42% of startups fail because there is no market need for their product. Conducting product/market fit research can help ensure your startup isn’t one of them.
Conducting customer interviews is a great way to get a gut-check from real customers, learn more about the pain point you’re trying to solve, and get closer to building a product that people love. Our launch kit makes it easy to get started with research, with a pre-built study ready for launch, templates to guide you through the entire process, and a crash course in product/market fit interviews.
If you're ready to get started, you can go ahead and launch your product/market fit study. We’ve preloaded it with most of the information you’ll need to get started and set it for 10 thirty-minute sessions, conducted online. You can change any of the preloaded information to fit your specific needs. You can save your study as a draft and launch it whenever you're ready.
Product/market fit is that magical thing that happens when a product truly fits a market need. In short, it means that customers, in large enough numbers, are eager to pay for what you built. For most companies, product/market fit is a constantly evolving thing, something to always have an eye on and work towards.
The PMARCA Guide to Startups by Marc Andreessen of Andreessen Horowitz, offers a great explanation of what product-market fit is and why it’s important to a successful startup.
“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.
You can always feel when product/market fit isn't happening. The customers aren't quite getting value out of the product, word of mouth isn't spreading, usage isn't growing that fast, press reviews are kind of "blah", the sales cycle takes too long, and lots of deals never close.
And you can always feel product/market fit when it's happening. The customers are buying the product just as fast as you can make it -- or usage is growing just as fast as you can add more servers. Money from customers is piling up in your company checking account. You're hiring sales and customer support staff as fast as you can. Reporters are calling because they've heard about your hot new thing and they want to talk to you about it. You start getting entrepreneur of the year awards from Harvard Business School. Investment bankers are staking out your house. You could eat free for a year at Buck's.
Lots of startups fail before product/market fit ever happens. My contention, in fact, is that they fail because they never get to product/market fit. Carried a step further, I believe that the life of any startup can be divided into two parts: before product/market fit (call this "BPMF") and after product/market fit ("APMF"). When you are BPMF, focus obsessively on getting to product/market fit.
Do whatever is required to get to product/market fit. Including changing out people, rewriting your product, moving into a different market, telling customers no when you don't want to, telling customers yes when you don't want to, raising that fourth round of highly dilutive venture capital -- whatever is required. When you get right down to it, you can ignore almost everything else. I'm not suggesting that you do ignore everything else -- just that judging from what I've seen in successful startups, you can.”
Product/market fit is a huge part of whether a startup succeeds or fails, so learning whether or not you have it is incredibly important. Product/market fit interviews are only one tool to help you find product/market fit, and can be combined with analytics, continuous feedback surveys, and feedback from sales and support teams.
Product/market fit interviews are interviews in which you talk to customers or potential customers to learn about your product/market fit. Typically, they involve talking to 5-10 customers or potential customers for 30 minutes to an hour. In the interview, you’ll ask them about their pain points, how they currently complete the task you hope to help them with, and what your product currently helps them do. The goal is to learn about whether or not the problem you’re solving is truly a pain point for your customers, and if it is, how your product can help people solve that problem best. Of course interviewing 5-10 people will not tell you all you need to know about your product/market fit status. But it can help you understand what markets (customer segments) your product is meeting the needs of, or not, and why.
Product/market fit interviews first and foremost help you and your team understand what product/market fit looks like for your business. These interviews are not a time to ask “would you buy this product?”, but an opportunity to learn more about the problem your product solves. People aren’t good at predicting their future behavior, and no one wants to tell you your startup idea isn’t the best. Instead, focus on your customer’s pain points and be honest with yourself and your team about where your product fits into the solution.
That being said, let’s get into what these interviews can help you learn. Product/market fit interviews can look a little different depending on where you are in your product development.
For example, if you're still fairly early in your development, these interviews could help verify that your idea is worth pursuing. In fact, our company, User Interviews, was born out of product/market fit interviews. Our founders were looking to validate their ideas for a totally different startup, but ended up learning that finding people to talk to for product research was a pain. After another round of interviews to learn whether or not participant recruitment was something that people struggled with and would pay to have solved, User Interviews was born.
For companies that are a bit further along and already have a built product, product/market fit interviews can help ensure you’re heading in the right direction. The easiest way to do this is to talk to your customers. In an article detailing how Superhuman found product/market fit, founder Rahul Vohra outlined the survey he used to find the right customers to focus on to improve product/market fit.
Vohra’s strategy hinges on surveying customers on how disappointed they would be if they could no longer use your product and eventually moving 40% of your users into the “very disappointed” category. To improve, you’ll need to isolate what people who would be “very disappointed” love about your product, and identify what holds people who would only be “somewhat disappointed” back from loving it. We included a similar survey in our screener survey tutorial to help you identify these segments in your own customers.
If you’re doing product/market fit interviews for a product that already exists, start by asking those survey questions, and then focusing on people in the “very” and “somewhat” disappointed categories. Are they who you expected them to be? In what ways are they similar and different to each other? What can you do to move the “somewhat” disappointed people to the “very” disappointed category? The best way to learn this is to talk to them!
Product/market fit interviews can be really illuminating, but they can’t answer all of your questions. While you don’t necessarily have to conduct other research before doing product/market fit interviews, you likely will.
If your product is totally new, you’ve probably conducted some research on the market, who your competitors might be, and whether or not a comparable solution already exists. Though it’s not strictly user research, that work will be important in informing who you talk to and what you ask them during the course of your interview.
If you’re working on product/market fit interviews for an existing product, you’ve likely already been through some usability testing, collected NPS scores, and gotten feedback from current users either formally or informally. Again, that work will inform your interviews, but they’re not a strict prerequisite for conducting product/market fit interviews. We do suggest learning a little more about how the people you’re talking to think of your product before your interviews through a product/market fit survey. If you’re not currently sending such a survey, you can always use it as your screener survey for your project.
Nope! No prototype necessary. In fact, conducting product/market fit interviews is an important step before you spend time building a product. While ensuring your cat stays on top of your Roomba may be incredibly important to you, others may not see a Cat Roomba Throne as a worthy investment or something that solves a real need for them.
Product/market fit interviews are an important step in learning about the pain point or problem your product solves. That problem needs to be difficult enough that people are searching for (or cobbling together) a solution of their own, and would be willing to pay for something to help them out.
When our founders did product/market fit interviews for User Interviews, they asked about research practices and processes. They didn’t have a working prototype, or even ask participants whether or not they would want the product they planned on building—again, people are bad at answering hypothetical questions accurately. To evaluate potential product/market fit, the founders asked participants about their top pain points with research, and waited to see what they said. If participant recruitment was brought up in more than half of the interviews, it would be clear that User Interviews could solve a real problem for customers. 70% of the participants brought up recruitment as a top pain point, and User Interviews was born!