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We constantly hear about “product market fit.” But my post yesterday about The Power of Passion When Starting Your Company was about “founder market fit.” And I’ve come to believe that – especially among first time entrepreneurs – founder market fit is much more important than product market fit at the inception of the company.
I stumbled on the phrase a few times over the past year and it’s been rolling around in my head a lot since. The first time was on Chris Dixon’s blog Founder / market fit which led me to a guest post by David Lee of SV Angel on More Thoughts on What Makes Great Entrepreneurs Great.
I’ve seen this over and over in TechStars. Founders come in with something they are super excited about. As they get exposed to mentors and feedback, they quickly start moving around within the market (or domain) as they search for a clearer focus, which could be defined as product market fit prior to getting a product out there and doing any real testing. This search is usually qualitative – it involves real feedback from potential customers and users, but it’s not a measured, tested approach.
In parallel, there’s often a Lean Startup methodology going on that does more quantitative tests of the specific product. But in a lot of cases, the qualitative feedback at the very formative stages is just as, if not more, important to make sure you end up in the right zone to test.
Underlying all of this is the regular shift away from something the founders are passionate about. The Orbotix example in my post is a great one – it would have been easy for Adam and Ian to decide to work on something that had a better product market fit, like iPhone enabled door locks, instead of something that not only hadn’t been invented yet, but also wasn’t obvious what market would really want it (a ball controlled by your smartphone – ok – that’s cool, but who will buy it?)
They, and their co-founder and CEO Paul Berberian had a vision for who would want a ball controlled by a smartphone. And Adam and Ian were obsessed with the idea. The three of them had extraordinary founder market fit, well before they figured out the product market fit.
We’ve got lots of other examples of this in our portfolio. I can’t tell you the number of times I get asked “what would someone ever use a personal 3D printer for?” But Bre Pettis at MakerBot is completely and totally obsessed with bringing 3D printers to the masses. While product market fit is getting clearer with each new product release, the founder market fit in this cases was awesome. Or Isaac Saldana of SendGrid, who initially named the company SMTPAPI. He has a great chapter in Do More Faster where he wrote about how he “Looked for the Pain” as a developer, found it in sending transaction email, and created SMTPAPI (now SendGrid) to address it. Or Eric Schweikardt who is unbelievably focused on creating the next generation robot construction kit at Modular Robotics. Sure – the “market comp” in this case is Lego Mindstorms, but Eric’s vision for the market goes well beyond this, and the product follows.
I’m not suggesting that product market fit isn’t an important concept. It is. But at the very beginning, especially with first time entrepreneurs, founder market fit is even more important.
I get asked some version of this question, often in the form of “I’m thinking about becoming an entrepreneur”, every day. It’s awesome to me that lots of people are asking this question but it’s really hard to answer with a simple, short response. I’ve been pointing people at a number of resources to help them get a feel for what being an entrepreneur is like and two that I’m involved in top the list.
The first is the book Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons To Accelerate Your Startup that I wrote with David Cohen in 2010. There are a bunch of reviews up on Amazon – mostly good – that capture the spirit of what we were trying to convey. Whenever I’ve aimed it at someone who asks what it’s like to be an entrepreneur or wants to learn more about what’s in the mind of an entrepreneur, I usually get the feedback that it’s useful. What surprised me early on was the feedback from early employees at startups who told me it helped them understand what the founders of their company were going through. I recently skimmed through it again just to make sure it still felt fresh to me and it does.
The second is Startup Weekend. If you’ve never done a Startup Weekend, it’s an incredible simulation of entrepreneurship. In 54 hours you’ll go through the experience of starting a company from scratch, surrounded by others doing the same thing. You’ll compress a lot of the activities into a weekend, especially dynamics around team, idea, and trying to get something out the door quickly. It’s valuable for existing entrepreneurs as well – if you are an entrepreneur looking for smart people who want to get involved with startups, it’s a great recruiting ground. I’ve known and supported Startup Weekend from the very first one that was held in Boulder in 2007 and joined the board last year to amp up my involvement.
While there is no substitute for jumping in the deep end and starting a company, I believe both our book and the experience of Startup Weekend are great ways to get a deeper perspective of what it’s like to be an entrepreneur.
What are some of the things you point people at to answer this question?
If you are a developer, I encourage you to carve out an hour and watch TechStars CEO David Cohen’s presentation at RailsConf 2012 (30 minute presentation and outstanding 30 minutes of Q&A). He starts out with the assertion that “developers are the new investors” - how could you not be interested in hearing more about that?
David and I wrote a book last year called Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup and this is his riff to a room full of developers about some of his top tips. Special bonus – see a photo of me in my pajamas at minute 7.
Jason and I got an email this morning that said the following:
Hi Jason and Brad,
Just wanted to thank you for writing the book ‘Venture Deals’. The advice in the book seriously helped my startup get a great term sheet on the table on Friday.
We get an email like this often. They come in different forms – some are longer than others – but they always have the same message. “Thank you for helping me.” And that feels awesome. It’s not the extrinsic motivation from the praise, it’s the intrinsic motivation that comes from knowing I’ve put together a book on a difficult topic that is useful.
I’ve currently written three books: Venture Deals, Do More Faster, and Burning Entrepreneur. This summer I’m going to write four more – Startup Communities, Startup Life, Startup Boards, and Startup Accounting. They are all in process and at different stages of completion – by the end of the summer they’ll be largely done and will come out quarterly starting in Q3. My goal is to cover a broad range of Startup topics in the same format that Jason and I did with Venture Deals.
Every time I get an email like the one above, it’s a little more fuel to keep on writing.
I’ve always loved getting books signed by the author. As an author of two books, it makes me smile a huge smile when someone asks me to sign a copy of my book for them.
With Kindlegraph, I can finally sign my Kindle books. I met the founder, Evan Jacobs, at Glue a few months ago. He had just started putting books up on it and I immediately told him that I was game to put Do More Faster up. I tweeted about it and signed a few.
Now that Venture Deals is out I’ve got them both up on Kindlegraph. If you have a Kindle version of either book, or you are buying one, and want me to sign it, just go to my Kindlegraph author page and request for me to sign the book.