Rachleff’s Corollary of Startup Success states that product-market fit is the keystone of startup success. Achieving the perfect fit, however, isn’t easy. Jeb Banner, CEO of Boardable, says his company, like many startups, consider this their biggest challenge. “Product-market fit is that magical place where the solution you have created solves a critical problem for a majority of your target customers. And, this assumes there is a large enough market to begin with,” Banner says. “Although we started off with a lot of clarity around our market (nonprofits) and our solution (board management) we have continued to push further into that problem space, identifying the real issues that were driving prospective customers to consider purchasing Boardable. This is a never-ending challenge and one that informs every area of the business.”
The Business Impact of Homing in on Product-Market Fit
Banner says there is a “healthy tension” between customer voice and product vision. “It goes back to that Henry Ford quote: ‘We don’t want to give our customers a faster horse, we want to give them something they didn’t know they needed.’ For us, the key has been identifying board member engagement as the real problem, not just board management, which is the logistical aspect of the board experience — centralization, meetings, documents, etc.”
“As we dig deeper into helping our customers nudge their board members to become more deeply engaged with the nonprofit we also move the product from a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘need to have’ solution for nonprofits and their boards,” he says.
Banner says Boardable team members knew they would continually learn about their market as they worked with more organizations, so the challenge of product-market fit didn’t surprise them. “But solving it is a puzzle with surprising nuance,” he comments.
Overcoming the Challenge of Finding Product-Market Fit
Boardable is rolling out tools focused on the board member experience and recently launched apps specifically for board members designed to help them with their responsibilities such as preparing for meetings and discussions and completing tasks.
Banner says the app (iOS and Android) has been adopted by a majority of Boardable’s customers, and its usage is growing on a daily basis. “The feedback has been almost universally positive,” he says. “That’s been a great win, but it is only the beginning of our vision for a board engagement platform.”
“We see the opportunity to build out a toolkit for board administrators that includes messaging, reporting and campaign functionality — all with the intent to shift board member behavior towards greater engagement,” Banner adds.
Advice for Founders Challenged by Product-Market Fit
Banner encourages startup founders to “keep pushing. Even when you think you’ve found product-market fit you most likely aren’t there yet. You will know you are approaching it when your customer is selling your product for you. When you have raving fans that spread the word. This is great marketing, of course, but it’s also a signal that you have nailed product-market fit.”
Jeb Banner is the founder and CEO of Boardable, a nonprofit board management software provider, as well as two nonprofits, The Speak Easy and Musical Family Tree. He also serves as a board member of United Way of Central Indiana and ProAct Indy.