How proving yourself wrong is the first thing to do
The entrepreneurial mindset is a topic much discussed (not here though so don’t worry) but Product/Market Fit mindset, while the concern of many other stakeholders, is not discussed much (until now). P/MF has many stakeholders, be it investors, product managers, CEOs and more. Since P/MF is so critical to the success of a company, finding it requires a shared mindset, between all stakeholders.
Imagine you are in a board meeting, discussing road map or product strategy. The product is not creating significant revenue (yet) and the product manager says “we have no P/MF”. He then presents an idea for a pivot that will get that P/MF and instead of standing ovations, he gets all kinds of negative vibes. “It won’t work”, says the CMO, the CTO adds “it will take months to develop and will render most of our code useless” and so on. The CEO listens and knows she has a decision to make, which will divide the company. The stakes are everything. What to do?
“Product/Market fit is the most important thing to get right as a startup entrepreneur” Scott Cook, Co-Founder of intuit
The first problem here is not whether there is P/MF or not, but the lack of a shared mindset.
Let me explain.
Everyone (should) know the importance of P/MF, yet agreeing within early-stage startups can be very complex. Everyone wants to be right and nobody wants to be wrong. Such a state of mind will kill a company through pain and misery. The solution? instead of arguing for, try arguing against. Allow me to further explain.
After the PM presents the pivot idea our CEO jumps in and asks “what do you need to disprove this PM/F assumption?” The PM thinks for a minute and reply: “Let’s spoof a landing page with the new messaging, we will not only create a mailing list for the upcoming revised product but also start looking at CAC and compare it to our current offering”. The CMO chuckles, eager to prove the PM wrong he then says “we can set that up and have numbers to disproof this nonsense within days”.
While this is a made-up scenario, attempting to prove an idea wrong is not just a pragmatic technique, but a state of mind needed when looking for that holy P/MF.
When coming up with ideas for business models, value propositions and P/MF, you are your worst enemy, You fall in love with these hallucinations and promote them as the only truth. Such mistakes are costly because they not only blind you from the truth, they deprive you of the lessons learned that come with failure (and you will fail, miserably). If you look at your ideas as hypotheses to disproof, you are battle testing yourself with keen scrutiny that not only yields a deeper understanding of whatever it is you are doing but also guarantees the prevailing idea is the best.
From a company perspective, having that mindset shared between all stakeholders limits the biases one can bring into the process while creating a unanimous task force, focused on killing ideas without merit. The one that prevails is the PM/F you were looking for and is the one that everyone is already on board with.
How to get that shared mindset?
Communication is key. Listen to what your colleagues have to say about PM/F, in general, and specifically. You may find different stakeholders have different views. Don’t judge or argue with them. Their view is just as valid as yours.
Ask to be contended. Present your ideas as hypotheses, needed to be challenged. Look for ideas that can help disproof those hypotheses. Ask for criteria that can be used as indicators for proof.
“Rather than thinking, ‘I’m right.’ I started to ask myself, ‘How do I know I’m right?’” Ray Dalio, Hedge Fund Chair, Bridgewater
Be creative. Spoofing landing pages, ads and even products (be cautious) can yield quick results when looking to challenge your case. Mechanical Turks can also work :-) just make sure you set a limit on those.
Think Negative. Any assumption you make, do your best to disprove it. Get all the help you need so you can clear those thoughts from your head and focus on what works.
Trust actions, not words. A working model means clients are responding well to your proposition, they take action. Don’t confuse what they say with what they do. If I say in a survey “I will pay this and that for whatever you’re selling”, this “intent to buy” will get you nowhere. Intent to buy is when a user clicks ‘Add to cart”, puts in a credit card and clicks “Pay”, anything less is well… less, much less.
Seek help. We all have issues. mostly with ourselves. You want to avoid those? get help. Not a shrink though, just someone on the outside who can give you another perspective to consider.
Watch this brilliant TED talk by Ray Dalio about how to build a company where the best ideas win.
If you feel somewhat discouraged, don’t worry, that will go away (and may come back). To help you overcome here is an important quote by Seth Godin, acclaimed author and much more.
“Today, not starting is far, far worse than being wrong. If you start, you’ve got a shot at evolving and adjusting to turn your wrong into a right. But if you don’t start, you never get a chance.” Seth Godin, Acclaimed Author and much more