Finding product-market fit requires product-market grit.
I don’t know any entrepreneur who easily found their sweet spot of the right customer and the right product at the right time and things just took off.
It’s always hard and takes time. If you find it.
Successful founders tell the story like it “just happened,” but it doesn’t work that way. They just skip that messy early part of their story.
After talking to thousands of software startup founders in the last 5 years and 30 years growing software companies from startup to scale…
Here’s what’s nobody’s telling you about product-market fit:
1) The PMF bar is much higher than most founders know.
It’s really when a subset of customers are ecstatic about your product, buy more, and tell their friends. This level of PMF is required to scale up and keep growing.
But most startup founders are desperate for any customers and revenue and don’t realize that PMF exists in just 20-30% of their early customers–if they are lucky.
This corner should be your narrow focus to grow bigger, to the exclusion of the rest. It’s a counterintuitive law of nature.
2) PMF is impossible with a wide aperture for your market and your product.
If you say you do “many things for many people,” then it’s clear you don’t have PMF, most of your customers aren’t happy, and your marketing won’t work.
You have a startup that won’t scale.
Product-market fit and efficient acceleration only exist in the corners of markets with specific features and messages that don’t appeal to everyone.
3) I think not finding the PMF sweet spot is the #1 reason software startups actually fail or get stuck (which can be worse than failing outright).
4) Getting a big chunk of venture funding before you really know your product and market focus usually doesn’t work.
That’s by definition, since product-market fit is defined by when you have a sweet spot that can scale and take more investment.
5) You have to start experimenting wide before you find something to focus in on.
This is counterintuitive, but it’s really what many have been saying including Lean Startup and Steve Blank on startups.
Experiment wide first to test and find PMF, then narrow down when you have leverage and double down.
Going wide at first then narrowing in later is the opposite of what founders think they should do.
6) All of this means it will take dozens of experiments with different types of customers, different offerings, messages, and approaches before you start to see a real PMF signal.
This is brutally hard, most of the time.
Sure startups are cool and “everyone’s doing it” now, but it’s still abnormally hard and risky.
grit is required here. Lean into this.
7) The period between your startup epiphany and finding really PMF usually takes a few years.
This is where entrepreneurs create the most value, but it’s where most give up or run out of money from whatever survival funding they are using.