Insights

Step-By-Step Framework for Achieving Product Market Fit

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January 17, 2024

Insights

Step-By-Step Framework for Achieving Product Market Fit

A simple framework for securing product-market fit for early-stage startups, as told through the lens of Warmly's founders.

Posted on

November 4, 2023

Alan Zhao

Head of Marketing

Step-By-Step Framework for Achieving Product Market Fit

When people who haven't heard of us before read the press about our fundraise they assume that success is a straight line. It wasn't.

Those who are close to us know that progress was not linear. We pivoted four times before landing on the current iteration of our business, so we've learned a couple of things that didn't work before we found one that did.

See Max's LinkedIn post about our various pivots.

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We want to share an unconventional framework for early startups that worked for us as we were navigating the idea maze.

Step 1: Assemble An Anti-Fragile Founding Team

The cofounders, Carina, Max, and myself were lucky enough to have met each other when we did to start this company.

Max and Carina met at Google, launching a "Where's Waldo" April Fools prank inside of Google Maps.

Max and I met through a founders fellowship program called On Deck (which I highly recommend for any early stage founder to apply).

Although we all shared a common goal and vision, we had very different styles and ways of thinking to achieve that goal - just ask any of our employees.

Over time, our unique approaches complemented each other and extended our strengths.

The archetype of each of Warmly's founder might look something like...

Max is our legendary purple cow.

Dreams big. Stands out. Reaches for the unreachable. Hustler.

Max is someone who, when you meet, you won't forget. He's a compelling character who can turn noes into yeses.

Top tier investors. Enterprise companies. The best talent in the market.

Eventually, they all cave.

He goes where nobody goes and thinks unconventionally.

For example, when Max takes a stroll, he'll sometimes select random numbers to call just to say "hi" and catch up for two minutes. It keeps the network warm and Max updated on where people are at and what they need.

This is a mindset you can't teach.

Carina is our methodical empire builder.

Filters out noise. Weights every decision. Leaves nothing to chance. Turns ideas into reality.

Carina is someone who has diagrams and graphics for everything. She is a systems thinker who has no problems calling your bull$&!+. She's the perfect complement for Max's creative energy and ideas.

Carina, although smiley by nature, is unemotional when it comes to decision-making, has the least bias out of the founders, and actively solicits everyone's opinion.

When the "processing period" has concluded, you won't look at the final proposal and think "that doesn't make sense."

It always makes sense.

Alan is our scrappy explorer

Curious. Dives headfirst. Always seeking the next big opportunity.

I started off in engineering at Warmly but have moved around a bit to sales, customer success, and now marketing.

To be honest I'm not detail-oriented enough to execute to perfection like Carina, or have the same relentless creativity that can pull rabbits out of the hat for the company like Max.

What gets me fired up is identifying and solving big bottlenecks in the company. And it's allowed me to learn how to pick new things up quickly.

Once the founders understood each other better we gravitated into roles that extended our zones of genius.

The wholeness in how we operated meant that with each pivot we learned more about product, market, and ourselves. We became anti-fragile, and by extension so did our company.

Eventually, after 4-years, the score takes care of itself.

Step 2: Leave Your Ego At The Door

Initially, we were naive enough to think that our ideas would be the ones to shape the world.

"Just imagine if we could build a better LinkedIn where people listed their asks and offers like in On Deck's slack channel."

Our first product, pushpull, connects people authentically to help each other out.

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Source: pushpull.community

“You were so preoccupied with whether or not you could, you didn't stop to think if you should” - Jurassic Park

We didn't ask ourselves "If this idea was so good why hasn't it become a billion dollar company yet?"

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There was no big favor marketplace.

We were trying to be the first.

And in doing so, we understood why many failed before us.

"How much money were people saving or making by doing this?"

Unclear.

We couldn't charge anything for the product.

We moved on to our next pivot, job change tracking for sales teams, where we started asking for money up-front.

That worked well until we realized we couldn't scale the product, another prerequisite for large VC backed company.

We went through a few more pivots, each one teaching us a new way to kill our ego.

To spare you the details, here are a couple more lessons:

  • Acknowledging that we didn't have all the answers allowed us to seek external advice and shortcut our path to learnings. Nowadays we speak with founders of failed startups, former employees of competitors, investors in our space, anybody who could help diversify our perspectives
  • Focusing on learnings rather than the satisfaction of being right ultimately led us to cut losing and embrace winning ideas. It's not enough to make revenue, we needed a path towards making one hundred million in revenue.
  • Adaptibility became our superpower. A shortcut to building what other people wanted was learning the art of copying. Elon musk figured out that a lot of people in the world liked driving things with four wheels and a steering wheel. And there were already a bunch of roads out there. Why not re-create that (car) but just change one thing (battery)? Stand on top of the shoulder of giants.

Step 3: Stay as close as you can to the market

We did everything we could to stay close to the market.

At first we talked to prospects, customers, investors, competitors, former employees of competitors.

We even became a full-time SDR at another company to live and breathe the role.

We did in-depth interviews with our ICP buyers using tools like user interviews.

We studied competitor ads, websites, products, reviews and testimonials to see what people were saying.

We listened to sales and marketing podcasts daily to see the current issues and how people were resolving them.

We kept our eyes and ears peeled for any new entrants.

We contracted with former competitor employees to learn best practices.

We engaged in sales and marketing communities.

We posted on social frequently about our thoughts on the space to see how on the mark we were.

We ran language tests on landing pages with our ICP using tools like wynter.

We started co-hosting sales and marketing webinars.

Eventually, we became sharp about the market and how we could build something that was not only better, but new.

Step 4: Run toward your vision

Goals should be as clear as they are ambitious. When we knew the outcome we wanted and why we wanted it, we made the most progress as a company.

From there, it's a battle against time and distraction. Every second counts. Anything has the potential to take your mind away from the real north star.

Sales people will understand this: nothing matters but the revenue you bring.

You connected with 100 people on LinkedIn, sent 50 personalized emails, responded to all your internal slacks. But did you close any deals?

It's easy to get lost in "tasks." If we're not careful, the things we end up doing (or are asked to do) don't move the needle. Days start to melt. A month might go by and a lot was done on paper but it doens't feel like what James Currier, General Partner of NFX, would call "fast moving waters."

In the words of our General Manager of Nametags, Alessandro Cetera, "Sometimes it felt like we were swimming, but not moving."

We needed to maximize the impact of every second of the day.

It required a shift in thinking.

Say no to everything, except the things that matter.

Someone wanted to meet for 30 minutes for advice?

"Sorry, slammed right now."

Someone at Warmly wanted to introduce me to a potential partner?

"After Q4, thanks."

Manager is recommending a cool idea we could do?

"Interesting idea. Thanks for sharing."

Our head of Sales, Keegan Otter, does a fantastic job of protecting his time and mind. He says no to just about everything, and he does it all with a smile :). He works days, nights, and weekends - doesn't let a second go to waste.

And you know what happened? He doubled revenue for Warmly within months of joining and he's just getting started.

Words are cheap. Results speak louder than any pitch deck.

Doing something that sounds good is beside the point. Proving that you were right when it matters, consistently, especially when the decision was controversial was what maneuvered us into the "fast-moving waters."

It might seem chaotic from the outside to investors, friends, and even employees because you have trouble explaining how your mind is working. It's not useful towards your goal that everyone understood you perfectly. Your thinking is recalibrating every day anyways to new information.

On the inside, the picture gets clearer every day as you're trying new things, refining mental models, and building off of these "truth blocks" until your vision becomes not only clear, but obvious.

You realize that you actually have everything you need to make this a reality.

Suddenly the language you start to use with customers sounds like music. Their eyes light up when you show them your demo.

Everything downstream becomes easier once you've pivoted into something that was proved, iteratively, from first principles.

Sales come easier. Marketing comes more naturally. Product and engineering know what to build and can see the impact of their work with customers.

The whole company becomes 100% mission-aligned.

The funny thing about frameworks is that they tend to be backward looking mechanisms to explain to others how you think you got to where you did.

But every product, person, customer, and market environment is different.

We created Zoom Nametags during COVID, and now an AI sales platform during a tech downturn.

We may need to scrap it all and pivot again one day. Can't say how we'd do it. But now that we've done it once, after so many failed attempts, we're 100% confident of what it takes for us to do it again.