product-market fit

I love this essay from Paul Graham of Y Combinator. It’s chock full of truths, as Paul’s essays typically are, and I encourage you read the whole thing. Here’s one of my favorite passages:

It’s not surprising that after being trained for their whole lives to play such games, young founders’ first impulse on starting a startup is to try to figure out the tricks for winning at this new game. Since fundraising appears to be the measure of success for startups (another classic noob mistake), they always want to know what the tricks are for convincing investors. We tell them the best way to convince investors is to make a startup that’s actually doing well, meaning growing fast, and then simply tell investors so. Then they want to know what the tricks are for growing fast. And we have to tell them the best way to do that is simply to make something people want.

So many of the conversations YC partners have with young founders begin with the founder asking “How do we…” and the partner replying “Just…”

Why do the founders always make things so complicated? The reason, I realized, is that they’re looking for the trick.

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In yesterday’s post, we casually mentioned Tinder as an example of how a successful app is both great product and great marketing. Nothing just sells itself. There are lots of wonderful products that die a quiet death because nobody knew about them.

“Marketing” might be a misnomer, because technically product is part of marketing. What we mean is a go-to-market strategy: price, single-minded proposition, awareness building and distribution strategy.  Not only do you need product-market fit, you need an effective way for product and market to find each other.

Take Snapchat as an example.  Snapchat, despite being the same essential product from inception, puttered along at first without any traction. In fact, Murphy, one of the co-founders, got a full-time job elsewhere while the other, Spiegel, returned to finish his final year at Stanford.  The two had basically given up on Snapchat. Then they got their lucky break: Spiegel’s mom introduced the app to her popular niece who went to a school where Facebook was banned; soon, all the students there used Snapchat.  Murphy and Spiegel saw the numbers and realized they had a hit, and that the way of achieving it was through teens and schools. The rest is history.

Note: the big break wasn’t a product change, it was simply marketing.

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Yesterday, Path launched version 4.0 of its app.  Version 4 is an incremental improvement over version 3 and there is now a new standalone messaging app.

Path is supposedly doing alright, growing from 1.5 million DAUs at the beginning of the year to 4 million.  A TechCrunch article further states that:

Southeast Asia is now its biggest market, with the U.S. coming second, but Path is also seeing some user growth from the Middle East.

While TechCrunch will readily accept Path implying it’s popular in South East Asia, data from App Annie shows that it’s really just Indonesia.

I spoke to a couple of friends in Indonesia on why they use Path.  The country has distinct characteristics that make Path a useful product there — perhaps uniquely — but that usefulness isn’t in messaging as the company believes.

It would be a mistake for Path to extrapolate too much from Indonesia into a company-wide bet.  Though I suppose they have to go somewhere.

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