There is more than product-market fit

5 essential milestones for your early-stage startup

Excited with the start of my startup course this week. I generated this overview for my students, as some scaffolding to guide their process. Could be relevant for you, too.

There is no clear path to startup success. Yet, there are some milestones that can give you a sense of where you are.

This is not a checklist, but a probe for asking yourself questions to sense where you are.

Premature scaling can hurt your business, research shows. Make sure you are not investing in scaling before you got the following five fits:

Founder-startup fit

💡 Founder + Startup = Motivation + Progress
  • Is this the right startup for your team?

  • As a founder, does the project suit your personality type?

  • Do you have enough available time to support and build it?

  • Is the problem space interesting enough to work on for 3+ years?

  • Do you have a way to connect with, and find, early customers?

  • Do you have the skills and/or resources to build it?

Read more
Product-founder fit
Founder-market fit

Problem-fit

💡 Customer -> Problem
  • Is there a problem worth solving?

  • You can precisely articulate the problem

  • You know who your customer is

  • You also know who is NOT your customer due to your research

  • They know what their problem is

  • They can articulate, recognise their problem

Read more
Customer problem fit

Problem-solution fit

💡 Problem + Solution = Problem solved
  • Do you have technical proof that your solution solves the problem?

  • Your solution fits neatly with the customer's problem

  • Has your solution been implemented in the life of the customer and does it solve the problem there?

  • Do customers report on their problem being solved?

  • Customers are able to articulate how your solution solves their problem

Read more
Problem-solution fit
Problem-solution fit canvas

Business model fit

💡 Money in - Money out > 0 
  • You are profitable

  • Your unit economics work for your

  • Customers pay for your solution

  • Your target segment has enough customers for sustainable growth

  • Your revenue model is suited for your customer segment

  • Your customer acquisition costs are lower than the customer lifetime value

Read more
Unit economics calculator
Problem size canvas
Business model canvas

Product-market fit

💡 Product + Market = Growth
  • The value proposition you offer actually creates value for your customers

  • Customers are extremely happy with your product, would be disappointed if your solution would stop existing

  • Customers pay for your solution

  • Customers return for more or churn is low

  • Organic growth of your startup (word of mouth, SEO)

Read more
How to know if you got product-market fit
12 things about product market fit
How to find product market fit (YC)


Which comes first, BM-fit or PM-fit?

The order of BM-fit and PM-fit may vary. Some people include characteristics of BM-fit within PM-fit. I always find it important to highlight that a business needs to be profitable in a sustainable way. Therefore I adopted Strategyzers' BM-fit in this model.

Constant founder-startup fit check

Your drive for your startup is the only constant in an entrepreneurial journey. Without your drive, nothing happens. Your drive could fluctuate. That is okay. Still, you need to be on board for the ride.

The actual journey is not as sequential

It seems quite straightforward from this graph. Reality is not like that. Still, having the hierarchy of fits in your head can help you to prioritise work.

How was this one?

Great - Good - Meh

If you click that button, I will grin like a big happy baby!