Challenging the Overhyped Product-Market Fit
Startup Codex

For several years now, the resources that cover the coveted product-market fit (PMF) have been multiplying. I have selected a number of them myself on this site.

However, I still believe that one must be cautious about any concept that can be summarized in such a simple way and that generates such a hype.

That's why I find interesting to share this post by Rand Fishkin who challenges, in a rather radical way, this notion of product-market fit and the excitement it generated in the startup galaxy.

For Fishkin the PMF is "overly simplistic". It is a situation devoid of nuance. A kind of dividing line that a startup will cross according to fuzzy criteria and that distinguishes it from those who are still on the other side.

He explains that the PMF has no distinct, universally-applicable definition. It's a "feeling". And it generates strategic decisions that he considers highly questionable:

When they believe the PMF exists, product builders take different approaches to what they and how they build before vs after the magical moment.

Marketers take a brand-only approach to marketing before product-market fit is declared instead of investing in finding customers, at profitable rates, to sustain the business.

Investors craft, frankly, silly models of what product-market fit looks like and then only seek startups that reach those metrics to invest-in.

Founders and product builders ignore many of the real inputs that go into gaining market traction, especially pricing, positioning, and brand.

For Fishkin, "we should know better than trust simple > complex when it comes to building and marketing things to people."

The last part of his post proposes an alternative model, the Customer Adoption Spectrum in which he removes the concept of a binary yes/no and uses a range and segmentation.

The startup ecosystem loves to hype the concept of product-market fit. Does your company have it? How far away from it are you? If you have it, how are you scaling? If you don’t have it, why would you ever try to do marketing?

All of these questions assume a binary truth, universally applicable to all companies and the products they make. In this mythology, it’s either: Yes, you have product-market fit. Or, no, you do not have product-market fit.

But that’s not reality. It’s not even a useful mental model. Product development (new or otherwise) isn’t magically done when some universal metric or level of customer resonance is reached. No matter what you’re making, the process is ongoing, iterative, and fluctuating. Great products don’t stand still. And markets definitely don’t.