20VC: Superhuman’s Rahul Vohra on How To Measure Product-Market Fit
|David Senra||Feb 26, 2019|
I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur since I was 15 years old. Everything I’ve done since then has been to achieve that goal. I’ve started 7 or 8 companies with only one prior success [Rapportive].
To understand Superhuman you have to understand it’s predecessor Rapportive. Rapportive was a plug in for Gmail. It scaled to millions of users. When people emailed you we showed you what they looked like, where they worked, their recent tweets, and links to their social profiles. Two years later we were acquired by LinkedIn.
While I was working at LinkedIn I saw Gmail getting worse every year. It was becoming more cluttered, using more memory, slowing down your machine, etc. [Josh Wolfe’s idea to find opportunities: Ask yourself what sucks?]
So I asked what would Gmail look like if you built it from scratch using today’s technology? We imagined an experience that was blazingly fast, search is instantaneous, every interaction happens in 100 milliseconds or less, an experience that had all the best plugins built in natively, and yet was somehow subtle and minimal.
I liken the job of a founder to making a really heavy flywheel spin faster and faster. When you don’t have capital you have to figure out a way to spin that flywheel. The normal way is to build a great product and get early users that love it. That was the Rapportive story. I single handedly got that product to tens of thousands of users and then used that traction to recruit cofounders, get into Y Combinator, and raise a seed round. When you are starting a company for the 2nd time you can do things in reverse order.
His initial concept for Superhuman was just one picture of Gmail with all the parts he didn’t like inked out in red.
Rahul has an essay on how Superhuman built an engine to find product/market fit. You can read the essay here.
Before launching I was looking for the classical definitions of product market fit. Paul Graham’s definition: You have it when you made something that people want. Sam Altman’s definition: It is when users spontaneously tell other users to use your product.
Marc Andreessen’s definition: You know it when customers are buying your product just as fast as you can make it. Usage is growing just as fast as you can add servers. Money is piling up in your checking account. You are hiring sales and support as fast as you can. [Founders Podcast #50 is about the ideas in Marc Andreessen’s blog archive. You can listen here.]
I realized we weren’t there yet. So I wondered could you measure product market fit? If you can measure it, you could optimize for it. It turns out you can. I just needed the right metric.
The leading indicator for product market fit is asking your users how they would feel if you could no longer use the product.
The companies that struggle to grow get less than 40% of their users to say they’d be very disappointed. So if 40% or more of your users would be very disappointed without your product, then you have initial product/market fit. I had laser focus on that metric.
You should understand who the people are that love your product. To do this we used The High Expectation Customer Framework created by Julie Supan. You can describe the framework this way: The highest expectation customer is the most discerning person within your target demographic. They will enjoy your product for its greatest benefit. They will spread the word. Others will inspire to emulate them because they seem clever and insightful.
We are intense fans of customer feedback. We’ve implemented one of the more sophisticated feedback triage systems that I’ve seen. We have tens of thousands of pieces of feedback that are logged against the feature and the person [who they are and what they are asking for]. We use Airtable.🛠
When we survey our customers we ask them what is the main reason you love the product. I take these responses and throw them into a word cloud. When you do that the reason people love your product will be staring you in the face.
I think you should stop pushing for premature growth before product/market fit. This ends in disaster. The pressure for premature growth is all too common. Use my suggested iterative process before focusing on growth.
Our approach to onboarding new customers is considered to be crazy. First they have to take a survey that prequalifies them. It lets us know if they are likely to be a happy user of superhuman. They have to preauthorize a credit card. This shows us they have an email problem and they are willing to pay for a great solution. Then we spend 30 to 60 minutes over a Zoom call.
The magic of this onboarding method is we are able to filter out the people who don’t really have an email problem. We can really focus on delivering the best possible service and personalized insights to each new user.