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How Do You Find Market Fit For Your Product?

I’ve worked with several high-tech startups in the marketing space–some of whom have had more success than others. The ones who have succeeded the most have an obsessive focus on market fit–that elusive quality that makes clients want your product. I’ve learned a way of doing this that applies to startups and to large, established companies alike.

There are many ways to find market fit, but I find too few startups focused on fit. Instead, they take the “Field of Dreams” approach–“If you build it, they will come.” These companies tend to be founder-led rather than market-led. They pursue a dream, and the smart ones succeed in selling that dream to the market. Maybe it takes a pivot or two. Some run out of money before they run out of pivots.

I’ll admit that a lot of folks don’t think there is any alternative.

I have long counseled another approach that is almost diametrically opposite the Field of Dreams approach. I somewhat cheekily refer to it as the “Dream of Fields” approach–“If you come, we will build it.” I have been doing this for many years, and it fits squarely into the Lean Startup methodology that is all the rage now. But even Lean Startups usually start with an idea–with an expected solution to a presumed problem.

I am suggesting something different. Most companies start with an expertise in solving several problems. They, in fact, can make a living providing consulting solutions for those problems, not because that is the business that they want to be in, but because they can make money solving problems and start to find the products within the consulting. There is a danger of going too far in this direction and just providing one-off consulting for all customers, but a little discipline can help with that.

By taking this approach, you force your software to at least solve the problem of the first few customers, and you likely learn a lot about generalizing the solution along the way. You also learn a lot from customers who don’t buy your product, because maybe you have something missing that would speak to an even larger set of customers.

To me, this can be a simpler path to market fit because you start out at least fitting one or two clients. The pivots might still be required, but they are less dramatic and less forced. They feel more like responses to newly-discovered opportunities than retreats from previous failures.

And it’s even easier for large companies to do this than small ones, because their trusted relationships help them find the right early customers more easily.

See if it works better for you.

Entrepreneurship Leadership Personal Development

Friction for Startups is a Necessity: Five Rules to Transform Heat into Profit

It happened very quickly. The car began to skid in an unintended direction. The tires had lost frictional contact with the pavement when the car encountered a large pool of oily water.

Friction is the resistance that one surface or object encounters when moving over another. We often think of friction as a negative force—as in there’s too much friction between two people or two organizations.

Yet many things in our lives, such as automobiles, depend on friction to operate. Wheels need friction on the road: encountering a “frictionless” surface causes the driver to lose control of the steering and often results in a crash. A gasoline motor depends on friction. The motor transforms the reaction in the engine into a positive force that moves the vehicle not just down the road, but over mountains as well.

Startups need friction, too. Unfortunately, too many startups totally avoid friction rather than managing or even encouraging creative friction. Too many others explode from destructive friction, which is the result of unmanaged friction that is allowed to get out of hand. Sadly, in both cases, the result is a potentially great product or service never makes it to the marketplace but is instead doomed to oblivion.

How do you know how much friction is right for your startup? Here are our Five FrictionFactorTM Rules for Startups.

1. Keep close contact with the road. Even if the road looks bumpy, you need to get out and drive. Make contact with potential customers and stay in contact, even when the going is tough. If there are no bumps at all, you may have lost contact with the road and with your customers. Stay close to the market and understand what’s happening with them and in the environment around you.

2. Watch your dashboard. You wouldn’t drive without looking at your dashboard. The speedometer tells you how fast you’re going. The gas gauge warns when you need to refill. Warning lights let you know if there is a mechanical problem brewing. Establish similar leading and lagging measures for your startup. Then be sure to check them regularly to anticipate opportunities and to handle problems as soon as they occur.

3. Love the heat. The bigger the friction, the greater the heat, and the greater the potential to be realized. Startups that are most successful have a mindset that says its OK to be uncomfortable, to try things that haven’t been done before. To make an impact that might just raise eyebrows and even voices, don’t be afraid to stir the pot. Keep looking for how you can keep things exciting. In other words, learn to love the heat.

4. Transform heat into energy. Like a car where the brakes lock, too much friction can grind things to a halt while make a smoking ruin of your tires. We have seen friction like this between developers and marketing or sales. Successful startups look for ways to manage friction before it becomes destructive. The secret is to use the energy of that friction to create innovation. How can you take competing viewpoints and encourage collaboration to create an even better option?

5. Keep creating friction. The way to breakthrough the noisy marketplace is by thinking differently. While the simplest form of friction is rubbing two things together, the foundation of innovation is rubbing together two or more ideas. Putting people together with different approaches and ideas may create clashes but it may also result in the energy you need. Always look for what you can do to increase innovation and encourage people to think differently. You won’t achieve breakout success by staying in your lane in second gear. Do more than think big, act big!

In the example above, the driver fortunately knew what had to be done. He steered in the proper direction, applied the right amount of braking and gas to re-engage with the pavement, and regained the ability to control the vehicle.

Following the FrictionFactor rules will allow your startup to keep contact with the market, enabling you to power up to the mountaintop of success.

Linda Popky is a Silicon Valley-based strategic marketing consultant who helps organizations get heard above the noise and the author of Marketing Above the Noise: Achieve Strategic Advantage with Marketing that Matters. Alan Willett is an expert on transforming the heat of friction into innovation. Alan has consulted with high tech organizations around the world. Alan is the author of Leading the Unleadable: How to Manage Mavericks, Cynics, Divas, and Other Difficult People.