Episode 5. What is product-market fit?

As we’ve discussed previously, product-market fit is “finding a good market with a product capable of satisfying that market.”

In most areas, product-market fit has been around for a long time and are well understood. Automobiles, breakfast cereal, toothpaste – all of these were established a century or more ago, and now different products are competing for market share. But all of these categories – in fact, every product ever conceived – was new at some point, and both the product definition and the initial market were unclear. Should breakfast cereal be flakes or chunks? Sweet or wholesome? Crunchy or soft? Will kids eat it? Men or women? What are the alternatives? How much should it cost? When processed breakfast cereal was being introduced, the answers to these questions were unknown. Even the customers didn’t know. But at some point the answers became clear, and now breakfast cereal is a $21 billion dollar a year category.

Can you lose product-market fit? Absolutely. Culture and trends change, and markets along with them. Technology advances, allowing new product ‘features’ that weren’t possible before.

Within established categories, new product ventures are built on the foundation laid by years or decades of experience. But these days there are plenty of opportunities for completely new products and completely new markets, and those require a specific kind of approach.

What does product-market fit look like when you’ve found it? A lot of experienced professionals find this hard to explain. Many explain it as a feeling: “we started feeling pull for the first time” or “word of mouth was uncontrollable” or “Yeah, you really can’t miss it.”

Product-market fit is harder to define than you might think, in part because every case is a little bit different. but mostly because – unless you’re very lucky – it rarely happens all at once. If you’re doing it right, product market fit is an incremental thing – your results today are better than yesterday, and they keep getting better as time goes by.

 One useful definition is “when strangers are calling you about your product without being asked” or “when people are clicking the buy button with increasing frequency.” An investor once told me, “it sounds like you’re rolling the boulder up the hill. Call me when it’s rolling down.” 

Michael Sattler

With a career spent in founding and technical leadership roles with new and enterprise-level organizations, Michael Sattler is a veteran in technology strategy, operations, and product management. He’s spent decades in B2B and B2C SaaS product development, software and application design, engineering operations, new venture creation, and innovation practices.

He has scaled and managed technical teams from 2-50+ across three continents, led large-scale cross-functional program management, and founded or co-founded six companies.