Virality-Market Fit: The Only Thing That Matters In The Beginning
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Now on to the post…
After you have found an Infinite Devotion (i.e., soul-market fit), there is only one thing that matters when you’re getting started sharing your ideas online.
That thing is Virality-Market Fit.
Put simply, Virality-Market Fit is when your engagement increases as you post more. In other words, as you post more:
People start to read your work habitually
Readers promote your work to their network
Algorithms feature your work
You gain an audience of true fans who are ready to buy from you
On the other hand, if fewer people see your content over time, it means that it’s not resonating. Therefore, people who follow you are ignoring it more and more. As a result, newsfeeds are burying your content.
Over time, the difference between the two looks like this…
Over the last five cohorts of coaching experts to share their ideas online, I realize more and more how important but overlooked Virality-Market Fit is.
When experts haven’t fully grasped it, they get sucked into a failure loop with the following steps:
Focus on the wrong things and too many things
Spread themselves too thin
Work too hard
Don’t get much traction
Give up without understanding why things didn’t work
I first learned the power of Virality-Market Fit the hard way…
Case Study: I Wasted Two Years On Blogging Without Getting Results
When I was in my 20s, I spent years writing 250+ blog posts. Most nights after work, I’d stay up 1-2 hours later in order to write and publish one blog entry. My logic was simple: If I publish more, I will automatically become better and get traction.
About 18 months in, my writing had a little traction, but not much. And, no matter what I did, I couldn’t get off the plateau. Furthermore, I couldn’t really tell from the few comments I received whether people were actually getting value or just giving me encouragement. So, I was in no-man’s-land, and I didn’t know whether I should continue or stop.
One day, I read a blog post by Seth Godin that said, “You can tell if your work matters by whether people miss you.” Seth’s words hit me like a ton of bricks, and I knew I had the answer to my no man’s land dilemma. I decided to stop my writing streak to see if any of my readers cared.
If people asked me where I had gone, I knew that they at least cared a little. If there was complete radio silence, then I knew that my writing didn’t really resonate.
Not one reader ever emailed me. The conclusion was clear: My writing didn’t matter.
It was a brutal realization. I had wasted hundreds of hours thinking I was moving toward my goal when, in actuality, I was standing still. The meaning I took away was, “I guess I’m not a good writer.” So, I made the next logical leap and stopped writing. If writing was not for me, why bother?
I didn’t write again for years.
In retrospect, I could’ve gotten the same learning in months rather than years. What I now know is this…
First, if you’re not sure whether you have Virality-Market Fit, you don’t. When your engagement is increasing, it’s clear.
Second, if you don’t have Virality-Market Fit, your #1 focus should be taking the direct steps necessary to achieve it. You shouldn’t keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results.
Everything Other Than Virality-Market Fit Is A Distraction At First
When you first write online, there are many things that grab your attention that actually are important, just not in the beginning. In the beginning, they are distractions. Below is a partial list…
Marketing is a distraction because it’s throwing good money after bad.
Syndicating on five platforms instead of one will just lead to more failure. Five times zero is still zero.
Systematizing and building a team around what doesn’t work will only help you be more efficient at mediocrity.
Even learning to write better is a distraction. Because online, the most lucid explanation of something constantly loses to the most interesting explanation.
Focusing on quantity doesn’t work any more than putting more and more lipstick on a pig. (Caveat: If you are improving with each repetition, you are building up your capacity for the future. But the focus then shifts to improvement rate, not quantity.)
Having a grand, long-term vision and content strategy is fundamentally useless if none of your content resonates. This matches the startup dictum that no business plan survives first contact with the customer.
Content calendars don’t matter if no one reads your content. Way too many people are rushing every week to meet a deadline for readers who don’t care about their work.
In short, if your content doesn’t resonate then none of the above things will ultimately help you. In the beginning, your focus should be on activities that will most directly help your Virality-Market Fit.
The good news is that once you have Virality-Market Fit on one platform in one niche, chances are you’ll be able to scale from there.
You’ll be able to succeed on almost every platform.
You’ll be able to monetize.
You’ll know how to keep getting Virality-Market Fit in the future.
So, the question becomes, how do you most quickly and reliably find Virality-Market Fit?
To answer this question, we don’t have to guess. We can look to the lessons learned in another industry, which has already figured out the answer…
What The Software Industry Can Teach Us About Virality-Market Fit
Code and content are surprisingly similar.
For each, you extract something from your head in order to get somebody or something to do something.
Once that knowledge is converted from neurons to bits, it has the same properties:
Low cost to host and use
Instantly transferrable anywhere in the world
Zero cost for copying
Even though code and content have similar properties, they have followed very different trajectories since the advent of computers more than 40 years ago.
Software is now the largest industry in the world.
It has matured in many ways:
Investing. Tens of billions of dollars are invested in it every year. There is a network of hundreds of accelerators specifically designed for supporting software startups.
Methodology. There are methodologies like lean and agile that have been created to help entrepreneurs and programmers think smarter.
Quality. While software used to have many bugs, they’re much less common now.
Business Model. While software used to be sold for a high one-time fee, most software is now sold as a subscription (SAAS: Software-As-A-Service).
Thought leadership, on the other hand, is still in its nascent stages:
Investing. Very little money is invested in knowledge startups.
Methodology. Education programs on thought leadership are limited and not rigorous. Many content creators wing it with trial and error.
Quality. The quality of online content is often mediocre.
Business Model. The idea of people consistently paying for content has only become a thing in the past few years.
This table summarizes the differences between the two:
As people become more willing to pay for content, I believe that the thought field will start to catch up with many of the practices of the software industry. More specifically, I think that many of the methodologies that work for software startups can and will be adapted for thought leaders.
The software startup methodologies help founders:
Eliminate waste from creating products that people don’t want
Maximize their odds of success
Reduce the time it takes to find resonance with a market
Avoid years of pouring their heart into something that was doomed to fail from the beginning
For the rest of this article, I will share seven specific lessons that software startups know, which all thought leaders should know as well...
7 Lessons From Software That All Thought Leaders Should Take To Heart (paid subscribers)
Over the last 15 years, I’ve spent 300 hours reading 10+ books, dozens of articles, and watching every video I could find on the topics presented in this section. Furthermore, I’ve deeply incorporated these lessons into how I create posts.
For each of the 7 lessons, I present a short video clip from an expert that captures the essence of the idea, and I also include a takeaway on how to apply the idea as a thought leader.
1. Focus on Product-Market Fit first to reduce waste (free preview) 2. Do things that don't scale in order to get true fans and feedback 3. Follow the 10x Rule to be 10x better than the standard and stand out 4. Iterate rapidly when things aren’t working to avoid wasting effort 5. Your first goal should be learning, not production 6. Build a Minimum Viable Product to get the best feedback 7. Do Customer Development to intimately understand the customer
#1. Focus on Product-Market Fit first to reduce waste
During the first dotcom boom in the 1990s, the conventional wisdom was that startups should execute the following playbook:
Spend months creating a business plan that is dozens of pages long.
Raise millions of dollars to execute the business plan.
Spend that money on building the perfect team, the perfect brand, the perfect office, and so on.
After the dotcom crash of 2001, this logic was challenged. Many businesses raised millions of dollars and never earned a single penny.
As Silicon Valley rebuilt itself in the subsequent years, a new methodology for startups emerged.
Along those lines, one of the most famous articles that laid down a pillar of this new methodology was The only thing that matters by legendary entrepreneur and Netscape cofounder Marc Andreessen.
Most famously, Andreessen says:
The only thing that matters is getting to product/market fit.
Product/market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.
You can always feel when product/market fit isn’t happening. The customers aren’t quite getting value out of the product, word of mouth isn’t spreading, usage isn’t growing that fast, press reviews are kind of “blah”, the sales cycle takes too long, and lots of deals never close.
And you can always feel product/market fit when it’s happening. The customers are buying the product just as fast as you can make it—or usage is growing just as fast as you can add more servers. Money from customers is piling up in your company checking account. You’re hiring sales and customer support staff as fast as you can. Reporters are calling because they’ve heard about your hot new thing and they want to talk to you about it. You start getting entrepreneur of the year awards from Harvard Business School. Investment bankers are staking out your house. You could eat free for a year at Buck’s.
Lots of startups fail before product/market fit ever happens.
My contention, in fact, is that they fail because they never get to product/market fit.
Carried a step further, I believe that the life of any startup can be divided into two parts: before product/market fit (call this “BPMF”) and after product/market fit (“APMF”).
When you are BPMF, focus obsessively on getting to product/market fit.
Do whatever is required to get to product/market fit. Including changing out people, rewriting your product, moving into a different market, telling customers no when you don’t want to, telling customers yes when you don’t want to, raising that fourth round of highly dilutive venture capital—whatever is required.
When you get right down to it, you can ignore almost everything else.
I’m not suggesting that you do ignore everything else—just that judging from what I’ve seen in successful startups, you can.
Whenever you see a successful startup, you see one that has reached product/market fit—and usually along the way screwed up all kinds of other things, from channel model to pipeline development strategy to marketing plan to press relations to compensation policies to the CEO sleeping with the venture capitalist. And the startup is still successful.
Conversely, you see a surprising number of really well-run startups that have all aspects of operations completely buttoned down, HR policies in place, great sales model, thoroughly thought-through marketing plan, great interview processes, outstanding catered food, 30" monitors for all the programmers, top tier VCs on the board—heading straight off a cliff due to not ever finding product/market fit.
Thought Leader Takeaway
Product-Market Fit is the equivalent of Virality-Market Fit when it comes to content. When you don’t have it yet, it should be your #1 goal.