Community Building: The new way to find Product-Market Fit

Innovating makes you an innovator, Customers make you founders

Last week, I was in a clubhouse room with Naimeesha Murthy, founder of Products by Women, and Rebekah Bastian, founder of Owntrail, and we were talking about how in the past 5 years, the community building has really re-defined product-market fit for consumer startups. 

This has got me thinking of a couple of things that I wanted to share with you. 

The first time, I thought of product-market fit, I took the wrong route of let’s first create the product and then find the market. This was back in 2016 when my co-founder, Anshul, and I started- The School of Games. We built our first prototype and took it to India, thinking we knew everything about the problem. Surprise, Surprise!! The product failed badly and even after testing it with 12,000 beta testers across 7 countries, we failed and had to shut down The School of Games. I remember, one kid coming to Anshul during our pilot test and saying, could you build something that is fun! Yea, that was a blow to us!

Then in 2017, when we started Equally, we had a bunch of lessons from our previous failure. We knew that we had to approach education, technology, and reformation only by actually talking to the users first. So, we went out to schools around the world, parents across age groups, and kids. After, talking to about 200 parents, teachers and kids, we realized what the real need was, and thus came our first commercial product Da Vinci Club. Now, the way we approached it was very gradual. We wanted to make sure that the money, time, and resources that we invest in this product are worth it. And the only validation any product needs is from its CUSTOMERS. So, we went to the 200 people we had earlier spoken with and they gave us some terrific feedback. 

I think we were only thinking about getting feedback, but before we actually launched the product on the app store in 2018, we already created a strong engaged community of almost 1000 parents and teachers in Finland, the United States, and India. The fact that we took the community feedback while creating our product became our best strategy ever. Our customers know how much we listen to them and build products for them.

So our product-market fit was essentially community-driven. Now, this wasn’t a conscious decision. Being an empathetic entrepreneur and listening to our customers led us through this journey. 

So in 2020, when the pandemic hit, we thought of reaching out to our parents again and asking what they needed support with and created the first-ever Augmented Reality Homeschooling solution as an experiment. The experiment went so successfully that we became the solution adopted by multiple parents and kids.

The community validation is one thing, the other is the network effect of that community. I remember I first started New Founder School in June 2020 with only 13 founders. As they successfully started launching their ideas, they started sharing about New Founder School within their networks, and I am ecstatic to share that in 9 months, New Founder School has served about 200 founders from 40 countries

I can see how this is such a difficult thing to do. Putting yourself out there and getting criticism on how your idea may not REALLY work can be hard. Especially when you have to hear that from people over and over again. So, it’s easy to say, hey I am good at innovating and building so why not just do that? But here is the thing: The skill that makes you an entrepreneur is NOT just the fact that you can build something but actually build something that is NEEDED by a considerable number of people. Innovating makes you an innovator, Customers make you founders. 

So, the next time you have an idea and this certain surge to create it, take it out to the people you are building the offering for. Ask them simple open-ended questions and don’t assume! Observe their body language and ask for personal use cases on how exactly they will use this product or offer. It will save you phenomenal amounts of time, money, and resources. This is something that the investors are looking for

And when you launch, you would be closer to your product-market fit because of this community that you have built. 

What are your thoughts on the product-market fit? Do you have any questions regarding product-market fit? Feel free to share them with me below.