Finding product-market fit

I work at a 3 year old startup, and was promoted to PM 1 year ago, having no experience being PM before.

Our CEO has a sales background and is NOT a product person. And now that I think about it, I don’t know why she started the company, because there is no insight into the customer or market. What problem are we really solving? She does of course have a answer, but I find it really vague, and don’t hear any customer repeating this apparent huge problem.

I should probably quit, but I learn so much in this role and company and is not ready to move on. Instead I want to use this opportunity to learn as much as possible, and try my best to find product market fit, so that the company can succeed.

Basically we are building a keynote speaker / consultancy platform, and I found out that the main problem for the experts is that they don’t get enough bookings. And the end users say that they really want to book more experts, but it’s uncomfortable to book someone that isn’t famous because you don’t know how they are going to perform.

I think it would make sense to try to solve this core problem, and then scale later. But my CEO and the investors want us to scale as fast as possible (probably because we are now 3 years old, and should have found product-market fit by now).

Do you guys have any advice in my situation? Should we just scale up a product that doesn’t really solve anything? Or should we try to gain product market fit first, even though the investors will be annoyed by this? And if so, do you have any tips regarding how to find the fit?

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it seems to me the problem you are trying to solve is a shareholder one. you can’t make a perfect thing that solves needs for customers. introduce the concept… “just enough”. you need to make things that do just enough to turn a profit. this is the difference between short and long game.

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So I can give some small insight into the famous speaker market. Most of the really famous people are represented by Endeavor (WME), CAA, or UTA. If you want to get more famous people in your platform you need to go to them and figure out how you get their whole portfolio in your product.

I have no idea why they’d share commissions with you, but those three have to be your partners for this to go anywhere.

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@Nathan, We currently operate in a smaller country, and therefore have plenty of access to the famous people from this country. Also, sometimes our customers will ask us if they can book some A list celebrity like Arnold Schwarzenegger through us, and we just say yes, and contacts his agency, and take a cut on top of whatever the agency asks for.

But honestly, I am really tired to see only the famous people gaining traction. So many knowledgeable people, are able to do a much more interesting talk than someone who has been on a reality show for 10 years. So we also try to give the mic to the people that actually have something interesting to tell. But they are surely harder to sell, since the customers don’t know about them.

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@Rohit, This is a much different product problem. Customers are telling you what there is a market for (really famous people), but you want them to select other people. Why? Are your profit margins better on the other people? Do the less famous people let them buy more speakers so they get more value?

You have to frame this problem with data. First, what data do you have that shows these less famous people will make things better (profits, customer engagement, volume)? Otherwise this is just an opinion and the market is telling you that your hunch is wrong.

Second, once you have data that shows why this path is better you have a big product problem in that you have to build features which sell these people.

Ultimately, the speakers aren’t your customers and you may really want to help or see the value the less famous ones bring. But you have to get clear about what drives your leadership, bring the data to back your ideas up, and only then might that start making serious investments.

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@Nathan, Hmm I see what you mean here and it is a good point, trying to play devil’s advocate now.

I guess the reason why we also go for the less famous people, is that we believe there is a opportunity here. We believe that the customers actually want them - many of them get way better reviews than the famous ones, because they may be way more knowledgeable (we try to target mostly B2B, and we basically provide them with consultants within different fields, besides traditional talks).

So we know that customers like their performance, but they have to get over a bump to buy them. The data shows that they will buy someone, if they have been recommended a speaker from a friend/college.

We have also tried to flip the script, and charge the speakers to be on the platform each month. I really don’t agree with this decision, but this justifies that we have a higher volume, and also solves the problem that many customers will do research on our platform, but then go to LinkedIn or somewhere else and initiate the contact. Because we then don’t take a profit from each sale.

But yeah, I see your point. If we keep running the head against the wall, we should probably just look at the data and say; “The famous people are selling really well without us doing anything. We should probably just go for them”

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If you’re getting paid and learning no need to quit immediately. But if a better opportunity presents itself I wouldn’t hesitate to move to something with a better future and structure.

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Unpopular Opinion:

You’re asking the wrong question. It’s apparent that you don’t have much influence over the direction of your company. So you should rather be asking whether you should continue to stay with this company or make a switch.

Since you can’t (a) influence the direction, (b) align yourself with the founder’s line of thought, (c) leave the direction to the founders and have trust in their decision making, (d) find new stuff to learn; I’d suggest you make the switch.

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@MichaelYoffe, I do infact have very much influence. I have told our CEO many times that I disagree, why I do so, and we have then changed what we do because of my arguments.

But I am also relatively new in the job, so I am only able to work for like 20-25 hours a week. Because of this and my humility, I think it would be wrong to think that I know everything already. I do very much listen to my colleges and the CEO and investors, because I believe they know some things that I don’t yet.

With that being said, I don’t always believe that they are right just because they have more experience. I think I have a pretty good intuition. But I don’t think it is a unique challenge for a PM to have some disagreement with the board and other stakeholders.

To learn more from the place, I decided that we need a more experienced PM. I had the job interviews a few weeks back, and a new one will be starting next month. Looking forward to working with a more experienced product person, where I can hopefully learn a lot.

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@RohitKumar, All the best! There’s a book called “Blitzscaling” that may help you imagine scenarios where it’s better to NOT wait for PMF before trying to scale. That may or may not fir in your case, but it’s a good read nonetheless!

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Thanks a lot @Michael, Will definitely check it out! Have actually watched some of the lectures on YouTube lately, and also listened to the Masters of Scale podcast. Thanks once again.

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I am in a similar spot as you. The owner and CEO told me flat out during the hiring process that they identified product/market fit.

In one month it was clear that, that was not the case.

It’s taken ten months of trying to fix a product that was built in an echo chamber and change the approach of how we approach product prioritization, but we are just now making a meaningful and accelerated turn in what and how we build.

All I can say is, like with many product problems you’ll face, pick or build a framework to help you get to where you want to go. You know the problem you’re facing right now, so you can at least leverage that into the next steps.

I’ll also say that the Marty Cagan-esque product utopia, where all stakeholders value the product as a PM does is a lie. CEOs don’t really get what we do. Hell, most CTOs view PMs as an extension of their team to get what they want. In short, don’t sweat the fact that the CEO isn’t a product person. A sales minded person is the type of person you want leading the helm of a startup imo. Each leader will have their strengths and part of your job is to influence those experts to work together.

Good luck! It gets stressful but the learning opportunities are really valuable.