Product/market fit: an early-stage startup's top priority

Paul Graham — the founder and CEO of startup accelerator, Y Combinator– has a simple mantra: "Make things people want." This seems obvious when read, but is much more difficult in practice for any new startup.

Practically any company starts with an idea, and is then followed up by some effort to validate that idea. While this is over-generalizing a very complex process — generally called product/market fit — every startup's number one responsibility is to nail down this fit.

At Trendslide, we have been doing some customer development interviews, which is a process that helps lead to product/market fit. Given this, I wanted to share some of what we found and then a few general tips for any other early-stage ventures beginning to go through this process.

Before getting to what we found, though, let's briefly cover a quick explanation of customer development. Customer development is the process by which you test your assumptions by asking specific questions of a potential target user. There is a wealth of great information on the Internet about customer development, and if you want to know more I would recommend searching that term.

Here is basically what we found for Trendslide:

Confirmed many key critical hypotheses we made early on in building our product. Such as, managers and executives are generally not taking a close look at analytics as current solutions are too daunting and require too much of a time investment.

Disproved some other assumptions, and their potential importance. This turns out as a positive for us, as it allowed us to really focus on what is delivering value for the end user.

Once you have all of the feedback, you can begin doing analysis on your findings. If you send out some surveys throughout this process, you may be able to get insight that way. Otherwise it's good to review notes (and recordings if you have them) from doing these customer development interviews.

Here are some tips for early-stage ventures looking to set out on customer development:

Read as much as you can before going into it. There are some awesome blog posts on customer development, and even books dedicated to the topic.

Reach beyond friends and family. Talk to people outside your immediate network. Depending on your target market, it may be as easy as finding their name and email address on the company website and asking them to get together for 30 minutes.

I alluded to this point, but try to get out of the building. There are unspoken nuances that you will pick up like eye movement, intonation, etc., which is more difficult to do via telephone. If you already have a website and you have been testing out messaging, measure your website. Install Google Analytics and get Trendslide to help monitor how your website is performing. Test this messaging as well by changing pages and see how they convert.

At Trendslide, we've taken all of this feedback and we're hard at work on the next version of our product to focus in on some of the key areas we identified.


Jeffrey Vocell is co-founder of Trendslide, a Manchester, N.H.-based mobile Business Intelligence startup. For more information about Trendslide, visit or email