Imagine reading and analyzing more than 482 founder interviews. Think you could do it?
It took me over 200 hours (see Zero to Users for the summary), but I've found some interesting patterns through my research that distinguished products that succeeded versus those that failed. One of the biggest problems of those that didn’t succeed? They lacked product-channel fit.
You’ve probably heard about product-market fit which is basically the degree to which your product satisfies a market need.
It doesn't always happen overnight. You achieve product-market fit by iterating (adjusting) your product until it reaches a point where it finally “fits” the market need.
The problem is when you stop there and think product-market fit is all you need. A lot of people have shown that this isn’t true.
For example, Brian Balfour, former VP of Growth at HubSpot, wrote a popular article 3 years ago where he talked about how product-market fit alone is not enough to make a successful product. There’s more than one thing you need to “fit” your product around. One of the them is the acquisition channel.
To succeed with your startup you need not only a market, but also a way to reach that market through various acquisition channels (Google, Facebook, email and so on.)
According to Brian Balfour, product-channel fit was as much important, if not more, than product-market fit.. And he’s not the only influential person to make this claim. Peter Thiel (co-founder of Paypal) famously said:
Most companies get zero distribution channels to work. If you get just one channel to work you have a great business. If you try for several but don’t nail one, you’re finished. (source: “Zero to One”)
I’ve spent 2 years analyzing more than 482 founder interviews and observed that founders that who “fit” their product to a specific acquisition channel were WAY more likely to succeed than those who treated all acquisition channels as dumping grounds for their links.
The value proposition of @this_vid is pretty straightforward:
These guys did a “product-channel fit” in 2 ways:
DownloadThisVideo “fit” into Twitter’s ecosystem by using what people are already doing on there (replying to tweets) as an input to their software.
Imagine if instead of “fitting” their product to Twitter’s ecosystem, they instead were a generic search engine that asked users to go to a URL, and enter a Twitter link? Something like this:
Be honest. Do you think there would be thousands of people using them each and every day if they made this instead?
Every time people reply to a tweet, other people can see it. They can then easily click on DownloadThisVideo’s profile, check what it’s about, and start using them in less than 10 seconds. For example:
@this_vid nailed product-channel fit, and their lessons can be used by pretty much every other product out there.
There are 3 main factors to determine your startup success: your product, the market and the channel(s). Out of all 3, your product is the most flexible one you can change*.*
Always remember: you can mold your product in any way, shape or form.
@this_vid made use of Twitter API. They “molded” their product in a way that’s extremely easy to use. The result: They’re being mentioned every few seconds on average:
This gives @this_vid not only more adoption, but free marketing as well. People who see a certain tweet will also look at the replies; then they’ll see the handle and check it out. This is powered by marketing at its finest.
this_vid molded their product to the channel (Twitter) by using the 2 principles above. What can you learn from them?
If you’ve been on Facebook for long enough, you’d notice they spend a lot of time trying to keep users inside their platform. Organic page reach has been declining for over 5 years. They’re forcing you to pay to play. They also give less reach to posts containing links.
What’s the thing they like? Engagement. Likes, comments. Posts that get those twoget a bigger reach. Also (at the time of this writing, Dec 2020), Facebook Groups (on average) get more reach vs. Facebook pages.
A lot of smart guys figured this out and came up with a neat post format to promote their products (in a non-spammy way) using these 2 factors (Facebook groups + comments). I call this “comment to get this” posts. Here’s an example of 1 post from a Facebook SaaS group:
These posts work well because they “fit” well into the way an acquisition channel (Facebook) works:
I was personally a part of this “giveaway” and commented on this post. 7 days later, I got a reply to my comment saying to check my FB inbox. What I saw inside was a nice link/attachment. Sweet.
Imagine if the original post was something like this:
My guess is that a post like this would have barely 1% of the success compared to the post above.
Here’s the problem with most founders using a particular acquisition channel:
They treat the channel as (yet another) dumping ground for their link.
I’ve seen countless examples of people posting a longer version of a post that just said: “Hey guys, we’re doing X, check us out!” Then, they’d get that post deleted and/or they’d get 0 reach. Two days later, they’re complaining everywhere that “X channel sucks, I’ve tried it and it didn’t work”.
It didn’t work because you haven’t found a “fit” between the channel and your product, not because of the channel itself.
What can we learn about product-channel fit from the examples above?
1. Study the context behind what other people are doing
There are new acquisition channel tactics appearing all the time, and the best way to learn about them first is to be present on those channels.
I’ve learned about the Facebook group comments tactic by being present in many Facebook groups. I’ve learned about various Twitter bots by reading stuff on Twitter.
Once I find a promising example that may work for me, I ask myself: What was the context behind this? What were they promoting? How did they end up there (without getting deleted)? There are many unknowns I needed to figure out before daring to post my stuff on a sub-Reddit community.
Look at what DownloadThisVideo did. They used an action that millions of Twitter users do every day (replying to Tweets) as an “input” to their product’s output. They also made the output predictable (by telling people to check theirsite.com/your_twitter_handle_here).
Many people are severally under-estimating the effort their users need to go through in order to use their software (see BJ Fogg’s work on this).
For example, if @this_vid was a search engine where people would need to go and enter the Tweet’s URL, here are the steps they would need to go through:
a) Figure out how to get the unique URL of a Tweet
b) Copy the tweet URL into the clipboard
c) Go to the search engine
d) Enter the URL there
c) Wait and get the link
@this_vid replaced a), b), c), d) with something that takes 10x less time by studying how Twitter works, which leads me to my final point….
3. Study the channel’s API
Is there a way you can make your product easier/faster to use by integrating with the channel’s API (like DownloadThisVideo did)?
All main social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) have a public API & developer documentation. Can you make your product easier/faster to use by using those APIs?
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