Startups Can Adapt to Market Changes: How to Evaluate Product-Market Fit and Pivot as Needed
Most entrepreneurs believe they have the next great idea, but they haven’t done the prep work of evaluating the market for viability. Whether it’s a pet rock, Pinterest, or a cookie cup, the saying “There’s a market for everything” does have a lot of truth to it. But to know for sure that there’s a market for your idea, one must have sales and learn the meaning of “product-market fit.”
Without product market fit, a startup may spend years in a struggle to gain traction. Product-market fit is shown by quick revenue growth, and is very enticing to investors.
Market Fit Questions To Ask First
“Product-market fit” sounds lofty, right? It refers to whether a business creates a good or service that meets consumer needs, is relevant, is priced well for the target audience, and has intrinsic value that can’t be duplicated by competitors. For brevity, we’ll use the term widget to refer to both products and services.
First, understand that product-market fit doesn’t mean that only one business can successfully sell a widget within a specific category. But it does mean that this widget outshines the competition in that niche. The first in a series of important product market fit stages is to ask your customers questions to see if your widget is worth pursuing with a startup.
Does the widget:
- Address a meaningful customer need?
- Solve the need in a new way?
- Have a reasonable price that customers will pay?
- Does the price being paid allow the company to make a profit?
- What other features would the customer like to see?
- Create a positive user experience (UX)
- Have a clearly-defined feature set
Before you try to sell or market to consumers, make sure that the product-market fit is properly vetted. You may spend several months researching the consumer landscape and the competition before the widget is ready to launch. Ask at least 100 unknown people to answer your discovery questions.
Identify the Target Market
Before you try to sell or market to consumers, make sure that the product-market fit is properly vetted. You may spend several months researching the consumer landscape and the competition before the widget is ready to launch.
Identify The Target Market
Don’t even think about launching a startup if the target market is not present. Let’s use the example of a residential cleaning service in Nevada. Think about who is most likely to hire house cleaners. This could be owners of high-end homes but may also be busy middle-class professionals who are short on time.
They can be renters, homeowners, any gender, any race, and any age. The key indicator is that they have enough discretionary income to afford professional house cleaning. This is the start of learning about the market, so go to a busy place and ask people if they will help you by answering some questions. Try to craft the questions without leading the respondent to a yes or no answer. The idea is to really engage with potential customers to learn how they deal with cleaning the house at the present time and what issues they have. One of the questions should be “Would you pay for someone to clean your house if they were efficient and you knew they were not thieves?” If someone answers “Yes”, the next question is “What would you pay for this service?” followed by “Do you pay for a service now?” and “How much do you pay?” and finally “In a perfect world, what would you change about your present service that would make it worth paying more for?” The answers to these questions enable the crafting of a good value proposition. If the answers do not prove the need for the service and the willingness of customers to pay, the entrepreneur should consider pursuing their next great idea.
Value Proposition vs. Pricing
Determining where your offering sits in regard to value and the rest of the market is one of the more important tasks to be done in anticipating product market fit. The Value proposition explains to your target market members how your widget is the best option available and why a consumer should pick yours over the competition’s widget. This can be an intrinsic value that is intangible. The intrinsic value of the cleaning service is that it frees up a customer’s valuable time to pursue other tasks, while not taking too much time to complete.
The customer’s newly found free time is a direct understandable benefit, while the cleaning being done quickly ensures that the customer’s life is interrupted only briefly. Determining pricing can be done with the aforementioned customer validation questions. If the choice is to target only high-end households, a higher fee may make sense because the time that goes with their higher salary is worth more. Conversely, someone with a smaller living space or with a lower income might balk at a premium price tag. The higher-end households represent higher earnings, but you might have fewer customers. Conversely, there are more middle class customers, so they represent a larger market potential—even though the per-booking fee is lower. Determining which is the ideal customer will dictate which value proposition is pursued first.
A Clearly-Defined Feature Set
This piggybacks off of the value proposition. Your feature set should reinforce what people will receive in exchange for hiring your cleaning service. This would be a clear outline of what consumers will be paying for. What tasks are included in your bookings? Are there multiple tiers for bookings, and if so what are the minimum tasks that you provide in the lowest tier?
Feature sets can also refer to perks. Maybe you decide to throw in a free deep cleaning for every fifth booking. Or, you offer a half-price cleaning service on select days or an alternative rewards program.
A Positive User Experience
This feature is critical once you’ve launched your widget. Don’t expect consumers to spend their hard-earned money on a subpar experience. You might fool a customer once, but if your staff steals valuables, destroys items around the home, or does a half-hearted cleaning job, don’t expect repeat bookings. In the early days, find an unscalable extra task that will delight your customer, such as leaving a fresh flower after the cleaning.
As a business, you can preemptively research only for so long before you have to go ahead and launch. At some point, you need to discover the fruits of your labor. Another way to determine product-market fit is to gather feedback from your consumers or focus groups. Repeat complaints on specific aspects are signs that you need to make adjustments to improve your product-market fit.
Be Prepared to Pivot
“Pivot” isn’t a dirty word in the startup world. Sometimes it’s necessary to help the business thrive when it would otherwise fail. When shortcomings are discovered that stall or negatively affect sales, the best thing to do is talk to customers (again) and implement changes that prevail among the customer’s feedback.
Don’t allow ego to prevent making adjustments that could help create a winning business model. As a startup, it is hard to determine when the startup has achieved product-market fit. Hallmarks of product market fit are having so many referrals that it is hard to keep up with production or orders. When sales are coming in from word of mouth, sales are growing exponentially, and all the employees are scrambling, that’s a good indication of product market fit. But don’t stop there, keep talking to customers to keep them delighted. Remember, understanding product market fit and positioning the company appropriately is only the beginning.