Six kinds of product-market fit
“Product-market fit” has a mythical quality. Many believe PMF is a dragon to be slain as you storm the castle en route to taking your place at the round table with Sir Elon and Lord Bezos. Those of us that have operated know the truth — the dragon takes many forms.
👻 Phantom Product-Market Fit
Customers *say* they love the product you describe and pledge to pay handsomely for it when ready. But when presented with a product that differs from their vision — even slightly — their interest in writing a check disappears.
🇦🇺 “Pay No Attention to that Man Behind the Curtain”-Market Fit
Some startups find PMF before they build a product. They’ve nailed the value prop but need to figure out how to “productize” the process (cost-effectively) before cash runs out. This can work if done properly.
💸 Subsidy-Market Fit
Many “Uber for X” startups demonstrated PMF but struggled to make the economics work. This can be the most tortuous misfit because the math seems *so* close. Unfortunately, many never find the right balance between demand and margins.
🏰 Purchaser-User Fit
At B2B startups, there’s often a disconnect between users and purchaser. The product has been piloted and a purchase order is ready…If the startup can add security, audit-tracing, and a few “minor” features “requested” by the purchasing department.
👏 VC-Market Fit (It’s a trap!)
This occurs when VCs love the business or the founder’s credentials (Often a serial entrepreneur). The founders often know they don’t have real PMF but the VCs assume you do. The founders then spend as if they do. Disaster ensues.
🛒 M&A-Market Fit
Often, potential buyers of a startup are more interested than end users. They’re looking at 5–10 year trends while users have a near-term focus. If you can time it right, you can sell the company without massive metrics.
PMF isn’t a Holy Grail; it’s a never-ending quest that takes new forms at different stages of the business.