So you have a shiny new product. The technology is amazing and groundbreaking. Obviously, it's going to be the next big thing -- or maybe not.
There are thousands of stories of tech founders who thought they had come up with amazing technology -- and they had -- but never found the success they expected. Why?
You can have cutting-edge technology, the coolest company culture ever, and a great work ethic. But if you haven't discovered that magical point where what you're selling aligns with what people want (or you can convince them why they should want it a la Steve Jobs), forget about it.
Virtual Reality: Circa 1995
Virtual reality is the hottest thing in technology right now. Everyone is jumping on the VR bandwagon, coming up with cool ways to use this "brand new" tech and referring to it as "nascent."
But VR isn't new! We launched QuickTime VR at Apple during my tenure back in the mid-'90s. It was cutting-edge technology at the time, powering the ability to view hotel rooms in panorama, as one example.
QuickTime VR had so much potential. With panoramic vision, you were immersed in the environment, giving you the feeling of being there when you weren't. Great for sales, of course, but we saw a lot of other uses for it as well.
Unfortunately, we were too early for the market. We were still dealing with dial-up internet, and bandwidth issues severely limited the market's ability to embrace our technology. As things shifted away from VR for a couple of decades, the internet and other technologies have continued to evolve and improve. Now, the market is prepped for VR's grand (re-)emergence.
Predicting Tomorrow's Market Today
Wondering whether you've achieved a solid product-market fit with your new product? Here are some questions to help you figure that out.
1. Are you solving a widespread problem?
Your product may be cool and progressive, but is there actually a need in the market for it? Before you launch, think about whether your product can actually improve someone's life or if it's just fun and new.
Some things start out novel and quirky and then find their fit in people's lives -- consider basically any social media platform. One such toy that did not find its place is Google Glass: Glasses that let you scan the internet without a screen? What a cool concept.
Unfortunately, it didn't reach critical adoption because there was no real use for it in the market -- at that time. Google Glass was yet another cool gadget that hadn't found a viable market need.
2. Is it accessible?
Can it be understood and implemented into your target audience's life easily? Or does it require aspects that can't be readily bought and found today?
People love things that improve or enhance aspects of their lifestyle, but they're reluctant to embrace concepts they are completely unfamiliar with. We saw this during the transition from portable Walkman cassette players and CDs to iPods and MP3s.
The first MP3 player was launched in 1998, and within a few years there were many of options in the market. Unfortunately, MP3 players took a while to take off because while people were hooked on portable music, the technology wasn't super accessible at the time. It took hours to download an album, and it often had to be done illegally. Broadband was still in its early stage, and without fast internet, it was just easier to stick with tried and true options.
Of course, we all know that the iPod eventually won the market -- but many consider the real innovation to be iTunes, which allowed for quick and easy download of individual songs (along with easy pricing). Apple created a powerful platform that consumers were primed to embrace -- and Apple took over the market.
3. Is it simple yet malleable?
How hard is your product to use? Be honest with yourself. Can your grandmother, father, 6-year-old niece, and everyone in between pick it up and start using it quickly, easily, an even intuitively?
One of the biggest struggles for founders is tunnel vision. You build something amazing, get really excited, fall in love with it, and then fail to see the flaws in it. Or maybe you create something way too technologically advanced for your target market.
You're only going to answer this question by letting normal people use your product. Start testing it on your target market, and throw in some other markets just to see what happens. You may have been off-kilter about your true target market! See what they do with the product, where they struggle, and how they interpret every step. You'll only find product-market fit when normal people can use it daily and engage with it.
Listen, I'm not saying don't focus on creating cool technology; far from it -- that's my world. Some of the biggest technological leaps happen when people build things no one fully understands yet. Just calibrate the conviction that you have the next billion-dollar idea until -- well, until you're able to sell a billion dollars worth of it.