In the early days, the success of your SaaS startup hinges upon a single question: have you built a product people want, or are you still a product pivot away from success?
To help you get the answers you need to scale with confidence, I've outlined a simple 5-step process (complete with free template) for creating a Product/Market Fit survey.
1) Choose Your Survey Questions
We're going to use the Sean Ellis approach to Product/Market Fit (PMF) as the basis of our survey (for the reasons behind this choice, you can check out my in-depth analysis here).
Sean's PMF test relies on a simple, customer-focused question:
How would you feel if you could no longer use [product]?
- Very disappointed
- Somewhat disappointed
- Not disappointed (it really isn’t that useful)
- N/A - I no longer use [product]
Instead of relying on quantitative data and metrics (which can be extremely variable when startups have a small customer base to draw from), it offers a simple, straightforward way to get to the crux of the issue: do your customers care about your product?
Though deceptively simple, the answer to that question can imply a lot about the types of people you're targeting, the problem you're solving, and the value those customers place on your solution.
For additional context, we're also going to supplement our survey with a few extra questions. In Buffer's PMF surveys, they ask for elaboration on the main survey question...
Please help us understand why you selected that answer.
...Hiten Shah takes the opportunity to gain some valuable competitor insight...
What would you likely use an alternative if [product] were no longer available?
...and Baremetrics ask about customer referrals.
Have you recommended [product] to anyone?
I've included all of these questions (and a couple extra) in the free Product/Market Fit survey I've created to go alongside this post.
2) Find 40-50 People to Survey
The next step is to identify customers to send the survey to.
In terms of determining the sample size, the more people you can survey, the more significant your findings will be. Obviously, there's a caveat: as a small, potentially pre-Product/Market Fit startup, you might not have huge numbers of paying users.
For a rough benchmark, 40-50 responses should prove enough to carry significance. If that simply isn't an option, it might be worth augmenting your survey with an alternative indicator of PMF (more on that later).
It's also important to reach out to the right type of people.
When Buffer wanted to determine whether their latest product offering had hit PMF, they reached out the tool's beta users:
Upon reflection, they realised that the overwhelmingly positive response from these highly-engaged, highly evangelical users wouldn't necessarily be reflective of the responses of Buffer's "average" customer.
To try and alleviate this kind of bias, it's crucial that your survey respondents are:
- Paying customers.
- Users of the core functionality of your service.
- Recently active (ideally within the last 2 weeks).
3) Send the Survey
Armed with your survey quesitions and a list of right-fit customers, it's time to get the survey launched. There are a few different ways you can go about this, from in-app messaging to dedicated surveying tools:
If you're looking for the easiest way to get going, just use the free Product/Market Fit survey I've created, and simply download, tweak, and email to your customers.
4) The Big Reveal
When you've received enough survey responses, it's time to analyse your findings. The threshold we're looking to cross with this PMF survey is 40% of your respondents (or more) answering "Very disappointed" to the question "How would you feel if you could no longer use [product]?" With a sample size of 50 respondents, that's 20 people.
If over 40% of your surveyed users would be "very disappointed" if they could no longer use your product, you have a great indication that your product is problem-solving and valuable. Though not a guarantee of Product/Market Fit, these factors are a necessary prerequisite to scaling your business.
If you don't manage to hit the Product/Market Fit threshold, don't despair: achieving PMF is a challenge for any new product, and the more innovative and disruptive you are, the harder it will be to validate your direction.
This survey will provide you with a benchmark to compare against future performance. If you've included some open-ended questions in your survey, you can use those responses to dig into the problems that have prevented your customers from really "clicking" with your product.
This 40% benchmark was determined by comparing results across 100s startups.
Those that were above 40% are generally able to sustainably scale the businesses; those significantly below 40% always seem to struggle.Sean Ellis, Survey.io
5) The Next Step
From Sean Ellis' findings, the 40% benchmark is a necessary prerequisite to Product/Market Fit; but, as you might expect from a simple survey question, it doesn't guarantee it.
To increase your confidence in your findings, there are a couple of ways you can augment your survey:
- Combine it with David Cumming's approach to Product/Market Fit: a checklist of 5 characteristics of post-PMF SaaS companies.
- Send a follow-up survey to your respondents to learn more about the motivations behind their choices (this is something I've facilitated in the free template that accompanies this post).
- Analyse the respondents' in-app usage data to try and identify problem areas and sticking-points.
All of this information works together to paint a picture of your Product/Market Fit: but even if you're certain you've hit PMF, this type of proactive customer development work should be an ongoing commitment.
Achieving Product/Market Fit isn't a goal in its own right - but understanding and validating the role your product plays, in your customers' lives and the market as a whole, should be.