Why is continuous customer engagement necessary for nailing product/market fit?
Your product, in today’s world, is a fingerprint.
It uniquely identifies your company, your target market and your users.
And your product will no doubt go through endless alterations, expansions and at times abrupt shutdowns based on market forces. But throughout this period of evolution, you need to ensure that your product strategy remains on track.
The farther you take your product from the user/consumer, the worse will it be.
That’s what makes all successful products, successful. Observe, reflect, learn and adapt from their methods of success.
One of the most relatable cases would be Elon Musk’s recent product launched under his equally amazing venture - The Boring Company. He launched a flamethrower. Yes you’ve read correctly, a Flamethrower.
And 20,00 units of that novelty flamethrower was sold out at $500 each. Conveniently Musk even renamed it as Not A Flamethrower to deftly avoid any customs or export complicacies. He managed to raise $10 million from the units that he sold.
Consider Tesla and SpaceX as well. These brands have become synonymous with perfection & success. That’s the level of brilliance & thinking you need to immerse yourself in.
Make such a product that becomes a market heartthrob. Something that consumers would desire immensely, would pay anything and would be outright upset when it’s not in the market anymore.
How do you achieve this?
How do you do it the Elon Musk way?
How do you propel yourself & your product for the market in such a way that your product becomes incredibly successful & you become a force to be reckoned with?
Let us begin with something very primal for any venture to succeed in their chosen market -
Product/market Fit (PMF)
“PMF is the degree to which a product satisfies a strong market demand. Product/market fit has been identified as a first step to building a successful venture in which the company meets early adopters, gathers feedback & gauges interest in its product(s)” - Wikipedia
PMF cannot be delegated to someone else
In order to accurately nail product/market fit it is vital for the company’s Founder to be in the forefront. He needs to engage on a personal level with potential customers, gathering & synthesising their feedback.
Relying on a random marketing or sales person to step up and work for achieving PMF will not work. They can at the most help to set up important meetings and/or find future clients to talk to. But as the founder you need to get your hands into the thick of it all. This is because it is natural for you to have a deeper domain expertise, a unique insight & the complete idea to solve the problem you recognised in the first place before you began this venture of yours.
Honestly, no one else would be better equipped to refine that unique insight you had into a successful product. So simply delegating work from behind your desk to random personnel won’t work. If you as a founder aren’t completely involved in the nitty-gritty of daily procedures & processes, you’d be unable to build the best product.
Paul Graham described this perfectly by saying -
“AirBnb’s growth philosophy constitutes of the following three things which they use as a guide to their decision making process-
1. Our users tell the story better than we do.
2. It’s better to have 100 people love you than 1,000 people like you.
3. Authenticity always - no tricks.”
And in the early stage for any venture these pointers, especially the second one really guides you & how you think about things whilst making decisions.
It also makes you cautious while considering & eventually dropping certain things that don’t scale or might make your product relatively harder to operate. If you are careful and take calculated risks keeping these pointers in mind, you’ll scale perfectly to create a raving & loyal fan base.
User acquisition & recruitment
Manually recruiting users may seem the most tedious of all jobs you as a founder could ever imagine, but you can’t sit forever and keep delaying this process. You cannot wait for people to come to you.
You have to be the one going out & luring them in, ethically speaking, with your knack for indulging people in your idea, product and/or business.
a) Aggressive early user acquisition -
The process of politely asking potential clients/customers if they’d like to try out your beta & consequently expecting them to try it out via the link you’d eventually send, is not a foolproof plan in today’s date. People’s attention span & focus is never stationary. They’ll forget, its human nature.
Whereas if you’d simply request them on the spot for their laptop & set the beta up for them immediately after they acknowledge their interest in your product, then that’s the sublime recipe for success.
b) Why Founders resist manual recruitment so much?
First is our inherent shyness & laziness which makes us more inclined to stay indoors & code endlessly. We avoid going out to approach random strangers because we feel we’d probably get rejected most of the time. So we avoid such “discomforts” altogether by staying at home.
But for a startup to succeed, one member, usually the CEO, would need to venture out of his office & indulge completely in sales & marketing. Only then would the startup grow and get the recognition it deserves.
Secondly, founders tend to ignore this process because the absolute number of users acquired seems pretty minute to them. They assume, incorrectly, that other currently prominent & successful startups could not have begun their journeys in this manner.
“They repeatedly underestimate the power of compound growth power. We encourage every startup to measure their progress by weekly growth rate. If you have 100 users, you need to get 10 more next week to grow 10% a week. And while 110 may not seem much better than 100, if you keep growing at 10% a week you'll be surprised how big the numbers get. After a year you'll have 14,000 users, and after 2 years you'll have 2 million.” - Paul Graham
If the market exists you can usually start by recruiting users manually & then gradually switch to less manual methods.
A startup’s initial fragile nature -
You don’t look at a newborn infant and conclude that he/she could never achieve anything. That’s exactly the foolishness inexperienced founders, investors, reporters & the know-it-all forum bloggers do when they hear about a new venture. They immediately, albeit unconsciously, judge them by standards that are appropriate only for presently well-established & renowned startups.
And yea this dismissive behaviour by reporters & bloggers is fine, because they are usually wrong & are simply airing some of their endless grievances. And if an investor dismisses you, that isn’t the end of the world. He’ll get back on your company bandwagon, investing thoroughly, once you scale & grow.
The only cause for concern is if you as a founder begin to hold your own idea & venture in low regard.
If you fail to see potential in your venture & treat it dismissively, then you’d never be successful.
The sooner you learn to find potential customers & future clients yourself, the sooner you’ll achieve product/market fit. Customer feedback & their interactions can help you gain incredible insights into tailoring your product for the perfectly chosen market.
Reach out to people over Social Media (LinkedIn, Twitter), or maybe release a free version of your product just to attract early users. Never underestimate their involvement & their impact in making or breaking your venture.
The right things and the necessities -
The burning question to ask about any early-stage venture is not whether that venture would take over the world, but rather asking how big & impactful the company would get if the founders did the right things.
One manual mode of recruiting could be targeting your peers who are on the same wavelength, considering that your product solves a problem that they & you can together relate to.
Otherwise you could pursue an un-targeted launch, where you observe & reflect on the type of individuals that seem enthusiastic about your product. You then go about seeking more people like them.
Engage wholeheartedly with your users -
Acquire users but strive to make them happy at every opportunity you get.
“The early users that sign up for your product must feel that enrolling & participating in your beta program or first launch was one of the best choices they ever made.”
The necessity to be constantly raking brains to come up with new ideas to delight customers is this -
“Primarily a lot of startup founders are trained as engineers, and customer service is not part of the training of engineers. You're supposed to build things that are robust and elegant, not be slavishly attentive to individual users like some kind of salesperson.”
And founders of early-stage ventures need to include their engineers in the initial customer validation process. This is because your product, from initiation, to eventually becoming product/market fit, will go through numerous iterations in terms of features & design. And the level of success you’d achieve with the product would depend on you & your team’s ability to accommodate the changes based on the invaluable customer feedback, in a prompt & efficient manner.
“Perhaps the biggest thing preventing founders from realising how attentive they could be to their users is that they've never experienced such attention themselves. Their standards for customer service have been set by the companies they've been customers of, which are mostly big ones."
Tim Cook doesn't send you a hand-written note after you buy a laptop. He can't. But you can. That's one advantage of being small: you can provide a level of service no big company can. - Paul Graham, Y2 Combinator
Over engaging with your early customers is not just a formality for achieving a steady stream of growth, but it is rather a necessity for new ventures. This feedback loop that generates as a result of constant handholding engagements makes your product great.
You get the best sort of untempered, uncensored and unbiased feedback from your early users. But once you actually get big you’ll then resort to focus groups, and that’s when you’d miss doing the things you did when there were only a handful of users. You’d miss the interactions you had with them in their homes and offices, you’d miss the genuine enthusiasm & curiosity you saw in them when they operated your beta in front of you.
In the next article, I shall throw light on actually achieving seamless product/market fit and the perfect way to sustaining an accelerated growth for your startup.