Fred has a good post to open the discussion over at AVC today on sales traction vs product-market fit.
Go read that. Here’s my two cents:
I’m generally optimistic about the possibilities of a product given the right team and plan. When I started Mission Research (GiftWorks) with my co-founders, I felt we should take our time, map things out, develop the framework, etc.
But my impatience exceed that feeling, and I pushed for an early release, which led to a total of 2 customers (more or less) in the first month. The product wasn’t right. There were bugs. There were features the customer base thought should be standard that weren’t in there. Some of our usability assumptions were wrong.
It was a slog for the first year.
But it was an invaluable year: by the next release, we had a much better product-market fit. We listened. We spent time on site with customers, documenting how crappy their experience with GiftWorks was. We refined it and made it a lot better. And then we did it again over the following two years, continually improving the product based on real usage of the product–not just our inflated opinions about it.
Three years after that we had 6,000 customers, a strong brand that led to consistent referrals, industry respect, and repeatable sales and marketing processes.
You have to pay attention to the details. You have to listen to your customer–not just at the moment of failure or complaint, but from the time they try your product through each and every click, every raise of the eyebrow, and every time they get that glassy-eyed look because you screwed something up in your assumptions and delivery.
The first year after release can be a real slog, especially if you can only attract a few customers. So build a decent base of beta customers, convert at least 30 of them, then stop trying to sign up new customers.
Yeah. Sounds wrong but you need to figure out how to serve those 30 really well before you try to scale and serve 3,000.
Hang in there.