What comes first for startups — product-market fit or UX/UI design?

September 7, 2021
6 min

There is no magic recipe for finding your product-market fit but one thing is definitely for sure - you are set for failure without it.

One of the biggest mistakes that startups and newly founded companies make is coming up with a brilliant idea for a product, putting money towards developing and designing it, and then getting user feedback right before launching it.

By not diving headfirst into researching the market, listening to their target customers and looking for “pain points” before coming up with a solution or a product, most founders end up wasting their time and money at the very beginning of their journey into creating something innovative.

People brainstorming and drawing on a whiteboard about ux/ui design

Our experience with finding product-market fit

Through designing and developing apps and websites for a number of different startups over the years, we can safely say that we’ve seen it all.

We’ve encountered well thought-out ideas, with thorough research into their target market and long-term growth plans but we’ve also worked with companies that hadn’t quite figured everything out. Of course, we were happy that they came to us for our user experience expertise but it was also a bit bittersweet to see that what we had created for them would not have the chance to scale in the long run.

So, we thought that it would be a great idea to reflect on these experiences and to share some of our insights into how startups and new companies can find their PMF and use it as a basis for the design and development of their product or MVP.

But first, let’s start with the basics.

1. What is product-market fit?

It was really hard to find a unified definition for this term but based on our experience, we came up with the following:

As Marc Andreessen, cofounder and general partner at the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, has said, product-market fit is when a company’s product satisfies the needs of the market. This means that by buying and using your product, your target market can help sustain your company’s growth and profitability.

Yellow paper clips arranged around a yellow piece of paper showcasing product market

Most startups that have created something appealing as a product but are struggling to find their product-market fit, make the mistake of trying to hire more of the “right people” after they receive a round of funding. Their investors agree to it yet nothing seems to change and the growth doesn’t continue. They come to the conclusion that the product is only moderately appealing to their target.

By that point, the expenses start to outweigh the income so investors stop investing and the company cannot sustain itself anymore.

Even though we’ve seen this happen, it’s always good to mention the good examples we’ve seen of companies that have actually researched their niche well and have created a product that solves an issue that their customers are experiencing. Some of the companies that we’ve worked with that have an excellent product-market fit are SMSBump, OfficeRnD, Tolstoy, and emerchantpay, just to name a few.

2. How do you discover your product-market fit?

As we mentioned, having product-market fit relies heavily on the research you do before you dive into creating a product that you think will satisfy your customers’ needs.

Workstation with a laptop, coffee mug, notepad, pen, and smartphone showcasing product market fit

Some founders will say they were lucky enough to stumble upon a niche that needed to be filled. But we would argue that they actually worked hard to achieve this luck by interviewing clients to understand their needs and acting as fast as possible to create a solution.

Once founders establish that need, they need to set up all necessary tools that will help them to continue learning from their audience as they go along the way. The best products out there are the ones that rely on constant goal tracking, testing and analysing results, whether they are satisfactory or not.

Even when they encounter ‘surprises’ along the way, entrepreneurs should take them as learning opportunities that will provide them with even more insight into how they should evolve their business and product strategy.

3. A step-by-step guide into finding your PMF

So, you’ve started thinking about a niche or a problem that you have encountered and now you want to do some research and see whether there are other people out there who relate to it.

Whatever you’ve decided to do, nothing beats a good discovery session. This is the first step you should take if you want to achieve long term success with your idea or project. Discovery is about learning what you have, what your audience needs, what you can offer them, what you want to achieve and how you plan to measure success.

Here is an example of what steps you would usually take to find your PMF:

  • Developing a market thesis by talking to customers.
  • Taking note of their problems.
  • Rapid prototyping a solution.
  • Releasing that solution to the customers.
  • Testing the solution.
  • Checking if it worked!

If your solution didn’t work, then you have to go back to step 1 and either iterate again or come up with a whole new idea.

4. How to find your PMF by talking to your customers?

Group of four young adults sitting at a table, and working on how to find your pmf

Talking to your target audience will probably be the most important part of finding your product-market fit. Some good questions to ask, that will help you establish your product strategy are:

🧐 What is the biggest struggle you have encountered while trying to do “this thing”?
🌗 In what situations do you encounter this problem?
🙄 Why do you think this is a problem for you?
👉 Have you tried solving this problem yourself?
⚙️ Have you found any solutions out there?
🎭 What do you like and dislike about these solutions?

Hopefully, after doing a bit of research, you will start to pinpoint exactly where your product would “fit” and how it will solve the problem your customers are facing.
The idea is to listen carefully and let your potential customers talk about their life and habits. The more detailed and specific their answers are, the better.

5. So, how will you know you have found your PMF?

When you find a group of people who are “desperate” for your product, are using your product more than just once, and start recommending it to their friends, that’s when you’ll know you’ve found your product-market fit. If they are not actively looking for your product, chances are there is a much better alternative.

Hand holding a blank sticky note with several other sticky notes arranged illustrating way to find pmf.

When you have PMF, making decisions about how to scale your product further will feel easy and frictionless. At this point, your idea will be ready to be taken to the next step - user experience and user interface design, where understanding the similarities and differences between product design and UX design becomes crucial!

6. If things start to feel hard…

Then chances are you haven’t found your startup’s product-market fit and it’s probably best to take a step back and reevaluate your idea at this point.
This is where it will become absolutely clear whether your product or service is ready to be designed, tested, and launched or not. If you don’t see a way for your business to grow and scale, then we suggest you tweak your product or change your idea completely, instead of “digging” in the same spot without achieving any result.

The perfect agency-design fit

Several gray jigsaw puzzle pieces scattered on a yellow surface telling about perfect agency-design fit.

If you end up being part of the few lucky ones that do find their startup’s product-market fit then the next step would be to find an agency that will bring your idea to life!
Discovering the ideal agency-design fit has a lot to do with your PMF! For example, if your product or service idea have to do with Fintech, then it only makes sense to find an agency that has that specific niche experience.


Have an a great product idea to pitch and turn into reality?👉 Drop us a line at s@stan.vision and let's talk!

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