Not finding product-market fit (and the systematic revenue that follows) is the most common cause of startup failure. So, what does it take to find product-market fit?
I’m not asking how you find product-market fit. I covered that in this blog post. I’m asking about the traits that separate successful founders from the rest. What is it that the founders who’ve acquired product-market fit have in common?
After working with thousands of founders over the past decade, I’ve come to learn that there are three traits that all successful startup founders have in common when it comes to achieving product-market fit and driving revenue growth:
- The ability to prioritize the right problems to solve;
- The willingness to execute more and strategize less; and
- Having the discipline not to get distracted.
Prioritize the Right Problems
As a founder, you’re going to face a never-ending list of tasks and challenges. For most founders, this feels like drinking from the firehose everyday.
The key is to take a step back and identify which problems truly are most important and need to be solved with the limited time that you have today as well as your runway.
This means being strategic and knowing which problems are too far out to have an immediate impact. For example, if you want to go after an enterprise market, you might need specific features that still need to be developed.
Even when you develop those features, you’ll still have to deal with months-long sales cycles. Instead of rushing to develop those features, you might want to focus on finding product-market fit with the features you already have. That way, you can get some revenue coming in and use that to fund the development of those other features.
The most successful founders that I’ve worked with are able to view a wall of to-do’s and problems, rotate it 90 degrees and see a path forward.
Execute More; Strategize Less
Great founders understand that finding product-market fit and acquiring customers are byproducts of time spent in the market.
There is a direct correlation between time spent with your customers and revenue, so it is crucial to spend more time executing than strategizing.
The challenge is that whiteboarding and developing new ideas is intellectually stimulating. When it comes to customers and revenue, coming up with new strategies, markets, pivots and features is like sitting in a rocking chair, it feels good but rarely does it get you anywhere.
For example, attending a conference may seem like a way to acquire new customers, but if you do not spend the time to tee up meetings with the right people in advance or execute follow up campaigns on any opportunities, you will not see any new revenue or get any closer to product-market it.
The Discipline to Avoid Distraction
Discipline is another key trait that all successful startup founders possess. Specifically, great founders have the discipline not to pursue shiny objects.
Shiny Object Syndrome is an all-too-common cause of death for early-stage startups. It’s important to stay focused on executing your plan and avoid distractions.
Being a startup founder is like playing poker. Playing poker requires strategy, discipline, and the ability to make good decisions under pressure. In poker, like being a founder, you’re constantly being dealt a new hand, a new card, a new market, lead, or strategy.
With every hand you need to make a decision to play or to fold.
Shiny object syndrome is like gambling with a bad hand. It’s fun to gamble, but you’re not likely to win.
What good poker players and great founders have in common is the discipline NOT to gamble or play bad hands. You come to the table with a strategy and the goal is to optimize the chances that you are given.
Of course, poker is a game of chance, and sometimes even the best players get dealt a bad hand. The same is true for founders; even the most disciplined and focused founders can encounter unexpected setbacks.
But just as good poker players know how to manage their risk and maximize their chances of winning, good founders know how to stay focused on their goals and make the most of the hand they’ve been dealt.
Product-market fit is not a feeling. It’s the result of these 5 objective steps. That’s the formula! Your job now is to:
- Prioritize the right problems;
- Execute more and strategize less; and
- Avoid shiny objects and stay laser-focused.
Adopt these three traits of the most successful founders to put yourself in a better position to achieve product-market fit and grow your business.