In 2014, after selling IRL Solutions – a digital agency grown to 135 employees in three years – I have spent most of my time developing a framework for growth. My aim has been to provide business owners and marketers with a step-by-step, practical model that any industry and company could use to promote growth. In doing this, I have combined basic actionable marketing strategies into a process for developing a product, assuming that growth can be promoted by the product itself on a very basic and low-budget marketing. This framework indeed doesn’t require high budgets, long run of marketing campaigns, high funds or mentoring to be applied. As a result, Silicon Valley appeared to me to be the wrong place for this, as its environment provides entrepreneurs with significant resources for success, unlike the rest of the world. The same Lean Startup approach and many other methodologies produced for business growth have been largely criticized as being “Silicon Valley-based,” rather than being – at least partially – neutral to geo-localization influences. Instead, I have spent lots of time developing this approach in Europe and even in the Philippines, where entrepreneurs deal with much more limited tools and resources; thus, they can’t rely on expensive consultants, large marketing budgets, investors, etc., but they need to find in the product itself the key for its growth rather than external factors. However, in the effort of making this framework as a universal and standardized as possible, this final formulation has been tested by Silicon Valley companies and in other parts of the world, resulting in the same success in its basic purpose of bringing companies to growth.
As described above, the build-measure-learn loop won’t tell you which assumptions are more relevant for your business in order to be tested as first. Also, the build-measure-learn loop won’t tell you what exact actions to take, and which marketing strategies should be applied in each development stage of your growth process. In this scenario, finding product-market fit just relying on theory is overwhelming, as there is not enough practical advice on how to do so. I found completely missing from the current marketing literature a framework that would integrate the build-measure-learn process with strategic actions. Once realized this I have developed the P.I.B. framework, whose aim is to set you on a path to know exactly what it takes for you to find product-market fit. That will help you avoid most of the top reasons that lead startups to failure – see The Growth Patterns chapter – even before starting product development. Thus, it breaks the growth development process – that goes from an idea (regardless if this is a new product or just a new feature) to scale – into actionable ordered steps.
This is the step you should take before conducting your tests, and, most importantly, before building the MVP. It helps you recognize pitfalls before jumping into the thrill of building. This is where you get to recognize and prioritize the most core assumptions regarding the viability of the business. It gives you a clear idea of where you should start and what you should test, in order to avoid you keep on testing on different ideas without actual results. You will get to understand which tests you should perform first, because they are more likely to bring value to your growth process, avoiding waste.
Prioritization can be divided into a three-stage funnel: customer need, solution to customer need, market need.
A customer need idea is a belief that your customer has about that problem; thus, you start by prioritizing a solution for that need. The solution should be real, meaning to say that you want to avoid having a solution without a customer. A market need idea is the assumption that the solution you have found for a customer applies to a significant number of people (market) and thus can be scaled up. The riskiest ideas that best identify a solution to a real problem with the highest market need – or what you feel is the highest market need – are the ideas to be tested first.
Once you know what should be prioritized, you start running your experiments, identifying, through customer feedback, what is relevant and what it is not; this is what is called the pivot method. A pivot is a “structured course correction designed to test a new fundamental hypothesis about the product, strategy, and engine of growth.” And still from an operational point of view: “No plan survives first contact with the enemy, you got the entire thing wrong and you need to change more than 80% of your product, maybe retaining one aspect of the original, maybe not – fortunately your customer feedback showed you a new path.”
You will be testing and building product or features, as well as no-features and no-products: testing things you don’t have yet and you haven’t even started building. During the identification process, you want to test the riskiest assumptions first, meaning the assumptions where you have fewer data to support their validation and that are most unknown to you. The P.I.B. framework starts the identification stage with brainstorming and selecting the riskiest assumptions. That will help you to find out from the very start what can be the biggest flaws of your product/idea while increasing the speed at which we can find a better, more viable alternative.
As discussed before, the growth hacking approach, as well as in the Lean Startup methodology, doesn’t put branding into its core principles. That makes sense as growth hackers look for growth with little to no budget in a short timeframe, while branding is normally a long, expensive process; lean startuppers are focusing their efforts on building a product rather than branding something they haven’t even fully defined yet. However, at this stage of the P.IB. framework, you have fully identified your product and your audience and you know how your product would perform in a sample market; you are ready to attract more users and have them repeatedly use it.
Let’s face it: at this point, you have a mere MVP or a prototype or, even worse, a non-product. Still, you haven’t reached market fit, and you can’t penetrate the market, that in growth hacking terms also means not being able to complete your product. You might still find a group of early adopters enthusiastic about your product description; however, the market won’t accept your product, mostly because of a lack of credibility. The branding stage is where you need to add a minimum level of credibility to penetrate the market. Social Media signals as well as editorial coverage will help your product to be accepted, and to break through the market. Do you think you will be able to get people to sign up because you promised them a great feature, or because they have found one of their Facebook friends using it? Or, assuming that your product is a custom invoicing tool, wouldn’t you be more keen to use it if you have found this mentioned in a Forbes article? Before people start to look into your product, they need to accept it, and that’s what the (lean) branding stage discussion here does. The more you make your product credible, the more will be accepted in your target market.