Putting the actual validity and attractiveness of your startup idea and market opportunity aside, nailing a good “go-to-market” strategy is a crucial piece of product launch that can also be tough to crack. Not all market entries are created equal – just like not all fruit peels are created equal. In some cases, you may be considering markets where there’s no existing competition, and the new product opportunity is clear – all you need to do is execute. Launches like these, to me, feel like peeling a banana: There’s a discernible place to enter, and the peeling experience is almost frictionless.
But in most cases, market entry is not as clear-cut. You might be excited about a problem space or market, especially knowing it’s receiving some investor heat, but you don’t know exactly where to play and how to enter. In other words, what is the unique wedge that will make you a dangerous competitor? Navigating new venture design in a market like this is almost like peeling a tough orange.
Accept that there is no manual
In comparing product-building to fruit peeling, I don’t mean to make it sound easy. There is no question that going from zero to one on anything is the hardest thing one can do. To me, rather, the orange peeling metaphor is a reminder that, just as there is no clear way to peel an orange, there is no manual in venture building – you have to rely on your intuition, observation, and decision-making all the way through.
Your objective here, of course, is to get a pith-free peel that leaves a pristine orange behind, in all its citrusy glory. But so is it for everyone else pursuing this same orange (market). Your ability to own the category lies in your ability to find your unique wedge and peel through faster than others. But finding a defensible wedge is incredibly difficult if all you are doing is assessing the market (orange) from afar. To make the right decisions, you need real data, and to get that, you need to get your hands dirty – so go ahead and sink your fingers into the peel and start chipping away.
The start is almost never clean
The reality is that markets have no clear entry point to peel from. You have to pick your own spot, and once you do, chances are that you will not have gotten that clean-peel tear you were looking for. Instead, you’ll find that these first few strips are full of pith. In start-up terms, this means that while your product has started to get picked up in-market, it hasn’t yet reached the stride in execution you’re seeking because either your target consumer is too broadly defined or your feature-set is not fully optimized.
But as Paul Graham, the legendary co-founder of Y Combinator, reminds us: The early days of venture building are all about customer development – it’s about pushing before there’s any pulling from customers and experimenting in every fashion possible until you find that clean-cut moment. How do you know you’ve reached that point? Just as you can clearly see when you’ve gotten to the real peel tearing with your orange, so can you feel the inflection moment in product building. Once you hit that perfect point, it all moves a lot more easily and elegantly.
This, to me, captures the dynamics of finding the product-market fit for an early-stage product. You take your best guess and go with it. Chances are you will have to pivot, wiggle, and tinker – all until you find the right approach to skinning the market. Once you do, though, there will be a lot less friction. Instead of pushing your product in different directions, your customers will start pulling the product from you, and all of a sudden, the peel will start to come off easier and cleaner than before. And heck, maybe as you start to peel, you learn more about this orange and decide that it’s not worth tackling in the first place, but you wouldn’t have known this without giving it a go.
Happy product/orange peeling!
Aayush Gupta is a venture builder and an expert in business design. His mission is precisely to create startups, from ideation to business launch. He currently works at Create, a venture studio backed by 20 of New York City’s most successful founders and used to work for Fortune 500 clients at Frog Design (part of Capgemini Invent).