From Idea to Product-Market Fit
Originally published on PURE LAMBDA
We all see the problems in the world. What can we do about it?
Everyone is impacted by problems in their daily lives or the lives of people they care about.
I am sure you do too.
As you read, take notes, there is a test at the end! Write down your score in the comment at the end.
This content was originally a webinar given to entrepreneurs and investment funds. Check out the original slide deck.
On the 30th of July 2021, Startup Grind hosted a workshop based on this article, here is the recording:
The start: a problem to solve
First, let’s articulate what your idea is. Let’s work together on your “elevator pitch”. This should be a few sentences that give your interlocutor a clear idea about what you are trying to accomplish.
What problem bothers you the most? What problem is important to you / matters to you? Who will you help by solving this problem? Why is your background ideal to solve this problem? Why can nobody else do it?
Those are the main questions you need to answer to show the unique value of your proposal. Once you have answered those questions, you will have the attention of your interlocutor.
You can then explain how you are going to solve the problem. You now need to answer “How”? As well as, what is the value add of your specific solution? How is it different from other existing solutions?
To summarize, you need to answer those questions to build your elevator pitch:
- What problem are you solving?
- For who?
- Why you?
- What is the value add?
Let’s look at an example, someone who has grown up in harsh conditions and who has now engineering skills could say:
I want to solve the access to clean water in developing countries. This will help people living in regions where the infrastructure to provide clean water does not exist. I have experienced this life growing up and I am now a mechanical engineer. I will solve this problem by providing a pump with built-in filters. This would be cheap and would not require experts to install.
In this example, the problem to solve is “access to clean water in developing countries”. This will help people living in regions of the globe where infrastructure is sparse. The person is ideally positioned to solve this problem because of their uprising in this environment as well as the technical skills to build a solution successfully. The solution consists of built-in filters and the differentiating factor of this solution compare to what already exists is that it will be cheap and will not require experts to be installed.
Please, share your idea in the comment section at the end of this article.
Defining the solution: User Scenarios
Now that you have your idea, and know who you will be helping, time to tell stories.
Storytelling is powerful. The human mind works with stories: just look at the number of movies and tv shows produced each year.
Telling a story is triggering several feelings and mindsets for the listener. You want to create an empathic connection with your audience. You want to entertain by triggering feelings. You want to inspire. You also want to allow people to see themselves living in your story. All of this will make your story memorable.
Now that we understand what we want to accomplish, how do we do that? Let’s look at what structure your scenario should have.
First, you need to create a character for your story. Who is your user? What is their name? Who are they? Make them as real as possible to create empathy and have your audience captivated. This is what makes your story memorable.
Then, you want to describe the initial situation, what is the life of your protagonist like.
Following up, what problem is your persona facing, this is the core of your story. What makes the daily life of your character more complex than it should be.
You then start describing what ideal solution would solve their problem. Finally, you end by describing how your character is now using your product to solve it.
If you would like to dive deeper into storytelling, Khan Academy has a class on this topic.
Let’s look at an example:
Julia is a 34 years old woman with a 4 years old son. She works as a chef in the cafeteria of a big company. She needs to be updated on the well-being of her son during the day and she is pretty tech-savvy.
She wants to keep in touch with her son while being at work but, her time can be hard to manage, between stressful lunchtime and quiet in-between hours. She has tried live cameras but she might be missing the important moments when the babysitter needs her. She has also tried to simply let the babysitter call her when they need help but that is not working during lunchtime when Julia does not have the time to stop her work to pick up the phone.
She wants a system that can alert her in case of emergencies and interrupt her work. The system should also be able to track events throughout the day she can look at when the load of work slows down.
Using the BabyAlert app, Julia can communicate with her babysitter through video in case of emergency. During the day, the babysitter can send her notes to look at later when work allows. Julia is now at peace during work knowing she won’t miss any of the small moments while being alerted in case of emergency.
In this story, the character’s name, age, occupation, and priorities are clearly defined. The problem she is trying to solve and how your solution can help solve it.
Keep in mind that many ideas will have several profiles or users. For instance, in gig economy-type ideas, the marketplace has two sides, the providers and the consumers. You need to write all the sides of the story!
Now that we have a story, we need to make it a reality. You can make your dreams come true!
Look back at your story and write down everything that needs to be done to make it real.
Do you need a user account? A mobile app? A website? Data stored? Data collected?
Write as many elements as possible. Most likely, this will trigger your creativity and you will imagine a lot of features and options and UI and cool things your users could do! Make sure to write it all down.
Now, that we have a big list of features and functionalities, we need to focus.
Time for triage, you will separate your features into three stacks.
The first one is for what is essential, if you remove this feature, your solution is not feasible. For instance, in our example about water filtration, if you don’t have a filter then you can’t provide clean water to people. It is essential to get this right.
Next is what would be nice to have, if you remove this feature you might lose a portion of your potential users but the product will still function and provide a solution for some users. You keep this list for later, when you get funding or are trying to grow your business, these are your next steps, after Product-Market Fit.
Finally, it is the crazy features you thought about that will be amazing but when you look back at it, they don’t seem that important anymore. This is what you get to do for the buzz and attract more users once you are starting to be established.
For instance, at Tesla, the essential feature is to have an electric car. A nice to have is the touch screen dashboard, it provides information and gives a better user experience. What is not very useful is the ludicrous mode of the Tesla cars. It is definitely not something that is needed or that the users even need but it creates a marketing buzz and people talk about it.
Keep in mind that attracting more users if you don’t have a good product will only be a temporary win. You need to make a product that users want to come back to.
Tell me more about what features are essential to your solution and which ones can be done later. If you are having trouble finding out what is the minimum set of features, feel free to reach out to us and we will help you.
At this point, we have a clear problem, a clear solution, and a list of features to implement.
Time to build a prototype or MVP (Minimum Viable Product). As the name suggests, this is the minimum set of features that are required to solve the problem for some users.
To start, make some drawings of UIs, go back to the user scenario, and imagine yourself as your users, what do you do first? Where do you click? What do you do next?
You want it to be as minimal as possible, remove all things that are not essential. The goal is to launch something as early as possible.
The main objective of the MVP is to collect user feedback, you want to build your product with your users. The earliest they can get their hands on your product, the sooner you can collect feedback on what is working and what is not.
During this phase, you also want to start thinking about the market tier, the business model, and the branding. Are you building a luxurious brand, an affordable one? Who are your users and who are your customers? Who is paying and who is using your product, are they the same entities or different? Are you targeting individuals or enterprises?
The goal being to get feedback, you need to get some kind of traction, have some early users to give you their opinion. Start writing blog articles on the problem you are trying to solve, build a track record that shows that you know what you are talking about. Your personal brand is as important as your company brand.
If you have friends that are experts in User Experience, or design, this is a good time to reach out to them and ask for advice.
Now that you have a road map, time to build your product.
Try to save money at this stage. You could pay a fancy company to build your dream product but without user feedback, you might spend a lot of money on something that your users do not want or need.
Iteration is key, you want to build something as easy as possible to modify and change. Don’t get attached to what you have built because it will most likely be replaced by the next version very quickly.
You need to decide what to build, and how to build it. Will you build a mobile app ? a website? a phone service?
Nowadays, the no-code is rising, a lot of platforms allow you to build pretty much anything without writing a single line of code. Try searching for “[YOUR FEATURE] no-code” online. For example, searching for “e-commerce platform no-code”, will give you a lot of results that will show you different options to build your features.
Do you want to have a fancy AI that does all the work for you? Great! You first need to collect data. Do a lot by hand, at first, and collect data on what you are doing. What consumes the most of your time? What has the highest impact on the result to the users? The data collected will help you build a model later. Measuring the time you spend will help you identify the first aspect of your process to automate.
When you are doing the steps manually, look at what you are doing, make a list of the steps. This will help you automate by following your handmade algorithm. But also help you hire, you can hire people to help you scale the manual processes before automating everything. There are a lot of different paths possible but they all start but writing down step by step your processes.
During the marathon to Product-Market Fit, a lot of things will go wrong, most of the things actually.
First of all, traction, how to get users to start using your product. Solutions can be working on SEO (Search Engine Optimization) or buying ads, or maybe writing more blog articles. Marketing and sales should be a focus.
Next, conversion. This is when you have a lot of visitors to your platform but they are not becoming active users. This can be because of design, more specifically what is called friction. How many clicks are needed to reach the solution? What information must be provided by the user before the gates open? One tool to solve this problem is A/B testing: measure the current baseline conversion rate and try to change things; compare the result, and iterate. Asking for advice from a data scientist can be wise when starting to work on A/B testing to make sure your data is significant. Asking for help from a User Experience expert is also a good idea.
It is possible in some cases that the technology you chose for your prototype was not the right one to support your growth. In this case, you might have to reconsider what you have built so far and see if maybe a different solution might work better for you. Reaching a local maximum can be a dangerous situation to be stuck in. Ask for advice, hire an expert.
You might also not have an attractive enough set of features. Is your solution truly differentiating? Are your users getting what they are looking for? Talk to your users, call them, set up meetings with them, ask what they want, and build it. Build your solution in collaboration with your people that are going to use it.
Product Market Fit
At this stage, you have a solid loop. You have your idea, your problem, your solution. You have a prototype and a way to collect feedback and act upon them. Product-Market Fit is not far away.
By collecting feedback you can improve the product and slowly converging towards Product Market Fit. You can build user research groups, invite your early user to your company meetings to brainstorm with them. Talk to the people that experience the problem you are trying to solve. You can even partner with schools and ask kids to give you their opinion. They have great ideas, don’t have biases, and go straight to the point.
Iteration is not only technical but is also about adapting the business model to find something the users are willing to pay.
You will have to face a few more obstacles but a big one is called The Chasm.
In the story of a product, you will have the early users, they are adventurous people ready to try new things, then the majority and the late adopters.
Your goal is to reach exponential growth, this is when the early adopters become your marketing team and talk positively about your product to the majority of the population. To achieve this, you need to make sure your early adopters are in contact with the majority of your users, be careful about social layers, language barriers, or other divisions in your target population. Otherwise, you could by mistake, optimize your product for a small minority of people that will not expand to the rest.
To attract new customers, you can use several tools. Branding, advertisement, and SEO are all part of marketing strategies to get more visitors to your platform. You can also think of ways to turn your users into salespeople by creating innovative referral systems. This will create incentives for your users to invite more users to your product.
Time is also a strategy, let the current users talk about your platform to friends and families, while you spend time improving the user experience. Depending on your product and your technology, having more users without systems in place can be detrimental to the current user base in terms of performances or experience.
You are trying to reach Product-Market Fit but how do you when you get there?
When users are eager to pay you to solve their problems.
What will you get from Product-Market Fit? Why do you need to get there?
This involves finding the right need your users have, the right cost they are willing to pay, and satisfy the resolution of their problems.
Once Product-Market Fit is reached, the users will advertise and do the marketing for you. You will see a switch where the demand for your service increase and the need to convince and persuade people to try it out will not be needed as much anymore. This will be a progressive transition and you will still have to work on marketing, and branding and keep innovating to fight competition. When Product-Market Fit has been reached, others will start copying and you need to keep moving forward. Go back to your early list of features and start working on those crazy ideas you had back. Build them today in the light of the insights gathered during this growth.
Hiring will also become one of the main focuses, the same way that you had to work on marketing for your product, you will have to work on culture and recruitment to attract talents. Read more about the roles of leaders evolving as the company grows.
In conclusion, you want to get to Product-Market Fit to prove that your solution is the right solution for the problem you want to solve.
To get there, you need a clear understanding of the needs of your users. Then, build fast iterating prototypes to fine-tune your offering.
And finally, the key element to it all: collect user feedback, work with your users to build the product they need.
And, reach out if you need help in your quest to Product-Market Fit.