Can we ignore product-market fit?
As useful as it is, the PMF concept has its weaknesses and pitfalls. It encourages to over-build and overspend, it is insufficient to build a business around it and it might fail to account for market evolution.
As useful as it is, the PMF concept has its weaknesses and pitfalls. Below I outline four of them and argue that in spite of these, if you are a first-time early-stage entrepreneur you should definitely not ignore it.
I think once you nail it, you are in a much much much better position to build a business around it.
1. It encourages to overbuild and overspend
The concept of PMF frequently goes hand in hand with the MVP artifact of the Lean methodology. In this combination, it encourages to focus on building something before you even start.
I call this the misunderstanding of the “P”. Instead of thinking of the P in MVP as Product, I encourage you to think of it as P from Prototype or P from Probe. A probe is the the word scientists use for their small scale experiments and refers to a truly small unit. Even P from Proof could do better than Product.
What this means is that you should not start with the set of features and functionalities. Remember the pyramid: start with the bottom. Start with the fundaments and then work your way up.
In practice, the opposite is true. The least first-time founders go out of the building early and often. The most spend quite a lot of time building before they share. I get it, the joy of building something from scratch out of the sheer power of your brain is exhilarating. But is is still not the right first step.
You can address most critical hypothesis about your nascent business without building anything!
In fact, I challenge you: how far can you go with your business idea without building anything?
2. It is insufficient to build a successful business
A focus on PMF might lead you to neglect other vital areas of your business. Worst case, you find yourself with PMF and still have no viable business.
How can this happen?
PMF is the start but by no means the end. You still need to acquire, retain and delight your customers while making some money. If you fail to do one of the above, no PMF will save your business.
Do not neglect distribution at the start. While experimenting, try out different acquisition channels, and sales motions. While you have none or little business, you should focus on nailing distribution.
3. It is hard to understand and hence provides little actionable guidance
Critics argue that PMF is a fuzzy and abstract concept that provides little actionable guidance for the entrepreneurs out there.
I believe this is a weak criticism. Part 3 of this series introduces qualitative and quantitative indicators to measure it. Part 2 of this series provides a method to engine your ways to it.
I argue the opposite. It is a very actionable concept that provides useful guidance. Specially at the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey.
No need to dwell longer in this.
4. It fails to account for market evolution
Customers change their preferences and markets keep evolving. A product that once fit the market well, may stop doing so. Because PMF is static at first glance, it is unable to account for these changes in the market over time.
Keep in mind, that PMF is not a prize that you win, you take home and display on your shelf because you earned it. It holds for every moment in your business journey. You have to challenge yourself about it regularly.
If you track some of the PMF metrics (see part 3 of this series) and make an effort to stay attuned with your customers, you will spot changes in the market tides.
Can we ignore it?
If you are lucky or if you have lots of resources, you can certainly build a successful business without ever coming across or caring about the PMF concept. You can find (lots) of examples of successful companies built completely detached from it.
Nonetheless, I will argue that, if you are starting out, you have limited resources, and this is your first time, this is a useful concept that provides actionable guidance to avoid many costly mistakes.
So yes, you can ignore it. But know that you'd rather not.
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