In the startup world, many founders obsess over reaching product-market fit. This goal is widely hailed as a tipping point in the startup journey, as it signals the company is onto something meaningful. Product-market fit often leads to rapid growth, excited customers and successful fundraising.
In recent years, several successful companies have actually started with a community before they build anything at all – the community is their “product.” The community’s unique mix of people, activations, or content address a problem for each member. When a community can consistently solve a problem for a member, it’s found problem-community fit!
And the startup world has begun to acknowledge the value of community in driving growth and building a moat. Look no further than this article from a16z on “go-to-community” strategy.
Take SoleSavvy, a community of sneaker enthusiasts. Their target member’s problem? Keep up with sneaker trends and connect with other sneakerheads. By launching with only a Slack community and a bit of automation to publish new sneaker drops, this startup found problem-community fit. The SoleSavvy team built a “product” with low overhead and the potential to be a massively profitable business – now they have a mobile app with a validated feature set.
But how does one measure problem-community fit? With slight adjustments, the same way startups measure product-market fit. Here are a few strategies that may be helpful:
In an effort to measure product-market fit, Sean Ellis, CEO of GrowthHackers.com and startup marketing leader developed an effective question:
How would you feel if you could no longer use this product?
- Very disappointed
- Somewhat disappointed
- Not disappointed (it isn’t really that useful)
- NA - I no longer use it
This simple question can apply directly to problem-community fit. Simply rephrase the question: how would you feel if you could no longer participate in this community?” The potential for evaluation and learning is huge here.
The approach is both brutal and effective. For example, Slack has ~40% of people respond they would be “very disappointed” if they could no longer use the product (Slack! The chat tool many millions of people use everyday!). For a deeper dive on measuring product-market fit with this method, check out this article from Superhuman.
Another framework from edtech serial entrepreneur John Danner proposes measuring product-market fit based company stage. For example, initial conversion and 30-day retention matter far more at the early stage, while revenue and month-over-month retention matter far more at the later stage. In the community world, these concepts still apply.
In my experience working with communities, a stage-based approach also applies. For example, an entrepreneurship community may measure early stage fit based on 30 day positive engagement with mentors or educational content. At a later stage, however, monthly engagement with corporate partners or investors may be a more meaningful success metric.
A final tactic for measuring problem-community fit is the “X out of 10” test. The idea is simple: ask your community members how many out of 10 posts are valuable. This tactic is a spin on Net Promoter Scores (NPS), but in my opinion it’s far more tangible.
I recently went through this exercise with one of the communities I belong to, which happens to be a Slack community. First, I wrote down the problem I want the community to solve for me.
Next, I selected 10 posts at random from various channels. This included introductions from new members, questions from the community, and posts about events. I read through each carefully, assessing whether or not it helped solve my problem. If I found 6 or more posts valuable or actionable, I could confidently say that this community still solved my problem and I re-committed to engaging in it weekly!
In the case where a community fails a member in this “X out of 10” test, a community manager can take a few steps:
Assess your personas: Make an honest assessment of the tested community members’ persona. Does it align with your typical or majority persona in the community? If not, this individual may not be best served by your community.
Conduct a content audit: Conduct this exercise yourself as the community manager. Take a wider sample set of perhaps 100 posts. You’ll want a majority of posts to align with what you think (and members tell you) brings value to the community.
Re-focus on quality: If you find that your content is missing the mark, you may want to consider new experiments, such as cohort-based onboarding, channel or topic adjustments, or even add friction or baseline expectations for member participation.
These tactics may be helpful as you consider the communities you join, support and operate. Bear in mind that communities may support people with various backgrounds and problems to solve, so it’s important to look for trends, run regular tests, and keep chasing that value.
The art of chasing problem-community fit takes time and practice. Once achieved, it takes constant effort to maintain that value delivery – in other words, it’s less of a threshold and more of a trend line. In startups and in communities alike, few things are more powerful than talking to your users, listening closely, digesting what you hear, and acting on trends, bit by bit. Best of luck!