Why Product-Market Fit Matters to Developers

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  • Developers should evaluate market and then product before joining a team
  • Great markets are more important than quality of startup teams
  • Finding product fit in a great market is the only thing that matters
  • Developers should focus their efforts on getting to product-market fit

In 2011, Marc Andreessen famously coined the developer ethos of Silicon Valley in The Wall Street Journal: Software Is Eating the World. And disruption across industries has been accelerating ever since, driven by developers and their code.

A decade ago, big tech companies were in the low hundred billions in market capitalization. Since Andreessen's 2011 essay, Apple and Amazon have both passed a trillion dollars in market cap, and Alphabet (Google) isn't far behind.

Marc Andreessen also wrote a less well-known post about one of the critical inflection points in the life of any startup titled, "The only thing that matters," about a concept used by Silicon Valley startups in the know: product-market fit (PMF).

Product-market fit is one of the "secret" frameworks that startups use to eat the world. It's a framework that developers need to keep front of mind as they decide what companies to join, what programs to work on, and when they are busy recoding the world.

In the article, Andreessen refers to a conversation with Andy Rachleff, a Benchmark Capital cofounder, who describes the "Law of Startup Success."

The #1 company-killer is lack of market.

When a great team meets a lousy market, market wins.

When a lousy team meets a great market, market wins.

When a great team meets a great market, something special happens.

You can obviously screw up a great market—and that has been done, and not infrequently—but assuming the team is baseline competent and the product is fundamentally acceptable, a great market tends to equal success and a poor market tends to equal failure. Market matters most.

Further, Andy's "Corollary of Startup Success" states:

The only thing that matters is getting to product/market fit.

The life of any startup can be divided into two parts: before product/market fit (call this "BPMF") and after product/market fit ("APMF").

When you are BPMF, focus obsessively on getting to product/market fit.

Do whatever is required, including changing out people, rewriting your product, moving into a different market, telling customers no when you don't want to, telling customers yes when you don't want to, raising that fourth round of highly dilutive venture capital—whatever is required.

The most important thing to becoming a great developer is to pick the right program at the right company—company-program fit. Company-program fit can create a halo-effect that can help developers become must-hire "rock stars."

The key, of course, is to join the right program, before product-market fit occurs, when credit, contribution, and attribution is generally highest. There are a number of great frameworks for determining the right program, such as the Innovation Triangle and the Value Triangle.

Once you join the right program, developers need to shift all their effort and their team's effort into achieving product-market fit.

Because all the really good stuff happens after product-market fit.

What's missing in product-market fit? Read more here.

Parts of this article are excerpted with permission from a book on innovation titled, Disrupt or Die.

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