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Ask SCORE: Achieving product-market fit for your startup

For any startup to succeed, achieving product-market fit is among the most vital of goals. But verifying that your product meets a strong market need and can stand up to competitors is not an exact science, nor does it typically happen in one grand a-ha moment.

Likewise, building momentum in a market requires patience and comes with no guarantees, as customers’ needs, regulatory landscapes and competitive pressures change over time.

“Consider that your business will only succeed if it adds real value for the user,” said SCORE mentor Bob Goedjen. “In this case, ‘value’ means that businesses or individuals will understand they need or want it enough to pay you a price that will give you profit and success.”

“Start by understanding your target market’s need and then whether you will be a better solution than your competition.”

Despite the uncertainty and risk you face when starting a business, there are some actions you can take to increase your success in accomplishing product-market fit:

Understand your customers’ current and future needs. Research your target demographic by spending time with prospective customers, read industry blogs and print publications, attend industry tradeshows and webinars and seek out a professional in your industry who might serve as a mentor to you as you develop your products and services.

Focus on one primary and critical value proposition. It’s impossible to be all things to all customers. By homing in on what’s most important to your target customers, analyzing significant trends in your industry and identifying where competitors are falling short in solving customers’ problems, you can deliver value out of the gate. If you’re solving a pain point for your customers from the start, they will be more patient in waiting for you to add other features and options.

Listen. Learn. Adapt. Have a business plan, but be open to change as you listen to feedback and ideas from your early customers. Learning from what they’re telling you can improve your products or services. And be prepared to adapt your systems and processes to make your business more viable and sustainable.

According to Goedjen, “Good planning and research will pay off in money/costs avoided and a far better marketing strategy and tactics that will resound in your customers’ minds. It is not ‘how’ you bring your product or service but rather what the benefits are in the language the customer understands.”


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