What do users want? In one way or another that is the question any company looking for product market fit is trying to answer. Who are our users? What is it that they want? And can we give it to them? Oftentimes these three questions get so tangled it’s hard to tell them apart. However I found there is value in looking at each part of this equation individually, not only as a whole, so let’s break this down:
Who are our users?
The broader the answer is, the harder it will be to find a fit! Even if your product should eventually be used by everyone, for finding initial product market fit you want this to be super specific. Why? So you can more easily find and reach them. The Mom Test is a great resource to help narrow it down. My initial target audience was moms in tech in the US. It was super specific and made sense - these are busy mom, technically savvy. Yet even though I feel it was specific enough, as I worked on the different parts of the product market fit, as I iterated, my answer changed. First it changed to married with young kids. Recently I started focusing on families with older kids, realising the communication dynamic I am trying to simplify exist between parents and teenagers as well. With every step you take and every iteration you learn from, you will find the answer to “who are your users” might shift and change, ever so slightly yet significantly. What I found is that who is my target market is not a question to be answered once, but again and again (and again). It’s important to keep in mind that the target audience you start with is not necessarily the one you will end up serving, as it will inform not only your product and features but also your marketing.
What is it our users really want?
As you start working on this you might find, as I did, that there is a gap between what people say and what they end up doing. This is why tracking usage data is invaluable. You cannot rely solely on what users say. People might say they want or need a feature, but end up never using it. Whether it’s because they don’t need it or because you didn’t get it right is for you to find out. They might not be able to articulate why, or what is it instead that is really needed to solve their problem. If we look at the 5 stages of customer awareness it’s worth asking yourself where your users fall. If they are most aware or even product aware then they can probably more easily inform you on what they need. But if you find you are building a product for an audience that is only solution aware or problem aware (like I am) then it will most likely be harder to get specific feedback on why your solution isn’t solving their problem.
Which leads to the hardest part:
Can we give it to them?
Even if they can’t explain it? Even if they themselves don’t know exactly what or why? I think after a year in this voyage, and six months of iterating post launch, that this is where a lot of the magic happens. After you find an audience and a problem, can you distill other people’s inner need into a solution that gives them value? Can you follow the data and the little hints that your users give you and turn those into the bread crumbs that lead you to the treasure?
Building a startup is going on an adventure. And everything I thought I knew about my users, their problem and the right solution, turned out to be not quite right (and in some cases completely wrong!). What you are going to start with, your initial idea and first version of a solution is hardly ever going to be IT. In most cases your first implementation is not going to be the answer, but the first bread crumb in your trail.
The failed experiments, as well as the good ones, each lead an inch forward in our journey. It’s hard because sometimes I start questioning whether I am making any progress at all. But if I look back and see the path I walked and the things I learned, I feel I have made some good headway in the right direction, and I hope I am nearing that elusive product market fit.