What is more important in an early startup; having a great team or having a great product? The answer happens to be neither according to Marc Andreesen. In a piece he reposted recently, “In a great market — a market with lots of real potential customers — the market pulls product out of the startup. The market needs to be fulfilled and the market will be fulfilled, by the first viable product that comes along. The product doesn’t need to be great; it just has to basically work. And, the market doesn’t care how good the team is, as long as the team can produce that viable product.”
Obviously anyone could bring up plenty of counter-examples, but there is plenty of substance in what Marc is saying. I have seen plenty of rockstar teams sputter to an ignoble ending. They had the talent and the capital, but no market. Likewise, many great products have been long forgotten, relegated to the dustbin of history because they were simply ahead of their time. If there is no market, or at least substantial momentum that builds into a huge market, no amount of talent or whiz bang tech is going to matter.
That being said, it does not mean it has to be an enormous market. It just has to be definable and accessible. Definable is the real challenge, because many markets seem like they could be ripe at the beginning. However, you probably would not, or should not, tackle all of them at once. That is the part though that takes the most time in the process of product/market fit. When you do find a fit however, you know you are there because every conversation is easier, you are pushing less while getting pulled more, and sales take shorter to close. Then the fun part begins when you start to dive into the market and execute on sales and delivery.
It is hard to understate the importance of choosing the right market. Just like with Enhatch, my startup, we had the right team and a great product, but the initial market was not necessarily the correct one to launch into. It was not until we refocused on a new set of targets, the right industries and right use case, that we started gaining traction. Luckily for us we realized that mistake early on, and recalibrated the product, the messaging, and our sales efforts to hone in on the right market for our mobile sales platform.
It is okay to not have the most accurate or clear vision of what the market is at the onset. You could very well be wrong anyway, as is usually the case with most startups. Just as the product may take numerous twists and the team may change many times over, the market is hard to get right. Even for products directed towards a specific vertical industry and audience, it is not always so clear if that is even the right market or if another market might be more receptive. Just make sure you find that market as soon as possible, before your opportunity window closes.
This article was originally published on Strong Opinions a blog by Birch Ventures for the NYC tech startup community.