3 Strategies to Test Product-Market Fit That’ll Take You Less Than an Hour

One of the biggest reasons many companies fail before they even truly get started is that excited entrepreneurs follow their latest big idea without making sure they have the customers to back it up. 

As a venture capitalist, the first thing I look for is data demonstrating that people will pay for a product. And as an entrepreneur myself, I’ve seen how much time and money can be wasted by following an idea I’m excited about without realizing it’s a dead end. 

The biggest danger in product development is investing your energy in building a product nobody wants. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to verify that your idea will have customers knocking down your door—a.k.a. product-market fit. 

I have a few simple approaches that help me whittle down ideas and verify which are the right ones to pursue further. I’ve used them with my current company, brain-training app Solitaired, as well as plenty of other ideas that I scrapped along the way. Each takes less than an hour and can be used without even having a prototype. 

In other words, you really have no excuse not to check in on your product-market fit ASAP. 


1. Dig Into Search Data

You have product-market fit when a critical mass of customers use your product to solve the same problem in the same way. And where’s the first place people usually go when they have a problem? Google—so that’s where you should head, too. By digging into search engine optimization data, you’ll quickly understand whether you’re solving an issue that enough potential customers have.

To start, come up with a short list of search terms that describe your idea. Remember to think from the perspective of how people search, using words and phrases that those looking for a solution like yours might use. 

Then, use a tool like Ubersuggest to check the search volume of each of those terms. Ideally, they’ll have a high search volume—10,000-plus a month for B2C ideas and 1,000-plus for B2B—indicating that you have enough people trying to solve this problem for your company gain traction. 

If the numbers are high enough, take a look at how you would fit into the existing market. Take the most popular search terms from the exercise above, and google them yourself. What companies are ranking at the top? These are your potential competitors. Do they seem to be succeeding? (You could check web traffic using a tool like SimilarWeb, poke around social media to see how many people are talking about them, or identify whether they’ve raised money and what sort of valuation they have.) 

Note how many competitors there are and whether your product feels different enough to stand out. Is there room for you in the market? If so, move on to:


2. Create a Dummy Landing Page 

One of the suggestions I often see for testing product-market fit is using net promoter scores or asking customers how they would feel if your product was no longer available. The gist here is to test customer enthusiasm. It’s a good approach; the problem is, you can only use it once you already have a product and audience.

I like to use a shortcut tactic to test enthusiasm before I even start building a product by creating a dummy website where people can sign up to express interest.

First, create a landing page briefly describing the problem you’re solving and the solution you’re proposing. Make it look professional, as if it’s already a real company. I like using Unbounce for this, but you can use any website builder.

As part of your landing page, you’ll want to test buy-in. Is someone who lands on this excited enough to give you their email address to receive updates? You could take it a step further and ask anyone who signs up to share it, loosely testing net promoter score while amplifying your reach.

Then, get this baby out into the world. If your network is already full of your target customer, share it through your own social channels. I also recommend putting $100 into Facebook or Google ads for your landing page so you can really target your market and make sure strangers like your idea, too. 

If nobody clicks? You probably don’t have the right product-market fit. If a lot of people click but nobody gives you their email, you might want to do some user interviews to understand how to change your approach or framing. 

But if a ton of people sign up, you’ve not only got great product-market fit, but you’ve already started to build an excited customer base. 

But what if your product isn’t digital?


3. Go Amazon Shopping

Testing product-market fit for a physical product can be tough without having a prototype, which often becomes a huge barrier to product-based businesses. While both of the strategies above can work for physical products, I sometimes find the easiest thing to do is head to Amazon and do some research on related products already on the market.

Search for terms related to the problem you’re trying to solve or the product you’re trying to build. Click on the products that look similar to what you’re envisioning, then head straight for the reviews. 

First, pay attention to the number of reviews—if there are many, that gives you an inkling there’s clearly a market for a solution to this problem. Then, read the reviews and pay attention to the sentiment. Positive reviews can tell you what customers are looking for; ask yourself if you think your product will meet that need. Negative reviews will give you insight into what’s weak about your competition; ask yourself if your solution solves those problems, which could be a strong way to differentiate yourself. 


Bonus: Just Talk to People

Finally, there’s nothing like getting on the phone with your target customers, telling them about your idea, and hearing what they have to say. User interviews are a tried and true strategy for a reason, and they can easily be employed alongside any of the above as a way to add more qualitative detail to the quantitative data you’re collecting. 

Whatever approach you choose, don’t pass on testing for product-market fit, both before you embark on a new venture and as you’re planning new features to launch or new directions to explore. No matter how exciting it is to you, it’s not worth pursuing an idea without the customers to back it up.

Darshan Somashekar is the co-founder of brain-training app Solitaired. Previously, he co-founded drop.io, a media sharing startup that was acquired by Facebook in 2010, and Imagine Easy Solutions, a research and citation platform acquired by Chegg in 2016. Somashekar served as Chegg’s VP of product for its newly-formed Writing Tools group until his transition in mid-2019. He is also a venture partner at TMV.

  • Originally published November 16, 2020