catch up.
  • It’s hard to clone a community if it’s a networks-effects business.

So, keep the fundamentals the same (80%) while substantially reinventing 20% of the product. And pick the right 20%.

Ideally the differentiation is baked deeply into the core of the product, not out on the edges. Something the end user can see and feel within the first 30 seconds of using the product.

Rahul Vohra Shares Superhuman's Product Market Fit Framework | First Round Review

By: Rahul Vohra (@rahulvohra)

Remember the questions that Superhuman used?

  1. How would you feel if you could no longer use Superhuman? A) Very disappointed B) Somewhat disappointed C) Not disappointed
  2. What type of people do you think would most benefit from Superhuman?
  3. What is the main benefit you receive from Superhuman?
  4. How can we improve Superhuman for you?

The 4-step manual to get to product/market fit:

  1. Segment to find your supporters and paint a picture of your high-expectation customers (HXC).
    1. Break down the Q1 responses by roles, etc. Find potential happy users who you may have overlooked.
    2. Happy users almost always describe themselves in Q2.
  2. Analyze feedback to convert on-the-fence users into fanatics.
    1. Know (1) why people love the product, and (2) what holds people back from loving the product.
    2. Throw the Q3 responses into a word cloud and find patterns. (Disregard those who would not be disappointed without your product.)
    3. Segment the somewhat disappointed group again based on the main benefit that happy users are enjoying. (Disregard users who don’t resonate with your main benefit.)
    4. See the Q4 responses and find what’s missing to reach product/market fit. (e.g. Superhuman had lacked a mobile app at the time.)
  3. Build your roadmap by doubling down on what users love and addressing what holds others back.
  4. Repeat the process and make the product/market fit score the most important metric.
    1. Continue to track the product/market fit score. Early adopters are more forgiving, but as you push beyond this group, users become much more demanding, so the score may drop.

Beyond Product/Market Fit

Don’t settle down. The product/market fit process never ends as your market moves and changes over time. You need to keep moving and growing.

“This process never ends primarily for one reason - your market doesn’t sit still. It is always moving. These days markets are moving/changing at an accelerating pace. As your market moves, your product needs to move with it making product/market fit a pulse that you need to constantly keep your thumb on.”

- Brian Balfour

Product market fit isn’t a one-time, discrete point in time that announces itself with trumpet fanfares. Competitors arrive, markets segment and evolve, and stuff happens—all of which often make it hard to know you’re headed in the right direction before jamming down on the accelerator.

- Ben Horowitz

Also, to build a $100M+ company, product/market fit isn’t enough. Though I don’t cover the details in this post, there are four essential fits and each of these fits influence each other, so you can’t think about them in isolation.

  • Market <> Product Fit
  • Product <> Channel Fit
  • Channel <> Model Fit
  • Model <> Market Fit.
Source: Why Product Market Fit Isn't Enough — Brian Balfour
Source: Why Product Market Fit Isn't Enough — Brian Balfour

🔗 Related Links & Read More:

Hope this article helps you understand the whole picture of product/market fit. If you have any questions, please DM me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Remember what you should do next?

Don’t just read this article or the attached product management articles. Instead, highlight where you resonate with and leave your thoughts and learnings with Glasp so that you can look back at them anytime and we all can get smarter at the same time ;)

See you next time,

Kazuki

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