Why *People*-Market Fit Is the Key to Disruption

February 21, 2020

If you haven’t already read the first and second posts in this series on Scaling Your Startup…Through Your Best Nature, check ‘em out now.

As a recap, I shared a framework for thinking about the best and worst in our own natures -- the Primitive Mind (or ego) and the Higher Mind (or spirit) -- and why managing this duality is critical for scaling our business through the three stages of a startup journey. Then I covered how to ensure we’re helping our clients achieve an outcome with our product, and how that’s the best measure of product-market fit.

In today’s post, I’ll cover a second example of how channeling our higher nature can help us achieve Product-Market Fit in stage one of the startup journey.

No alt text provided for this image

Example #2: How We View Disruption

When we think about disruption, we might have a different point of view, depending on which Mind is talking.

The Primitive Mind: “We know better than the market. Let’s bring them out of the dark ages.”

The Higher Mind: “We have some good ideas, but we need to speak the market’s language.” 

In the first quote, our survival instincts are fostering a feeling of superiority over our prospective clients. We fear irrelevance, so we convince ourselves that we’re better than others. Our higher nature reminds us that we may have the best technology in the world, but if the people who should ostensibly use that product don’t trust us, we won’t have a chance of disrupting that market. We need to “walk the talk” of our clients to gain their trust, so that we can learn more about their problems and find the best solution. 

The Higher Mind recognizes that achieving Product-Market Fit is not just about tactically solving a problem with technology. It’s about solving a problem for particular people – people who... 

  • Express their pain point in a particular way, using certain terms and conveying (or hiding) certain emotions.

  • Associate with and have trust in a particular network. They spend time with certain people at work and outside of work. Certain attributes convey to them that someone “belongs” in their profession.

  • Have particular values. Certain characteristics may signal “good person” to them.

  • Want to buy in a particular way. They may want to get on the phone with a salesperson, or not at all. They may have autonomy in buying, or they may have to get approval from a procurement team. They may want to build a relationship with you for months before considering a purchase, or they may want to get things done quickly.

No alt text provided for this image

Our product (and also our go-to-market strategy) have to make sense to those particular people. More fundamentally, these people need to trust us and our team as people and believe in our authenticity in solving their problems. This is one reason why VCs grade founders by the genuineness of our startup’s origin story: Do we seem like “one of them" (the community we want to serve)? Do we really “get it,” at a profound level? Are we the right person to start this company?

To be authentic, we have to be “in the thick of it.” We were able to sell software at Gainsight because customer success leaders saw that we were grappling with the same problems they were. Our CS team followed a cycle of finding an internal problem, experimenting with solutions, and posting those solutions -- as well as all the mistakes we made -- in a blog. Then we took feedback from the community and published revisions. The detail in our posts might have been excruciating to an outsider, but to a member of the CS community, it showed that we spoke their language. We “got it.” We knew their pain. This understanding made us more effective in becoming a part of (and even building) a network of CS folks. And being in that network helped us learn about their pain more and consequently build the right solutions. Being “in the mix” of the community also helped us figure out the right buying process for this group.

Likewise, clients want to see that we “get” their values. One time at Gainsight, a prospective vendor brought 8 men, 7 of them white, to a meeting with some members of our leadership team. The difference between their make-up and ours was stark. I couldn’t help but wonder if we shared the same values and, therefore, if they would be good partners to us.

When I joined Gainsight in 2013, the company was very small, and we had many competitors. Years later, in the spirit of self-reflection and never taking anything for granted, we wondered internally what exactly drove our success in becoming the market leader and dominant company in the category. Many factors likely contributed, but one reason that we found compelling was that we had better People-Market Fit than our competitors.

CS folks tend to be extroverted, social, and attentive to their relationships -- which makes sense, since CSMs spend a significant part of their day with clients. Our leaders at Gainsight tended to match the personality of the market, whereas many of our competitors were different. Some of them were focused on predicting churn through productized data science, and their founders were very technical. Churn prediction ultimately became a core part of the Gainsight product, so those other companies weren’t wrong in what they chose to build, but they may have been wrong in the order of features they launched, how exactly they built those features to map to client pain, and how they messaged the value. They didn’t quite relate to the people in the market as well as we did. With better People-Market Fit, we were able to achieve stronger Product-Market Fit.

Bottom line: In your search for Product-Market Fit, develop and validate your People-Market Fit, since it will help you build the right product.

In the next post in this series, we’ll dive into how our higher nature can give us a better perspective on our users -- and why that matters for achieving Product-Market Fit. A preview: let's get rid of the term "user"!