A man walks into a bar and sits tentatively at a stool in the corner. The barkeep notices the man’s SoLoMo.co shirt (something like that) so he offers to redesign the newcomer’s website. But the man kindly refuses the barkeep’s offer. Having noticed white scuffs on the man’s shiny black loafers, the barkeep offers him a shoeshine. “Only a couple dollars!” But the man tolerantly refuses this offer too. It seems like the man isn’t waiting for anyone, so for the next ten minutes, the two engage in a friendly conversation about the New England Patriots, the upcoming election, and the latest episode of Fringe. The barkeep offers to add the man on Facebook. This time, the man is visibly annoyed. “Please sir, a Bud Light!”
We try to guess what our customers are looking for. Even when we’re right and uncover something they want, we are unable to communicate the value proposition. Perhaps our message is unclear, our context is inappropriate, our timing is off. Other times, we merely project our own worldview onto others. We rarely ask the right question at the right time in the right place. We seldom hear the answers we anticipate (even when these seem obvious in hindsight).
For a tech startup, customer acquisition is as important as any other function. To be sure, technology and team building are critical too. However, a company with zero customers is doomed to fail. I paraphrase Andy Rachleff, founder of Benchmark capital, when I suggest that, “A company with no product-market fit can have a smart team, sharp CEO, and superb technology, but will go nowhere without customers. A company with strong product-market fit can screw nearly everything else up and still build a viable business.” Product-market fit is a necessary – if not sufficient – criteria for building and scaling a successful technology company.