There has been a lot of talk about achieving product-market fit ever since the concept was introduced by Marc Andreesen (2007). But what about the company that delivers the product? Can the company obtain a big enough market to achieve profitability, and can it actually satisfy that market?
Product-market fit describes a scenario in which a company’s target customers are buying, using, and telling others about the company’s product in numbers large enough to sustain that product’s growth and profitability. It’s a scenario in which a product satisfies customer needs so that alternative products do not.
Marc Andreesen believes companies who have achieved this ideal state can feel it because money is piling up, and investment bankers are staking out the company. On the other hand, companies who haven’t achieved Product-Market Fit can feel it because word of mouth isn’t spreading, deals aren’t closing, and press reviews are flat.
But what about the supplier-product and the supplier-market fit?
You may have found the ideal product and an underserved market segment, but does the supplier’s organization fit the product? And can the supplier’s organization deliver on its promise to a certain market? When is an opportunity a fit for the company?
During one of my interim management assignments, an employee told me he needed to attend a course to learn about LED technology and how to design a lighting plan for buildings. I wondered why, because my client’s core business was selling software licenses and to my knowledge, nobody had any relevant knowledge of LED technology or knew how to engage with building designers.
So I asked the CEO why he had selected this ‘exotic’ product line. He found it to be an opportunity because he could buy LED lighting and fixtures really cheap, allowing the business to make a solid profit. But without any expertise or relevant capabilities, I asked, wasn’t he concerned with the huge capabilities gap? After all, this was a complete diversifaction from the core business. “Yes,” he replied, “that’s why I’ve sent them on a course.”
The next day, I noticed that people were in shock. They realized that they knew nothing about the product, the technology, or the market and had no idea what was expected of them, let alone consider their competences to fit the new functional requirements. Luckily, I managed to talk the CEO out of it.
Years later, I learned that after my assignment, the CEO had decided to introduce the LED business afterall. I learned that, despite the training, they were unable to make the product line profitable. More importantly, by requiring frontline employees to sell and support a far too wide variety of products and services, none of the product lines matured and the business went bankrupt.
Therefore, whether a product-market fit is good for the company, in my opinion, deserves quite a bit more attention than it usually gets. Andreesen addressed the issue by distinguishing between two key stages: before product-market fit (BPMF) and after product-market fit (APMF). Before you develop a product that you confirm enough people are willing to pay for, your team cannot afford to focus on other important strategic objectives such as growth or upselling existing users. Those initiatives could even be counterproductive.
So, before you decide to upscale the business, consider your options carefully. Do you want to add the product to your existing product portfolio, or create a separate business unit? Can you benefit from shared or untapped business resources or are you overstretching or overcommitting them? Or do you want to spin out a whole new business venture? Or even license the idea to a third party and obtain a kickback?
The next image is a first attempt to describe some of the issues related to determining the probability of what I would like to call a Perfect Fit™.