If you build it... they will pay. Or not.

"If you build it, they will come...” is a great line from Kevin Costner in the movie Field of Dreams. Any entrepreneur with wide eyes and a passionate dream thinks that whatever vision they implement will be so great that customers will come flooding in. 

Well, other than the lucky few that had that happen (not quite sure how those umbrella-in-drink-things got so popular) most people have to carefully test their vision of the market and validate what customers “actually want” and are "willing to pay for." In the software-as-a-service (SaaS) space this is called getting 'product market fit.' Brad Feld wrote a great article about it explaining the premise is getting your product to the point where it is so valuable to your customers, they can’t live without it. However, this shifts over time as you grow your company, so you need to understand how it evolves and how it impacts your product and feature development. 

With our company, Talu, we only launched Beta in January of this year and have been working to get feedback from our Beta customers to better understand how our vision aligns with the needs of the market. The first thing we needed to test was our methodology for solving the business problem we saw: Messy metrics reporting is everywhere. So, the premise of our product is to create beautiful and insightful reports for your marketing data. 

To date, the solutions we found on the market were expensive, a heavy lift to get started or were just a dashboard focused on the display of data. We wanted a simple and easy tool that did all the work for you and built reports in a human-readable, story-based format vs. dashboards and spreadsheets.  

The initial response to our approach and design has been overwhelmingly positive. We were really encouraged with the initial feedback and thought we were going down the right track. About six months into our Beta we were feeling more confident that our approach was something that could work for the market. 

However, our ego was quickly bruised from our "field of dreams” perspective when we learned we had much more work to do to clearly address enough of the pain points in the market and move our product from a “nice to have” to a “need to have.” We had always known that the “market problem” we were tackling was quite large and we decided to go wide with our approach (solving more pieces of the problem) vs. very narrow (just solving one part of the problem, deeply). While we still don’t think this was a mistake, it did put us in an interesting position just a few months into our Beta period. 

We had to ask ourselves: Do we build features that are wide or deep, based on our current version of the product? If we go deep, meaning adding a bunch of features on our current base, our product would be more niche focused and not fill our greater vision. If we go wide, we would be leaving some essential features off the table that our customers are already requesting for the sake of furthering our vision.

The true question we really were trying to answer was are we moving towards “product market fit" for this stage of our company?, and how do we turn free Beta users into paying customers? We needed to start attracting a core base of paid users to build from. Validation of our free model was nice but, true business validation is when we can attract a large base of paid users. 

So how did we decide what to build next? And do we go wide or deep from a feature perspective? To answer this question we decided to do a product market survey like the survey written by Hiten Shah for Slack.

The survey results helped provide clarity on many of our assumptions. We had two key questions we were trying to validate:

1. Are we a nice to have? Or a need to have?  

2. And what features should we work on next to become a need to have?

The answer to our first question confirmed our assumption; we have been getting really positive feedback from the product, but we were still lacking some key features to make us a need to have. We had suspected that and knew that we would still have work to do from our Beta launch. Here were the numbers from our survey: 

How would you feel if you could no longer use Talu? 

Somewhat disappointed - 54% 
Very Disappointed - 29% 
Not disappointed (you’re kinda meh) - 16% 

The goal here, based on past experiences from other SaaS companies who used this survey, is to get over 40% for "very disappointed." This would demonstrate you're moving in the direction of a “need to have” and better product market fit

The next thing we found out was even more important. We added a new question to this survey that listed the most requested features from our Beta clients and then some of our product vision roadmap ideas and asked users to select their top 3. 

This was super helpful to our roadmap. We learned there were a few critical features that we needed to build out in order to get wider adoption of our product. We had 1,200 Beta users and we felt without addressing these items the next 1,200 customers would ask for the same things. So, it was more important to work on the features our customers were clamoring for first. We also realized some of our “vision” items were high up on the list from the survey. This was also helpful because we can now engage our Beta customers to help validate these ideas in more detail and know that as we take a wider view of our product vision we are still addressing the right needs in the market.  

We now feel much more comfortable that we are spending our time and money in the right place and have a better gauge on how to balance requested features and product vision. We're listening carefully to our customers to make Talu a “must have service.” 

We’re sharing our story, but we’d love to hear yours. Leave a comment below or drop us a line via email hello@talu.io