Product-Market Fit is About Making Tech More Human 

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Damian Headshot
Damian Rees
May 20, 2023
7 min read
Product-Market Fit
Human-Centred Design
User Research

A crucial success factor for any tech company is achieving product-market fit (PMF). The elusive quest for PMF is a critical challenge for any startup and scaleup, and the literature and advice on achieving it are often packed full of different approaches. Yet few advocates for human-centred design being the answer. Simply put, achieving product-market fit is about making your product more human. Let's delve deeper.

Understanding Product-Market Fit and Its Importance

First coined by investor Marc Andreessen, product-market fit is all about ensuring that the product you create matches what people want and need. It's like finding the perfect match between your product and the customers who would use it. When you achieve product-market fit, it's like hitting the sweet spot where your product is a perfect fit for the market, and that's when you can start focusing on growing and expanding your business.

Why is Human-Centred Design the Answer to Product-Market Fit?

Human-centred design holds the answer because, ultimately, the approach focuses on humans first at every step of the process. Companies that have struggled with product-market fit tend to focus on the tech first and the people who need to use it second. 

What is human-centred design? 

It is a way of designing products or services by putting people, or users, at the centre of the process. It means understanding what people need and creating a product that solves their problems and improves their lives.

When it comes to achieving product-market fit, instead of just guessing what people want or making assumptions, you take the time to listen and learn from your potential users.

You might start by talking to different types of people who could use your product. You ask them questions, listen to their thoughts and ideas, and try to understand their needs. This helps you figure out if there's a real problem that your product can solve and if people would actually use it.

Based on your learning, you can design and create a prototype or a basic version of your product. You test it with real users and get their feedback. This helps you make improvements and changes to ensure your product is easy to use and truly helpful.

The goal of human-centred design is to ensure that your product is not just something you think is great but something that meets the needs of the people you want to use it. Focusing on the users and their experiences increases the chances of creating a product that people love and want to use.

What does Successful product-market fit look like with human-centred design?

The power of HCD in achieving PMF is best demonstrated through the success stories of tech giants like Airbnb, Slack, Evernote, Mailchimp, and Duolingo.

Airbnb

Initially, Airbnb struggled with attracting customers despite its aesthetically pleasing website. By harnessing user research and HCD, they discovered that people desired authentic local experiences beyond just accommodation. In response, they launched "Experiences," allowing users to book unique activities in addition to accommodation. This innovative change led to a 2,500% increase in bookings within a year, and today, Airbnb hosts over 4 million hosts and has seen more than 220 million guest arrivals, generating significant revenue.

Reflecting on Airbnb's journey, Co-Founder and CEO Brian Chesky notes, "The turning point for us was when we started focusing on creating an end-to-end holistic user experience. That's when we began to understand our users and their needs better, resulting in Airbnb's exponential growth."

Slack

Slack entered the competitive messaging app market with a user-friendly app designed to combat overflowing email inboxes and awkward communication tools, all thanks to its focus on HCD and user experience (UX). The result was a 50% increase in weekly active users within just three months of launching. By 2021, Slack had over 10 million daily active users, all enjoying efficient and enjoyable communication.

Evernote

Evernote has always prioritized UX. By consistently refining its interface based on user feedback, Evernote has managed to retain a user-friendly, visually appealing, and responsive app. This UX-centric approach has resonated with over 250 million users, with over 20,000 businesses relying on Evernote for productivity and collaboration.

Mailchimp

Mailchimp, an email marketing platform, turned to HCD to improve customer engagement and retention. By attentively listening to users and iteratively refining their features and interfaces, Mailchimp created a more satisfying and enjoyable experience for users. As a result, Mailchimp saw increased customer satisfaction, higher retention rates, and revenue growth. Today, Mailchimp serves over 14 million users, delivering more than 600 million happy emails daily.

Duolingo

Duolingo, a language-learning app, understood the importance of UX in engaging and retaining users. By embracing user feedback and conducting A/B tests, Duolingo continuously optimizes its app to maximize user satisfaction and learning outcomes. Duolingo now boasts over 500 million users worldwide, and a study by the City University of New York found that 34 hours of Duolingo is equivalent to a full semester of language education.

Making Tech More Human

These case studies show the importance of human-centred design in achieving product-market fit. By focusing on user experience and catering to the needs of their users, these tech companies have created products that resonate with users and are incredible success stories.

In essence, product-market fit is all about making tech more human, more relatable, and more empathetic. It's about understanding users' needs, pains, desires, and experiences and using that understanding to design and deliver products that meet and exceed those needs.

While the route to achieving PMF may vary from company to company, the Lean Product Playbook by Dan Olsen presents a useful high-level approach to get started:

Dan Olsen's Lean Product Process
Determine your target customer

You need to know who would want to use or buy your product. Think about their age, interests, where they live, and their problems that your product could solve. If you're making a product for businesses, think about what kind of business would need it, and who makes the decisions.

Identify underserved needs of that customer

Ask your potential customers lots of questions to learn about their problems that aren't being solved by products that are already out there. You can do this by using surveys, talking directly to people, or bringing a small group of people together to discuss the topic.

Define your value proposition

Write a clear statement explaining why your product is great and why people should choose it over other similar products. This should talk about the features of your product, how it can help the user, and why it's good value for money.

Specify your minimum viable product (MVP) feature set

The 'minimum viable product' (or MVP) is a simple version of your product that just has the essential features. Figure out which features are most important for solving the customer's problem and make sure your MVP has these.

Develop your MVP

Now it's time to make your MVP. Even though it's a basic version, make sure it's still good quality and easy to use. It's better to have a few features that work well than lots of features that don't work properly.

Test your MVP with customers

When your MVP is ready, let some of your target customers use it. Watch how they use it and ask them for feedback. This will help you understand whether your product is solving their problem and what improvements you can make. You can collect feedback through surveys, chatting with them, or giving them a trial run of the product.

Conclusion

Achieving Product-Market Fit is a huge challenge for tech startups and scaleups. But by deeply understanding what users want and creating enjoyable experiences, companies like Airbnb, Slack, Evernote, Mailchimp, and Duolingo achieved product-market fit. They all started small, but they focused on their users and made their products better based on their feedback.

When we "make tech more human," we find product market fit and create products that make people happy. As technology becomes more important in our lives, paying attention to the user experience is critical. More companies should embrace human-centred design and let it guide them towards success.

Interested in exploring how human-centred design can help your company? Get in touch for a free discovery chat with our founder, Damian.

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