Product Marty Cagan

Product Market Fit vs. Product Vision

Earlier I expanded on the notion of Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and I promised a series of articles that explores aspects of MVP Tests that often cause product teams confusion.  In this article, I’d like to discuss the relationship between the MVP Tests, Product Market Fit, and the Product Vision.

As a reminder, the Product Vision describes the types of services you intend to provide, and the types of customers you intend to serve, typically over a 2-5 year timeframe.

When I meet a startup, or begin working with a team that has an ambitious new project, we typically start with the Product Vision.  I’m a big believer that if you don’t know where you’re heading, then you don’t have much chance of getting there.

However, it’s important to acknowledge that every Product Vision is predicated on a set of beliefs about what customers will find valuable, and that we hope can one day sustain a business or business unit.  It’s important to get these beliefs out on the table and set about validating them.

One of the most common mistakes I find is that teams embark on product discovery and Product Market Fit but without a clear focus on the customers they are trying to serve.

So we typically start by identifying a core set of Earlyvangelist prospective customers.  Remember, our intention with Product Market Fit is not to try to please everyone, but rather to find a set of potential customers that believe in the vision, and are willing to work together with you to discover a solution (also remember we don’t expect them to give us the solution – we just need to be able to test out whether our solutions work for them).

Our hope and intention is to try to come up with a product that can make our product vision a reality.

That said, it’s possible that we’ll discover along the way that our hypotheses about value just aren’t reflected in our customers, or we might discover we need to pivot to either different customers, or different solutions, or different problems to solve.

But mainly we’re hoping to iterate our way to a solution that these Earlyvangelist customers find enough value in that they’re willing to buy, they can figure out how to use, and you can deliver with the time, talent, technology and money you have available.

I don’t mean to gloss over the product discovery techniques of this rapid iteration using various MVP Tests – I’ve written about this many times, and more will come in the MVP and Product Market Fit context – but if we view Product Market Fit as the smallest possible product we could discover that’s sufficient to sell to our Earlyvangelist customers, then there’s still going to be a long way from this Product Market Fit to the product described in the Product Vision.

Just because our Earlyvangelist customers will buy something doesn’t mean that everyone in the target market will buy.  If you remember the technology adoption curve, the Earlyvangelists are just the small but highly motivated group that’s really feeling the pain, and desperately need a solution.  To move from Earlyvangelists to more mainstream customers (early majority), we’ll need to continue to develop the product (typically by expanding the scope of customers we’re trying to serve, and doing product discovery to identify solutions to their needs).

This is why it often takes weeks or months to discover Product Market Fit to serve the Earlyvangelists, but then it can take years to expand the offering to the point that it meets the much broader market needs, and fulfills the product vision.

So, while the Product Vision inspires Product Market FIt, the Product Market Fit precedes the Product Vision and is usually the first real test of the Product Vision.

Probably one of the most visible examples of the relationship between the Product Market Fit and the Product Vision could be seen with the original iPhone.  While there were many prototypes (MVP Tests), the original iPhone device (what Apple believed proved Product Market FIt) had many limitations (even missing copy-paste) but for the Earlyvangelist customers, they could see the vision, they found real value, and they embraced the device.  But of course that was just the beginning of the product line and not the end.  Each release since then has expanded the target market to meet the needs of a broader range of customers, and come another step closer to realizing the product vision.

Hopefully this all helps to put MVP Test, Product Market Fit, and Product Vision into perspective.  There is lots more to talk about but I’m hoping this can serve as a foundation.  Please continue to keep your questions coming.

NOTE: Updated in January of 2014 to reflect consistent nomenclature (MVP Tests vs. Product Market Fit vs. Product Vision).