A few weeks back I was talking to a startup founder and we were discussing product-market fit … This is actually a really good question in the context of Agriculture: a very slow, cyclical, highly commoditized and culturally entrenched industry – almost backwards by high-tech industry standards. And as such, I’ve been ideating on trying to find a good definition of a starting point for product-market fit in Ag and how, as an early stage startup and as a product manager, we should tackle the answer. More generally, product managers will always find it hard to figure out what features and product initiatives to prioritize amongst so many competing priorities and stakeholder demands (I have talked about this here!)
Made popular by Marc Andreesen in the 2000s, product market fit at the time was the “only thing that matters” or the exact moment when a startup successfully finds itself in “a good market with a product that can satisfy that market”. In the B2C world, this is iPod and the fitness crowd in 2003 or Netflix and DVDs in the early 2000s. But how does this pan out in the B2B world of AgTech?
Since there is a lot of product/market fit literature all over the internet, here’s a sampler of what I gathered with a quick google search and that I find the most relevant:
A. Product/market fit is when you build something that people want
I will have a more detailed note about this particular definition very soon – it’s a great update from the initial Marc Andreesen definition by Paul Graham (Y-Combinator). Essentially, it stems from the accurate observation that most founders build things nobody wants. And the reason is that they think about startup ideas, not products but sound plausible enough to fool them into working on them. Graham goes on that when launching a startup business, there should already be some people who urgently need the product, and not just the idea of a potential benefit of using it. So the only question that matters is “who wants this right now?” – And as such as an entrepreneur as well as product manager, instead of (most often than not without evil) forcing your views on users, always ask yourself who wants what you’re building so much that they’ll use it even if it’s a crappy buggy first iteration MVP?
B. Product/Market fit is when you have the right solution to a problem that’s worth solving
The lean startup literature refines the two previous suggestions further by breaking up this startup lifecycle into three stages:
C. Product/market fit is when users love your product so much they tell other people to use it
This is my favorite because this is Porter early definition of Product/Market fit in the 1990s, way before “software was eating the world”: “When people understand and use your product enough to recognize it’s value that’s a huge win. But when they begin to share their positive experience with others, when you can replicate the experience with every new user who your existing users tell, then you have product-market fit on your hands. And when this occurs something magical happens. All of a sudden your customers become your salespeople.”
Simply put, product market fit is having enough users that love your product so much they spontaneously tell other people to use it … in other words, as a product manager you build a strong viral base of advocates for your product. As an example, chances are that the first time you used Slack somebody in your friends circle invited you to use it – you didn’t click on an ad online, right? By doing so you will also avoid the trappings of targeting a growth goal first and probably fool yourself until someone (like me) digs into your user retention numbers! (See my note on growth product management pitfalls here.)
In conclusion, for product managers as well as startup entrepreneurs, and also in the context of Ag Tech startup this does apply super well, which is the reason why I thought about writing this in the first place, it’s important to separate product/market fit from problem/solution fit and more specifically, in order to estimate your true potential customer base, you will need to make sure you measure the true desire for your product, not just for a solution. If not you’ll most likely end up with a product/market fit false positive. Further, always thrive to find a high or extreme degree of product/market fit or set yourself up for a giant, and often times, super costly, world of painful disappointment.
Let me know what you think here.
My name's phil mora and I blog about the things I love: fitness, hacking work, tech and anything holistic.
Head of Product
thinker, doer, designer, coder, leader