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7 Steps To Evaluating Product-Market Fit For Your Startup

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

The concept of product-market fit is thrown around by judges in pitch competitions, entrepreneurs, and the media. Product-market fit is a crucial element of the initial stage of any new business venture. It's also a critical factor in long-term success. In one sentence, it means that your startup has found a solution to a problem, and customers are eager to pay you for it.

But what are the details, and how do you create product-market fit? First, there are three main criteria:

1. Customers want your product - If people aren't using your product because they don't like it, don't want it, or can't use it, then there's no way you can achieve product-market fit. You need to be able to attract customers with your offering before moving on to the next step.

2. Customers are willing to pay for your product - If you're not charging for your service or product, then you can't achieve product-market fit because there's no proof that people will pay for it — even if they love it! You need to find ways to charge for your offering even if you're still in beta mode (which we'll discuss below).

3. You can measure progress towards your goals - Once you start charging for something (whether monetarily or through other means like referrals), you should have some metric that shows how well your product is doing in the market.

Let's take a look at product-market fit in action. Here are 7 steps to evaluating product-market fit for your startup.

Step 1: Conceptualize

Dan Olsen wrote in his book, The Lean Product Playbook: How to Innovate with Minimum Viable Products and Rapid Customer Feedback says the first step is to identify the problem you are trying to solve. This sounds obvious, but it's not always as evident as it seems. "The best way to think about problems is by asking questions," says Olsen. "What do customers need? What are they struggling with? What would make them happier? What will they pay for? These questions can help you identify what problems exist in your market and how you might be able to solve them."

Step 2: Define your market.

It's time to define your market. Defining your market helps you understand what kinds of people might be interested in your product or service. The easiest way to define your market is by describing your ideal customer—someone who fits your target demographic and has the most relevant needs for your product or service.

Once you have a better idea of your ideal customer, it's time to generate solutions for the problem. This stage is all about brainstorming ideas and listing anything that could potentially solve the problem, even if it seems silly or unrealistic at first glance. Here again, ask questions that help you develop innovative solutions that might not have occurred to you otherwise. For example, what do your customers need?

  • How would they use it?

  • What other problems does this solve?

  • What are competitors doing well?

  • What are they missing out on?

  • If you already have products and your goal is to increase the sales of your product or service, ask yourself, what other products do people buy when they purchase ours?

  • What else could we sell alongside our current offering to create a better customer experience?

Then develop hypotheses that link solutions to outcomes.

Step 3: Launch & Learn

You'll have to launch at some point. Test your hypotheses by creating a minimum viable product (MVP). An MVP is a small version of your final product that allows you to test whether or not there really is a market for it before investing too much time and money into making it bigger and better. You don't need a fully functional product immediately; just something simple allows users to experience what it would be like if they were using your final product. Test your assumptions about the problem you're solving and the solution you're providing by analyzing data from the experiments; learn from what works and doesn't. This will involve creating more prototypes and refining your marketing efforts based on what you learned from each experiment.

Step 4: Collect feedback to build your business model.

This goes hand in hand with testing your hypotheses. We often make assumptions about what customers want and need before we truly understand what those needs are. To help prevent assumptions from taking your business under, your team must know how customers will use your product or service — beyond what they've told you they want. The only way to do this is by observing how they currently use similar products in their day-to-day lives.

This is why customer interviews are so important. They allow you to observe how real people already use similar products or services in their daily lives—which helps you determine what needs remain unmet by existing solutions. This clues you into where there might be an opportunity for new products or services that could disrupt existing industries.

Step 6: Iterate

If you find something missing from your product (or service) or if there's something else that customers want but aren't receiving at all from your current offering—then iterate! Often, people try new things by adding more features to their existing product (or offering). This can be effective, but usually, it's better to make small changes to the core product not to confuse the customer.

When making changes like this, it can be helpful to remember that every change has an opportunity cost. That's why iteration is so important: even if your new feature doesn't work out as planned, you haven't wasted time and resources on something that won't help anyone.

It's also important to remember that sometimes it's easy to confuse what people say they want with what they actually want. For example, people might say they want a faster car, but that doesn't mean they'll buy one once available — especially if they have no idea how much faster it really is.

Step 7: Pivot or Persevere

Pivot: If you've tried everything and nothing seems to work, it may be time to pivot your business. This means changing your idea or strategy to pursue a new opportunity or solve a different problem. The beauty of pivoting is that it allows you to use what you've learned from previous tests so that you're able to achieve greater scale and profitability to grow faster. This lets you reach market dominance over competitors trying to solve the same problem or cater to the same audience.

Persevere: If you've tried everything but haven't been able to achieve product-market fit yet, then it might be time for some patience. Don't give up too soon on something that might just take a little more time and effort for it to work out in your favor! Be comfortable with refining your business model based on what you've learned from previous tests.

Product-market fit begins with a solid understanding of your product (or service) and market. You can't expect to build a successful business without a solid understanding of your product (or service) and the market it serves. Adjusting your product and testing the market is hard work—it forces you to ask hard questions, make tough changes, and move quickly when necessary. But if you're willing to put in the time, effort, and energy, it will be worth it in the long run—and once you have achieved product-market fit, your business will soar.

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