The Key (Re-“Printed” from my Medium post of the same title)
. . . To Product Market Fit
Maybe you’ve heard some of this before.
You’ve started a company. You have an idea. A hypothesis you plan to test using the now classic lean startup methodology.
You’re sure your idea is the key. It unlocks a door. And behind this door lies unimaginable value. (Think of “value” in whatever terms you like: wealth, fame, glory, the end of poverty and disease, etc.) Value is whatever matters to you and to the market.
To get to the value, you need only insert your key. And open the door.
The key doesn’t fit. (Hint: it usually doesn’t.) Now what?
“No problem,” you say. It’s just the wrong door.
I’m an entrepreneur. I’m resourceful. I’m persevering. I’ll figure this out. I’ll just flip to page X in Steve Blank’s The Startup Owner’s Manual. My co-founder and I will get “out of the building” and do a little more “customer discovery.”
In other words, I just need to try this key in a different door.
Ah, but which one?
300 Doors later . . .
. . . you think your key may not fit ANY door. So you decide to get a different key. (We sometimes call this a “pivot.”)
New key in hand, you go back to those doors. (Maybe you even find some new doors because it looks like these new doors just might be a better fit for your new key.)
Did the key fit? No? No luck? Out of time? Out of money? That sucks for you? If you already have employees, it sucks for them too. And if you have investors . . . same thing.
Starting with “an Idea” (aka “a Key”) is Often a Bass Ackwards Approach
What if you could start, not with an idea or a key, but with the right door? A wicked problem that when solved reveals enormous opportunity. Suppose you could develop the solution or key specifically for this wicked problem, the lock on this particular door.
Wouldn’t that be more efficient than hoping your key happens to fit some random door?
Of course, some locks are more difficult than others.
And some doors are even protected by armed guards.
But isn’t that what you’d expect if the value on the other side of the door is extraordinary? So maybe you’ll need a purpose built key. Or even dynamite. But that’s a whole lot better than trying to shove a bum key into a bunch of different doors hoping that the key will fit. (And not really even knowing whether there’s anything of value on the other side of the door.)
What matters to you, to your investors, to your employees is whether the reward is worth the effort. So why not start with the right door?
Start with a wicked problem – the sort of problem that is both challenging and filled with opportunity. That’s one way to be sure you’re standing in front of the right door. You may have to blast your way through. But that’s half the fun.
This is what real entrepreneurs do. Create the first commercially viable electric automobile? You bet: Tesla. Create a company to send rockets, satellites and more into space. You bet: Space X. Combat global warming by creating a solar energy company that can scale? Yup: Solar City. Do them all at once? Well, maybe you only do that if you’re Elon Musk.
You see when you’ve found the right wicked problem, something about which you are passionate in an area where you have the capacity to make a difference, you can begin to think about where to find the right key. You may have to search a bit to find it. Or you may need time to develop it. (You may even need to shoot your way past the armed guards and set off the charges of dynamite.) But when you’ve gotten past this door, all that effort will have been worth your time.