Which customers do you listen to? If you listened to everyone, you would:
- Have a Frankenstein product
- Run out of time / money before you finished
Great products are defined just as much by the features they support as the features they leave out. You need to have a framework for weighing feedback carefully, and distilling signal from the noise.
I first heard of Superhuman CEO, Rahul Vohra’s framework for measuring and growing product/market fit on a podcast, and it was a major clarifying moment for me. It covered how to identify your superfans, understand why they love you, and reverse-engineer that love to grow your fanbase.
First, a refresher on product/market fit: the state of having built something that enough customers want badly enough they are happy to sell it for you.
It’s a “state” because you can always fall out of fit with a changing market, which means measuring it regularly can save you. I say “happy to sell it for you” because while your customers may have the desire, you still need to give them an easy and rewarding way to do it.
The problem with product/market fit is that it’s clear when you’re there: you see the famous hockey stick curve, and your customers send you love letters. But before you do, there’s only fog.
How far off are you? Are you even on the right track.
Four simple steps can help you find your way.
- Identify your superfans
- Find out how they see themselves
- Understand the promised land
- Get more to see the promised land
Let’s dig in.
Identify your superfans
Ask: How would you feel if you could no longer use this product?
Options: Very disappointed, somewhat disappointed, not disappointed
Your superfans are the customers who would be “very disappointed” if your product went away. Based on benchmarks of hundreds of startups, companies that took off had at least 40%+ of their customers feeling this way. This is no easy feat! Back in 2015, 51% of surveyed Slack customers were superfans.
The threshold is not an exact science, but it captures the importance of having a core group of customers whose love fuels your growth and helps you unlock escape velocity.
The denominator is critical: you should be surveying customers who have experienced your core product recently. You start getting directionally accurate signals when your eligible denominator reaches at least 40 customers. If you don’t have that many customers to survey yet, you can still use this framework in your customers interviews.
Find out how they see themselves
Ask: What type of person do you think would most benefit from using this product?
When you segment this response to just your superfans, you learn how they describe themselves… in their own words. It gives you a clear persona to build for and market towards. For Superhuman, their superfans were managers, executives, or those in business development who read hundreds of emails a day, take pride in being responsive, and keen to get to Inbox Zero.
Understand the promised land
Ask: What is the main benefit you receive from this product?
When you segment this response to just your superfans, you reveal your product marketing. After all, it’s how they would pitch your products to people like them. Superhuman built a wordcloud based on their superfans’ responses which highlighted their killer features: speed and keyboard shortcuts.
Get more to see the promised land
Ask: How can we improve this product for you?
This is the money question. When you segment this response to just your superfans, you learn what you should double down on to win them over even more. But to grow your product/market fit, you need to get more customers who think like them but are not quite there yet, the casual fans.
Casual fans are those who would be “somewhat disappointed” if your product went away. The most promising casual fans are those whose response to the previous question matches that of your superfans. They get your product, but are held back by some missing pieces that they reveal.
Your non-fans are those who would not be disappointed if your product went away. While you may be curious about their suggestions and how much it overlaps with your fans, Rahul recommends politely ignoring their feedback in building your roadmap.
I think the only reasonable exception is when your casual fan percentage is very low, and you need a bigger population to win over to make a dent. If you’re in that boat, make sure you’re buckled in because winning over non-fans will be much harder. There are probably many reasons they’re not bought in, and taking their suggestions at face value can easily muddle your roadmap.
If the only feasible way to grow is by taking them on, you’re probably looking at a much larger product pivot. See if you can find non-fans that look like your promising casual fans and superfans, and narrow in on serving that more realistic segment. Segmentation is your friend!
Another cautionary note is that asking explicit questions around improvements can get you “faster horse” responses, when really there’s a need for speed, which can be addressed in more creative ways. That’s why all proposed solutions should be mapped back to its underlying problem. What you’re solving for is the the problem; the actual solution you create can be flexible in form.
It’s also helpful to group ideas by theme and prevalence to prioritize what’s most important. Don’t chase niche strands that only apply to 1-2 people; instead, focus on ideas that build around the main benefit identified by your superfans and causal fans.
Rahul recommends dedicating 50% of your roadmap to working on the ideas that hold your casual fans back, and the other 50% on ideas that earn more love from your superfans.
I recommend first looking at the overlap between what each group suggests. If their ideas for how to improve your product converge, your job gets a lot easier — focus on giving them their wishlist. If there’s a good amount of divergence among your fans, and you already do a great job on the main benefit, I recommend spending more time working on turning your casual fans into superfans at least for a few months, and see if you can grow your share of superfans.
The following 4 questions give you a map for growing your product/market fit.
- How would you feel if you could no longer use this product?
Options: Very disappointed, somewhat disappointed, not disappointed
- What type of people do you think would most benefit from this product?
- What is the main benefit you receive from this product?
- How can we improve this product for you?
Rather than fumble in the dark and wait for the product/market fit gods to grace you, this framework puts you in the driver’s seat. You can measure your fit in realtime, understand who to listen to, who to politely ignore, and who to pursue next.
It should serve as a guiding light anytime you’re building something new, and keep you on track once you’ve crossed the threshold.
Give it a try and let me know what you think!