Want to see if you can get to product-market fit? It might sound crazy, but launch the company first and figure out the product later.
Hi, I’m Jaka.
I founded what became one of the first-ever startup development studios in Europe and have launched or grown over 100 digital startups over the last 10 years. I’ve watched ventures go wildly right and wildly wrong. Some of my efforts ended up biting the dust, sure - even so, a few went on to hit unicorn status and many more made exits in the tens of millions. But this LinkedIn trophy cabinet isn’t the thing I’m most excited by: instead, it’s getting to the bottom of what sets a startup success story apart from a tragedy that has me hooked.
Finding a product-market fit has become a specialty; any failures I’ve seen in my time in business development have stemmed from misconceptions about this golden ratio. But don’t just take my word for it - Marc Andreeson is a major proponent of this idea, asserting ‘The only thing that matters is getting to product-market fit. Product-market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market’. So let this be your new commandment - less ‘Move fast and break things’, more ‘Move fast and learn things’.
Founders and Innovation Executives alike are equally guilty of obsessively searching for their first power product at the expense of insight and customer development. Meanwhile, those who are led to their big idea by their customers - and not by their egos or intuition - are those who generally make the biggest splash. You see, sometimes even a stellar stand-alone product isn’t enough to sway a customer who’s perfectly happy with their current so-and-so, thank you very much. Instead, it’s knowing the context that underpins a prospective customer’s preferences - and playing to that context - that brings your product to life in the market. Creating a brand that a customer can identify with, get excited about and brag about knowing before anyone else did is crucial here - while a USP can make the sale it’s brand loyalty that will keep them coming back for more.
But this is great news! Anyone can sell a dream whereas pinning down that one feature capable of moving the needle on willingness-to-buy is as time-consuming as it is costly. So if you’re unsure of whether your product has a strong value proposition, try launching with a promise and a personality and see what kind of stir you create. If your offering gets to one-to-watch status through word of mouth alone, you can be confident that it’s capable of drastically improving customers’ lives.
This is exactly what John Romera did when creating DOOM in 1993: “Incredibly, and perhaps a bit naively, we made a list of the technological wizardry we planned to create, and boldly stated in a press release in January 1993, that DOOM would be a major source of productivity loss around the world. We truly believed it, and worked hard that year to make it happen.” As you can see: John Romera and his team didn’t start out pushing tech to their customers - they pushed a promise and reaped the returns. Though press releases feel pretty outdated today, launching an online company with all the bells and whistles a new company requires can really take you places. If you’ve got a strong brand, a clear promise of the value you intend to bring to your customer’s world and the ability to amplify your message across a range of channels and networks, you might just find yourself with a fan-base as excited to buy your first product as you are to sell it.
At d.labs, we call this a minimum viable company - MVC for short. For what this company lacks in a product, it makes up for in customer loyalty. When we created Rock, Pamper Scissors in 2013 as a marketplace for the most creative talent in UK hairstyling and beauty salons, we honestly didn’t know which products - let alone which product features - were going to make the final cut. But we came armed with slick branding, clear positioning, tech capabilities and a wealth of knowledge about the industry and the challenges those working within it were facing. In the end, a big chunk of salons in the North of England was won-over by the opportunity to showcase their creativity and attract new clientele without any need to trial the platform. Situations like these - where a promise is compelling enough to convince an entire market - are dime a dozen at d.labs, so much so that we now consider this ‘promise-market fit’ to be one of our most robust KPIs.
This go-to-market strategy might not be one you’d come across at your typical MBA, but since when has success in business really ever been textbook? So whether you’re a serial entrepreneur or first-time founder, do reach out for a call to chat through how this approach might work for your business.