The hardest part of bringing a new product to market is always the elusive hunt for product/market fit. Marc Andreessen describes product/market fit as "being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market". I've dedicated my entire career to five such hunts across the three startups I co-founded as well as the new products I built at LinkedIn and Microsoft. Despite sounding so simple, I have plenty of scars from failing to find product/market fit, but also from the long and winding path it ultimately took to get there.
In 2007 I founded my first startup, Anywhere.FM, which developed a web music player that allowed you to upload your entire music collection to the web and then stream it from anywhere. Influenced by being an early Y Combinator company, we leveraged the emerging Lean Startup methodology popularized by Eric Ries. The methodology was a direct reaction to the failures of dot com era startups, including their focus on putting together elaborate business plans and enduring long product development cycles before launching to customers. Instead the Lean Startup encouraged launching a minimum viable product (MVP) as quickly as possible to maximize customer feedback from real users. So we did just that: hurried an MVP to market in a matter of months and got tons of early feedback from customers. But despite doing this, garnering glowing press reviews, and growing to over 100,000 users, we still ultimately failed to find PMF because we were never able to find a viable business model for our product. While we were ultimately acqui-hired by imeem for the impressive tech we had developed, our dreams of building an independent web music player were over.
Video: Product Strategy, Systems, and Frameworks with Sachin Rekhi
Slides: LinkedIn Learning: Product Strategy, Systems, and Frameworks
I was recently invited to speak as part of the Product Management Learning Series hosted by LinkedIn Learning. We covered a variety of my favorite product frameworks.
We started our discussion with some of the most effective ways to make a career transition into product management. The first approach is leveraging an adjacent role, like business operations, marketing, design, and engineering, to work with and impress your product partner and parlaying that experience into a product role. We also talked about how domain experts are often recruited to become product managers even without functional product experience. For example, I've had a friend with a masters degree in education become a product manager at an edtech startup, a sales operations professional become a PM at a sales tech startup, and an MD become a PM at a health care startup.
We then moved the discussion on to how to come up with a compelling product strategy. We covered the 6 dimensions that every product strategy needs to address, including the problem you're solving, target audience, value proposition, competitive advantage, growth strategy, and business model. And we discussed how you need to have strong interplay or coherence amongst the dimensions for your strategy to be compelling.
For years now I've been obsessed with understanding unique product cultures and how they enable companies to build world class products. One particular product culture that has always fascinated me is Amazon and their unique writing culture. I love talking to Amazon employees about how the writing culture is interwoven into their product development process and the pros and cons of it. But I was even more excited when Colin Bryar and Bill Carr published their new book, Working Backwards, which provides a deep dive into how the writing culture originated, the problems it sought to solve, the benefits it introduced, and the competitive advantage it created for Amazon. I wanted to share what I learned from the book for those evaluating whether to bring a writing culture to their own product teams.
The Lean Startup methodology, first described in 2008 by Eric Ries, has taken the startup world by storm. His 2011 book, The Lean Startup, has become a New York Times best seller, selling millions of copies to aspirational entrepreneurs. The concepts the methodology describes, from hypothesis testing, to MVPs, to pivots, have become common vernacular in startup circles. And every major business school now offers an innovation class that leverages the business model canvas and other lean principles for developing a new product idea.
When an ideology becomes dominant, I find it helpful to read other perspectives on the topic to better inform my own thinking around it. So this past week I decided to re-read Peter Thiel's Zero to One, another New York Times best seller, that he published in 2014 based on lecture notes from a course on startups he taught at Stanford in 2012. Peter Thiel, the consummate contrarian, delivers a compelling anti-lean startup manifesto and offers an alternative playbook for startup founders. I wanted to share that perspective and playbook for startup founders looking to build a more robust toolkit for finding startup success.
The most important journey any new product goes through is finding product/market fit. Marc Andreessen, who popularized the term, defined it as:
Product/market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.
Despite sounding so simple, the majority of new products fail due to never finding this illusive fit. This fit illudes both new startups creating their very first product as it does established organizations seeking to expand their product portfolio. From Viddy to Quibi to Google Wave, we can all name famous product failures. And even more die quietly without such fanfare.
As a serial entrepreneur, I've been on a quest to learn how best to find product/market fit for each new product I build to avoid the pitfalls so many run into. In doing so, I've been collecting the very best resources on the topic for years. After reading and watching hundreds of essays, books, and videos, I wanted to share a curated collection of the very best resources I've found to help give you the best chance of finding product/market fit for your own product.
These resources cover everything from defining product/market fit, motivating it's importance, developing an experimentation culture to help you pivot towards product/market fit, measuring product/market fit, and case studies of startups own journey to product/market fit.
While they certainly won't guarantee your success, being well versed in the mental models, tools, and processes these resources offer will undoubtedly increase your chances.