A Thought Leader Guest Post from Rahul Vohra of First Round:
We’ve all heard that product/market fit drives startup success — and that the lack thereof is what’s lurking behind almost every failure.
For founders, achieving product/market fit is an obsession from day one. It’s both the hefty hurdle we’re racing to clear and the festering fear keeping us up at night, worried that we’ll never make it.
But when it comes to understanding what product/market fit really is and how to get there, most of us quickly realize that there isn’t a battle-tested approach.
In the summer of 2017, I was waist-deep in my search for a way to find product/market fit for my startup, Superhuman.
Turning to the classic blog posts and seminal thought pieces, a few observations stuck out to me. Y Combinator founder Paul Graham described product/market fit as when you’ve made something that people want, while Sam Altman characterized it as when users spontaneously tell other people to use your product. But of course, the most cited description comes from this passage in Marc Andreessen’s 2007 blog post:
“You can always feel when product/market fit is not happening. The customers aren't quite getting value out of the product, word of mouth isn't spreading, usage isn't growing that fast, press reviews are kind of ‘blah,’ the sales cycle takes too long, and lots of deals never close.
And you can always feel product/market fit when it is happening. 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. Reporters are calling because they've heard about your hot new thing and they want to talk to you about it. You start getting entrepreneur of the year awards from Harvard Business School. Investment bankers are staking out your house.”
For me, this was the most vivid definition — and one that I stared at through tears.
We had set up shop and started coding Superhuman in 2015. A year later, our team had grown to seven and we were still furiously coding. By the summer of 2017, we had reached 14 people — and we were still coding. I felt intense pressure to launch, from the team and also from within myself. My previous startup, Rapportive, had launched, scaled and been acquired by LinkedIn in less time. Yet here we were, two years in, and we had not passed go.
But no matter how intense the pressure, I wasn’t ready to launch. Common practice would be to "throw it out there and see what sticks,” which may be fine after a few months of effort when the sunk cost is low. But the “launch and see what happens” method seemed irresponsible and reckless to me — especially given the years that that we had invested.
Further compounding the pressure, as a founder, I couldn’t just tell the team how I felt. These super-ambitious engineers had poured their hearts and souls into the product. I had no way of telling the team we weren’t ready, and worse yet, no strategy for getting out of the situation — which is not something they would want to hear. I wanted to...
Read the rest of this article at firstround.com...
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