This post is by Kyle Poyar from Openview Labs
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The statistics are bleak, but deserve to be repeated. 90% of startups fail, according to an in-depth analysis of 3,200 companies as part of the Startup Genome Report. The researchers blame “premature scaling” as the root cause, pointing out that 70% of startups in the study scaled before they were ready and that startup founders substantially underestimate how long it takes to validate their market. It’s no wonder that the startup community obsesses over finding product-market fit. After all, product-market fit is a critical prerequisite to being able to scale in a manner that creates long-term value for shareholders. For the uninitiated, product-market fit can be understood as instances when a startup introduces a new product that meets a real customer need, does so in a way that’s better than alternatives and in a market that can support a standalone business. Product-market fit tends to be a spectrum rather than
discrete, big bang event and it typically takes continued, sustained effort to improve it over time (e.g. by extending the market opportunity, creating more competitive differentiation, finding lower cost ways to acquire customers). Unfortunately, all of the focus on product-market fit glosses over a concept that’s equally as important to a startup’s success: pricing.
Product-market-price fitFirst Round Capital recently investigated the most common mistakes made by startup founders who struggle to fundraise. Compared to peers who breezed through the fundraising process, those who struggled were:
- 3x more likely to say they monetized too late
- 2x more likely to pursue the wrong business model
- 1.4x more likely to say they botched their go-to-market strategy
Product-market-price fit refers to instances when a startup offers a new product that meets a real need that customers will pay for at a price that can support a standalone business.The price element of product-market-price fit speaks to a few different elements that underpin a startup’s ability to scale: their pricing power in the market, the attractiveness of their pricing model and the health of their unit economics. First, a startup should have signs of pricing power. Pricing power is interconnected with both the product (i.e. the product is so good that people will pay a fair price for it) and the market (i.e. the number of potential users multiplied by the average price equals a market large enough that it’s worth pursuing). If the only reason why a startup wins deals is because they have the lowest price in the market, I would be highly skeptical that they’ve found product-market-price fit, unless they’ve found a radically inventive way to cut costs out of the business. But if a startup can raise prices and prospects don’t balk, then it’s a clear sign that the product has substantial product-market-price fit and there’s room to invest more in scaling the business.