Finding a good product-market fit is an iterative process. It is rarely ever going to be an “Aha!” moment. You have to work on it and progress towards a better fit.
A previous blog-post on Product-Market Fit discussed how it is one thing (albeit a very good thing) to get to an informed state in which you are certain, to a reasonable extent, that the product journey you are about to embark on is going to address some underserved need of your target market. In order to get there, you need to go through iterations. But should you stop iterating and re-evaluating your position once you’ve attained a state that somewhat resembles your idea of a product-market fit? Probably not, and here’s why.
Let’s pretend we’re hoping to build an app that will help make ordering textbooks easier. We’ve determined that this app solves an existing problem and that there is a market for it, and started building some form of a productized version of the app.
Why Should We Iterate?
Avoiding Local Maxima
You want to avoid being stagnant at a local maximum and for that you need to keep going back to the drawing board to make sure your product-market fit is the best that it can be. You may have hit a sweet-spot during one of your first few “fit-finding” iterations, with positive feedback which encouraged you to start building the product. But that sweet spot could have been a function of certain stars aligning.
In our case (i.e. the textbook app), we had determined that there was a great market for this earlier on, and had designed the product based on that market and its needs. Are we thinking too narrowly about it now that we have a hypothesis we believe in? Could we do better? Only one way to find out: iterate.
Ever-Changing Market Needs
Unlike the product and team, which are more so in your hands, the market is its own beast and can change with time. You can’t afford to be caught off-guard.
What if the needs of the market have changed and people are a lot less likely to order textbooks online and are now more likely to rent them or borrow them from a library? What if more college courses this year give students access to published material on their course website, reducing the demand for this solution? Iterate.
Competition Catches Up
Even if you attain Nirvana, it doesn’t mean others haven’t. What if there is another team or company looking to build something similar or solve a similar problem in a better way? When UberCab first released their app, there were several companies that jumped at the thought of a “cheaper UberCab”. You can never underestimate your potential competitors.
Understanding product-market fit in this iterative fashion ultimately leads to self-awareness. After each iteration, you, the product owner, are now more equipped and more updated than you have ever been in the past, about the meaning and story of your product. Your decisions (especially on-the-fly ones) will be stronger and more informed. This will inevitably lead to more desired outcomes.
Invention is key to continued success of a product or service. After an initial successful run it is crucial to explicitly keep your mind open to better ways of solving problems in your target problem-space, or perhaps even look outside of it. Re-iterating and constantly learning about your market-fit will present opportunities to take a step back and re-invent, and you will end up making sure you stay ahead of your competitors. LinkedIn is a good example of a company that had a successful initial product, and around 2013 went back to the drawing board and came out with a better looking product that served the needs of the existing market. Since 2014, their UI/UX as well as their user-stories have become a big reason for their success. Leveraging their existing professional network forum, they came out with several great features like tools to help new-grads find jobs, and an extensive search bar. They are a true example of a company that has re-invented itself.
Iterating is learning. Don’t ever stop!