Problem/Solution Fit (not Product/Market Fit) is the first significant milestone of a startup.

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Here is this week’s “1 principle, 2 strategies, and 3 actionable tactics” for running lean…

1 Universal Principle

“Problem/Solution Fit (not Product/Market Fit) is the first significant milestone of a startup.”
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Getting to product/market fit (the inflection point in the hockey stick curve) takes roughly two years, and 80% of products never find it.

At this rate, not counting the downtime between ideas, finding a good idea could take up to 10 years!

A better first milestone is aiming for Problem/Solution Fit.

Problem/Solution fit validates that you have “sufficient” demand for your product before building it. It's when you go from hoping people will buy your product to knowing they will.

You have Problem/Solution Fit when you can demonstrate

  • sufficient and repeatable demand through sales
  • for a product you know you can build,
  • at a price point that makes your business model work.

Contrary to popular belief, achieving Problem/Solution fit is achievable within three months across any type of product (from software to rocketships). And, starting with Problem/Solution Fit completely flips the product failure rate.

2 Underlying Strategies at Play

I. Problem/Solution Fit prioritizes starting risks over scaling risks.

The challenge for most products today isn’t if we can build it but if we should. Problem/Solution Fit aims to answer this question by prioritizing customer and market risks above technical risks.

This isn’t to say you should downplay technical risks but not overplay them. Ensuring your product is “buildable within a reasonable timeframe” passes the first feasibility test, which is sufficient to shift focus on customer desirability and market feasibility.

II. Problem/Solution Fit prioritizes problems before solutions.

The top reason why most products fail is building something nobody wants. I attribute the founder’s unbridled love for their solution as the top contributor to this failure.

Problems, not solutions, create space for innovation.

It’s easy to see this on a Lean Canvas.

Lean Canvas

If you get your customer segment and problem assumptions wrong, it’s easy to see how everything else in your business model falls apart. You end up describing a solution that no one wants (not desirable). Even if you manage to build this solution (feasible), no one buys it (not viable).

Your business model is doomed.

3 Actionable Tactics

I. Start with a Lean(er) Canvas.

While sketching a full Lean Canvas is a great way to deconstruct your idea, starting with a Lean(er) Canvas is faster and sets you up with a solid customer/problem foundation.

Lean(er) Canvas

II. Deeply understand your customers better than they do.

While starting with problems is simple, getting to real problems worth solving is about going beyond surface-level problems to root causes.

The best (and fastest) way to do this is through carefully unscripted customer interviews. There’s now even a tool for this.

III. Make them an offer they cannot refuse.

The Problem/Solution Fit process uses deep customer/problem insights to design solutions that fit like a glove, which you then turn into a mafia offer.

A mafia offer is an offer your customers cannot refuse, not because you strong-arm them but because you nail their problem.

For more on how to assemble mafia offers, see The Ultimate Guide to Problem/Solution Fit.

That's all for today. See you next week.





“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
- Vito Corleone, The Godfather




I'm building a "choose your own adventure" journey to product/market fit here.


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