In January, I was fortunate enough to attend two events which both focused on the concept of product / market fit. Marc Andreessen, of NetScape fame and now a venture capitalist, coined the term. But the story doesn’t really begin there. There is a movement known as “Lean Startup,” whose chief advocate is an entrepreneur and consultant named Eric Ries. My introduction to Ries was at the two events I mentioned. At TIE Boston, a group which helps entrepreneurs and startups, venture capitalist Tom Huntington spoke eloquently on product / market fit based on his own startup experiences. His key point was that companies should not scale up in their use of resources until they have found the right fit between the product and the market it is directed to. He used several examples where companies had functional products, but didn’t have the right market fit, so growth wasn’t happening.
The next week, I attended the keynote at the Boston Product Management Association (BPMA) on “The Magic Fit”, delivered by Jeff Bussgang of Harvard and Flybridge Ventures. Bussgang’s presentation built nicely upon the messages I’d heard the week before, but he dug a bit deeper. He touted Lean principles as an ongoing revolution for Product Management and strongly encouraged all of us to get on board. LIke Tom Huntington, he emphasized the value of placing the MVP (Minimum Viable Prototype) in the hands of customers and then learning as quickly as possible from these customer experiences. Bussgang was generous in his use of references and made it clear that author Eric Ries was a key inspiration for many of these Lean Startup concepts.
A few weeks ago, I borrowed Ries’s book The Lean Startup, from our library and I just finished reading it. Ries does a nice job of explaining the series of startup experiences which caused him to develop the “Lean Startup” methodology and then he explains the methodology in detail. As alluded to by the two speakers I’d heard in January, a key concept is setting up an approach that allows startups to get their prototypes (MVPs) out to customers and conduct detailed experiments to see which product or business model approaches are most valuable to customers. Like many contemporary management theorists, Ries is a strong advocate of creating effective metrics and then conducting measurements, but he also emphasizes the need to talk with customers to understand the meaning behind the statistics. In the latter approaches, he draws directly from the experiences of companies like Toyota who have been innovators in the lean manufacturing space.
Ries has written an excellent book which holds lessons both for startups and bigger companies that want to move faster in a turbulent marketplace. My thanks to Jeff Bussgang for recommending the book. I ran my own company for 7 years in the Nineties, so the concepts of creating new product ideas and then testing them with customers are familiar to me. But Eric Ries has put his lessons learned into playbook form and I anticipate these concepts will be valuable in my future business roles.