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Do You Really Have Product/Market Fit?

How to measure product/market fit

I run across many founders who declare product/market fit (PMF), which always catches me a little off-guard until I hear their definition.

Launching a product and acquiring some happy paying customers does not automatically pass the product/market fit test.

The bar for product/market fit is typically much higher.

The reason it’s critical to determine whether a given product is pre-PMF or post-PMF is because there is a marked flip in 80/20 focus after this transition — from getting the product right to growing the product.

In all fairness, PMF is relative to the game the entrepreneur is playing (size of business model) but assuming they are aiming for a VC-backable business model, they roughy need to hit one of the following marks:

  • Have 10 customers paying them $1m/year
  • Have 100 customers paying them $100,000/year
  • Have 1,000 customers paying them $10,000/year
  • Have 10,000 customers paying them $1,000/year
  • Have 100,000 customers paying them $100/year

Yes, you need just two inputs: The current number of customers and the average annual revenue per account (ARPA) to roughly determine PMF.

If they pass the first test, they also need to pass the following additional criteria:

  • (1 product + 1 early adopter) focus
  • Low attrition (churn)
  • Profitable or within striking distance of profitability
  • Simple early adopter segmentation (easily targetable)
  • Early adopter segment is less than 20% of the market (big enough market)

Most founders don’t readily pass or have all the data on hand to pass all tests, so I prefer a gentler approach.

One that starts with business modeling.

Specifically, getting the founder to

  • chart a traction roadmap,
  • position themselves on the roadmap,
  • formulate a go-to-market strategy from where they are to PMF.

But even this is more easily said than done.

Entrepreneurs with traction are busy with lots of things.

Getting them to slow down to rework their business model without the proper framing is hard.

This is a perfect scenario for practicing Judo versus Sumo.

A Sumo approach would challenge the founder head-on about their assumptions using a knowledge awareness trigger (lecture) to try and interrupt their current routine.

This can sometimes work, but most often backfires.

You can lead a horse to water but can’t force it to drink.

The Innovator’s Bias is immune to lecture, and founders quickly surround themselves with reality distortion fields. Push them hard enough and they avoid talking to you.

On the other hand, the Judo approach plays on their current momentum to test their balance by focusing the conversation around something they want (growth), not something they need (stress-test their metrics).

When done well, this leads to some light modeling or discovery work, which intrinsically triggers them to reprioritize some harsh realities.

Here are some recipes I use for doing this:

  • The 90-Day Goal Recipe
  • The Phantom Customer Recipe
  • The 80/20 Recipe
  • The Next X Customers Recipe

The 90-Day Goal Recipe

This is especially fitting if you’ve been hired to help a team grow or scale their business model. Since you have a finite time with the team, it’s perfectly fair to discuss success criteria for the engagement.

I start by asking about their next major milestone. More often, this might be future fundraising or a product launch event. I then steer the conversation around customer traction:

How many new customers would you need to acquire in the next 90 days?

If they have a specific number, I explore their underlying assumptions.

If they struggle to give me a specific number, I suggest modeling their traction using the Traction Roadmap tool and setting up a follow-up call to review.

The Phantom Customer Recipe

“Can you describe your ideal early adopter?” is another effective prompt.

If they have a precise definition, I suggest they do rough market sizing using the Rapid Viability Test to see if their early adopter segment is big enough.

If they struggle to articulate who their customer is, I follow up with the following:

“You can’t position your product without understanding who’s it for. The good news is that you already have customers. I’d suggest setting up some check-in calls with them to understand them better. Here’s how…”

The 80/20 Recipe

If, on the other hand, they describe 2-5 customer segments, I’d invoke the Pareto 80/20 rule: 80% of the growth will come from 20% of your customers.

“It’s okay to experiment with multiple customer segments in parallel, but you need to have a hypothesis of your primary beachhead customer segment. Which of these segments would you say is your beachhead customer?”

I’d suggest building a Traction Roadmap with that customer segment alone to see how far they can get.

The Next X Customers Recipe

Another powerful prompt: “Congratulations on acquiring your last X customers. Do you know where your next X customers will come from?”

This plays on the Customer Factory metaphor. You can’t scale something that isn’t first repeatable. Next step, let’s model the Customer Factory.

These are all starting prompts designed to trigger the founder to put the spotlight on traction, stage, and timeline.

From there, the subsequent work of charting an actionable growth plan begins.

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