Product / Market Fit is a Trap

Product/Market Fit is a Trap

The only thing that matters is getting to product/market fit.

Product/market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.

marc-andreessen Marc Andreessen, The only thing that matters

One of the standard topics founders and investors talk about a lot is the concept of product/market fit.

While Marc Andreessen initially used it to explain the importance of
the market you operate in, the term has become a victim of its own success.

Everyone is obsessed about product/market fit.

I hate to break it to you but …

Obsessing about product/market fit is a huge waste of your time.
Yes … waste of your time.
There … I said it again.

There is no such thing as having product/market fit.

First of all, product/market fit is not a distinct point in time.
Product/market fit is not a certain goal you reach.

You are never before or after product/market fit.

Product/market fit is not tangible.
Product/market fit is a continuum.
Product/market fit is a process.

So frankly having product/market fit or obsessing about it isn’t very useful.
It’s as actionable as obsessing about having success or being productive.

“Product / market fit is reached as soon as 40% of the shots we take hit the core of the Death Star. Now you know everything you need to know. Everyone back to work, kthxbye.“

Reaching product/market fit just means that …

  • … there is a lucrative market you operate in
  • … you create a product for that market
  • … you get better at it (either at product or at distribution or both)

Reaching product/market fit is just a side-effect of doing the right things. The only way to get there is to focus on product and distribution.

There are no silver bullets for product/market fit.

As I said above you don’t want to focus on product/market fit.
You want to focus on building a great product and on getting it into the hands of your customers.

The issue with their ideas was that we weren’t facing a market problem. The customers were buying; they just weren’t buying our product. […]

There are no silver bullets for this, only lead bullets. […]

They did not want to hear that, but it made things clear:
we had to build a better product. There was no other way out. No window, no hole, no escape hatch, no backdoor. […]

ben-horowitz Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things

Now you might say … wait a minute. Focus on product and distribution?
What about market? Wasn’t Marc’s point that the market is the most important thing of the whole equation?

When a great team meets a lousy market, market wins.
When a lousy team meets a great market, market wins.
When a great team meets a great market, something special happens.

— marc-andreessen Marc Andreessen

Yeah, well …
Yes …
But …

There is no such thing as your Market.

The concept of market (and market size) is super abstract and not very useful when you are striving to create a product that people want and love.

The concepts market & product/market fit might help you analyze situations in hindsight but in the middle of things they don’t help much.
They don’t tell you what to do.

On top of that thinking in market unnecessarily limits your search space for solutions and product innovation to existing abstractions & categories.
Also markets are shifting all the time. Things change.

Let’s have a look at what market really means in a more actionable way …

Your market is a function of the jobs your product gets hired for.

Market = ƒ(Jobs to be Done)

With that in hand we can get back to Marc’s view on teams & market …

When a great team struggles to identify jobs to be done: meh
When a lousy team identifies jobs to be done: yay
When a great team identifies jobs to be done: unicorns & rainbows ☺

— marc-andreessen Marc Andreessen, freely paraphrased by me

Now we’ve finally discovered the essence of what we need to focus on …

Focus on the jobs to be done.

The easiest way to end up with a great product in a great market is to focus on nailing the jobs to be done for your customers.

Looking at the market from the function of a product really originates from your competitors or your own employees deciding what you need […]

Whereas the jobs-to-be-done point of view causes you to crawl into the skin of your customer and go with her as she goes about her day, always asking the question as she does something: Why did she do it that way?

claychristensen Clay Christensen, Milkshake Marketing

May the job lead you to the fit of product and market …

Alan Klement recently wrote about a neat way to identify jobs to be done:

  • Begin with the context the customer is in. (Exposition)
  • Apply the observations of pre-existing human behaviors. (Observation)
  • Reduce, or eliminate, the customer’s anxieties and resolve their motivations. (Situational Analysis)

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