Is Your Product-Market Fit Problem a Marketing or Product Problem?

👋 Hello, welcome to the Startup Hustle! I’m your guide, Matt Watson. I share weekly tips from my 20+ years of startup founder experience and stories from other entrepreneurs from the Startup Hustle podcast.

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As the host of the Startup Hustle podcast, I've had the privilege of discussing the challenges and triumphs of building successful startups with countless founders and experts. 

One topic that consistently arises is the elusive concept of product-market fit. 

But is achieving product-market fit a marketing problem or a product problem? 

Let's dive in and explore this question, drawing from my own experiences and the insights shared by my guest, Rob Snyder, on a recent podcast episode.

You can watch the entire episode on YouTube or listen to the Startup Hustle on any podcast app.

The Importance of Finding Product-Market Fit for Startups

As a founder, I can't stress enough how crucial finding product-market fit is for the success of your startup. It's the foundation upon which everything else is built.

Without it, you're hoping that your product will resonate with customers. But hope is not a strategy, and the stakes are too high to leave it to chance.

When you achieve product-market fit, magic happens.

Suddenly, your customer acquisition costs decrease, your retention rates skyrocket, and your revenue starts to grow exponentially. It's the moment when you realize that you're not just building a product, but a business with real potential.

Everything just clicks all of a sudden and the flywheel really starts to spin. Things just get easier.

Signs you have achieved product-market fit:

  • Rapid and consistent growth in user adoption and retention rates

  • High levels of customer satisfaction and enthusiasm, with users actively promoting your product

  • Increased inbound leads and customer inquiries without significant marketing efforts

  • Strong word-of-mouth referrals and organic growth

  • Shortened sales cycles and higher conversion rates

Getting to that point is no easy feat. It requires a deep understanding of your target market, their needs, and their behaviors. You have to be willing to listen, learn, and adapt based on their feedback. And you have to be prepared to pivot if necessary, even if it means letting go of your original vision.

You may also need a little bit of luck and good market timing.

Granted, even when you reach the mythical product-market fit, that doesn’t mean you won’t run into countless other problems scaling and running a business. (Lucky for you, a new set of challenges will be waiting!)

Lessons Learned from Failing to Find Product-Market Fit

I'll be the first to admit that I've had my fair share of failures when finding product-market fit. This humbling experience has taught me invaluable lessons about what it takes to succeed as a founder.

One of the biggest mistakes I've made is falling in love with my own product ideas and assuming that customers will love them too.

I made this mistake as the founder of Stackify. I thought I knew best and customers would flock to buy what I was building. 


It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of building something new and innovative, but it's unlikely to gain traction if it doesn't solve a real problem for your target market.

Another lesson I've learned is the importance of validating your assumptions early and often. It's tempting to invest months or even years into building a product before launching it to customers, but this can be a costly mistake. 

Building software is fun. Talking to and chasing customers isn’t. But you have to…

The sooner you can get feedback from real users, the better equipped you'll be to make informed decisions about your product roadmap.

But perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is the power of perseverance. Finding product-market fit is rarely a straightforward journey, and there will be many obstacles and setbacks along the way. 

Even though I didn’t get it right initially at Stackify, we eventually figured it out. We were even in the Inc. 500 as one of the fastest growing companies in the USA and exited the business. It took some perseverance.

Is it a Product Problem?

Here are some common factors to consider for product problems.

Product Factor

Good Product

Bad Product

Solves a real problem

Addresses a genuine need or pain point for the target market

Fails to solve a significant problem or provides little value

User experience

Intuitive, easy to use, and provides a seamless experience

Confusing, frustrating, or difficult to navigate

Key features and functionality

Offers essential features that meet the needs of the target market

Lacks important features or has poorly implemented functionality


Stands out from competitors by providing unique value or benefits

Lacks unique selling points or is easily replicated by competitors


Offers a pricing model that aligns with the product's value and target market

Overpriced for the provided value or lacks a clear pricing strategy


Can accommodate growth and increased demand without performance issues

Struggles to handle increased usage or fails to scale effectively

Customer feedback integration

Actively seeks and incorporates user feedback for continuous improvement

Ignores customer input and fails to address user needs and concerns

Alignment with target market

Designed and positioned to meet the specific needs and preferences of the target audience

Fails to resonate with the intended target market or lacks clear market alignment

Is it a Marketing Problem?

Here are some common factors to consider for marketing problems.

Marketing Factor

Good Marketing

Bad Marketing


Clearly identifies and focuses on the most relevant target audience for the product

Fails to identify or effectively reach the ideal target market

Value proposition

Communicates a clear, compelling, and differentiated value proposition that resonates with the target audience

Lacks clarity, fails to differentiate from competitors, or doesn't address the target market's needs


Uses clear, concise, and persuasive messaging that highlights the product's key benefits and value

Employs confusing, inconsistent, or irrelevant messaging that fails to communicate the product's value


Selects and prioritizes marketing channels that effectively reach and engage the target audience

Overextends efforts across too many channels or fails to identify the most effective channels for the target market


Creates valuable, informative, and engaging content that educates and nurtures potential customers

Produces low-quality, irrelevant, or overly promotional content that fails to provide value to the target audience

Customer insights

Regularly gathers and analyzes customer data and feedback to inform marketing strategies and decisions

Ignores customer insights and fails to adapt marketing efforts based on audience preferences and behaviors

Metrics and ROI

Establishes clear, measurable goals and tracks relevant metrics to assess marketing performance and ROI

Lacks well-defined objectives, fails to track important metrics, or focuses on vanity metrics that don't drive business results


Continuously tests, optimizes, and adapts marketing strategies based on data-driven insights and changing market conditions

Remains rigid and fails to adjust marketing efforts in response to poor performance or market changes

The Role of Customer Feedback in Shaping Your Product

Your customers are one of the most valuable resources you have as a founder. They hold the key to understanding what problems need to be solved and how your product can better serve their needs. But it's not enough to simply collect feedback - you have to act on it.

In my experience, the most effective way to gather customer feedback is through one-on-one conversations.

Whether it's through user interviews, customer advisory boards, or simply reaching out to users directly, having in-depth discussions with your customers can provide invaluable insights into their challenges, goals, and preferences.

However, as Rob pointed out, it's important to listen to the right feedback.

Customers may have opinions on what features they want or how they think your product should work, but it's your job to read between the lines and understand the underlying problems they're trying to solve. 

One of my favorite quotes from the podcast was, "Listen to the customer's problems, but don't listen to what they think the solutions should be.

Most customers understand only the symptoms of their problems, and they struggle to communicate the real problem. 

The trick is to understand their symptoms, like a doctor, and prescribe the perfect solution to cure their business problems.

As a founder, you have to balance customer input with your vision and expertise. 

How to Effectively Communicate Your Startup's Value Proposition

So, if product-market fit isn't just about the product, what is it about? In my experience, it's commonly a marketing problem. It's about communicating your startup's value proposition to your target market. 

As Rob mentioned, "It is almost always not about the product or product features, but about who you're selling to and how you're selling it."

Many founders that I talk to struggle with giving a clear and concise “elevator pitch” for their company. Positioning and messaging is a common problem.

Customer case studies are one of the most effective ways to communicate your value proposition. 

By sharing real-life examples of how your product has helped customers succeed, you can demonstrate its value in a tangible way. As Rob suggested, "Frame everything as a customer success story and repeat that."

Storytelling, particularly through customer case studies, is a powerful way to demonstrate the tangible impact of your solution and create an emotional connection with potential customers.

The Balancing Act of Product and Marketing

Ultimately, achieving product-market fit requires a delicate balance between product and marketing. You need a product that solves a real problem for your target market, but you also need to effectively communicate its value and position it in a way that resonates with your customers.

So, is product-market fit a marketing or product problem? 

Rob runs a product-market fit program for startup founders struggling to figure it out. Based on his experience of working with countless founders, the problem tends to be more likely a marketing issue and less likely a product issue.

More often than not, we all love building the product, perhaps even overcomplicating the product. But we hate talking to customers and figuring out the marketing side.

It can, of course, be a product or marketing issue.

Startup success requires creating a product that solves a real problem for your target market and effectively communicating its value through marketing. It's a continuous process of listening, learning, and iterating based on customer feedback.

It’s also a process that never ends, no matter how big your company gets. Talking to customers is always important!

Who is Matt Watson?
Join 44,000 others, and follow me on LinkedIn. I am also the host of the Startup Hustle podcast, which you can listen to on any podcast app or YouTube.

I’m the CEO of Full Scale. We help companies scale up their development teams with top talent from the Philippines at a 60% savings.

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