Market Product Fit. Surprises and why founders should explore them.

A single Google search will bring you to gurus of product market fit. This is the exact opposite thinking. I had recently solicited ideas to feature in the blog post. The one below got me thinking.

So how does one go about solving for the non obvious? The basic construct in my mind is to not build products that you then look for a market to sell. It’s a mind set thing. You must look at the market first, product second. Its not the usual way of thinking about these things but its always harder to convince people to buy your sprocket vs the next guys. Look for a market where people are using sprockets with ropes tied to them and no one producing them en mass. Be that guy/gal who adds the rope to the sprocket. The market exists but isn’t either sexy enough or cant be Googled or outside of your circle of immediate relevance but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

The Small road to big Markets

Think about it as the road to building 1m$ companies vs 100m$ ones(you will eventually get there). There are enough things out there that have things tied to sprockets that we are all missing, whilst we are subconsciously driven by  mental models where founders are inclined to make a product (or get an idea) first and then go out in the market to test it. Failing fast is great, but this sort of mental pre disposition can lead to failing before even starting.

If you start with an idea and in your circle of relevance every one says wow, great idea, it will work, its bound to be a successes. What you have done is gone through a validation process and now have an overconfidence bias because you tested with the wrong demographic and have incomplete information.

If you started with a market and found a product or service that consumers are hacking their way to make their lives easier, as an entrepreneur IF you can improve upon and standardize for the rest of the market you would have a better chance of building a 1m$ company; than you trying to build a product for a market that you didn’t evaluate beforehand.

But the million $ question here is to ask yourself: What’s an offsetting behavior? Would you know it if you saw it, meaning can you identify it? You cant just go ask consumers what they did and take surveys to collate all the info to build a better product, in most cases if it were that easy it would already have been done.

So what are you really saying? What works then?

Look for things with shock value. Look for crazy patterns. Look for Surprises. Look basically for the odd/peculiar/inconsistent things in markets. In most cases people don’t even know that they are compensating for a products lack of features or hacking their way for better efficiency etc, you have to stand tall and observe. People are un aware of the need because they have always compensated for it, by adding their odd solution or signature fix to a problem.  Ways to discover market-product fit is to first define an area or space you like or as passionate about, second you must have some un-fair advantage in the space, either by qualification or experience or both or even having information and having a better way to analyze it. So if you have experience in horse breeding best not to be looking at hydrogen cells as the market to disrupt.  Every morning when you wake up you should ask your self, the shouldn’t questions.

What is happening around you but shouldn’t be happening? What shouldn’t be happening around you but is happening?

Coming back to the initial item, once you have identified the peculiarity, the question to solve for is the Why? Why are people doing things a certain way.. Would your potential clients do it too if it was a) Legal, b)faster c)cheaper. The worst mistake is that you copy a customers behaviors and masquerade it as solution.

You will win when you know their underlying motivation and design based on it. Also note, not every thing needs more tech or any tech or any digital any thing. Some times its better to focus on providing a frictionless experience what ever the channel may be.

This shall give you a launch pad, but it’s key to dig deeper and understand as many angles as possible and whether solving for it it represents a valid business opportunity. Don’t just embrace the 1st idea that comes to mind . Learn how to distinguish between signal and noise. The positive signal is usually an indication of confirmation bias at play. Be cautiously optimistic..

Here is how I think about these things.

  1. What are millennial’s obsessed with and what is it that I don’t understand about it? Is it trying a particular kind of food, fashion? What are they using to communicate, are they sharing/over sharing.Why are they doing it? Is there a better better mouse trap that can be built to accomplishing the same desire? Because I know the market is far and wide.
  2. What continues to piss people off or make for annoyance in their lives, yet people continue to do it? Some thing like watching videos on loud volume in the presence of others?(a habit displayed by boomers of every kind). Cell phones ringing in meetings? Long queues at the bank and now long queues at retail chains. Why are they doing that? Is there a better way? The market is there, can you hack your way into it?
  3. What are people doing that is illegal or not fully endorsed by the law? Avoiding taxes(national sport), buying drugs(rising popularity), speaking freely(massive media bans and the fear of repercussions). What are motivations for those behaviors? How would you address those motivations in a legal manner? Is there a legal manner, could you motivate people over time to cross the spectrum in to legality? Again the market for non-tax payers in this country is pretty much every one. What does that market need?
  4. What are things people need daily/weekly/monthly/yearly that could be solved for by subscription yet people choose the most inefficient way to source them and always complain about it? The way to look at this deeper is by asking is there an Existing community of enthusiasts or people with a need? Evergreen category?Audience that is looking for continuous discovery(niche). Recurring need (grocery/masalas/card re charges), Customers who want to make someone they love happy(Gifting/surprises/support) ?Emotional connection(News papers/childhood foods/ethnic items)? It’s a way of life (think : runners, cyclists, knitters, diabetics, high-blood pressure/medical conditions.) The idea is to understand that markets for these exist. You have to discover/find/identify the market first, because its where they need products. These markets are ready for the taking for those who have the patience to work backwards and introduce complementary products.

An other item that I cant classify, but id like you to think about are communities as marketplaces or Muhallas as Markets. Why do I say that? I now spend a dis-proportionate and likely un healthy amount of time thinking about logistics and distribution.

Every day I see trucks delivering Drinking Water in large bottles to neighborhoods. In a typical setting say in a dense urban area, where there are sprawling buildings and homes alike, I see 10 brands of the water being delivered by 5 different people or individuals hiking the bottles across 1 at a time over the week as needed.

If we assume water quality to be the same and or similar and price points being the same(in a given muhallah), why isnt an entrepreneur going to this market and converting 50 buildings and 100 homes to sign up with them. Then become the distributor by having purchasing power advantage to target this captive market. Similarly in upscale neighborhoods from Nestle to Culligan the bottles and trucks are zig zagging across.

Why wouldn’t some one try to consolidate the market and work on building their own distribution or brand even. In my experience most people call the brand they know and then get a delivery set up, you can invert the funnel, instead of the brand passing the lead to the distributor you can be a captive market player the other way around. What if you worked backwards on this market. Own the Customer and build a better delivery/distribution mouse trap. The idea being, the market is there , you don’t even have to make the product but you will succeed if you make it stand out, either by pricing, frequency of delivery, pre payment, door step credit cards, wallet payments etc. Sometimes all you need is a notepad and the ability to sit down and take notes. No AI needed. Observe the market.

So if you treat your neighborhood and muhallas as market for products and services you will now be able to do a market product fit more easily. Look at what all this market consumes and what advantages you can bring to it (this is just a simple example to start thinking about the process and how to identify markets) Also this isnt the only way to think about a market.

A market could also be where people who are geographically dispersed but aligned based on need (People in cold rural climates nation wide who need affordable winter clothing likely delivered to doorstep sans online). So no one right answer.

In an effort to make this article/post interactive. Ive put out a tweet that you can reply to, sharing what you think are some great market-product fit ideas especially when you think about ,things that shouldn’t be happening but people are doing anyway and how some one can build a better mouse trap or convert that market in a whole new way. So share all the non-obvious opportunities so some where, some how an aspiring entrepreneur can take a crack at that market.

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