53: THIS is what product-market fit looks like
Credit: Trello, Inc.

53: THIS is what product-market fit looks like

Product-market fit is one of those concepts that seems relatively straightforward in theory but ends up being elusive in practice. Finding your way to product-market fit is an iterative process reliant on lots of appropriate, good quality research and validation, also known as customer development. But what does product-market fit actually look like when you get there?

Aton Edwards CC BY-SA 3.0
Oooh what a lovely bunker, you crazy survivalist, you (Credit: Aton Edwards CC BY-SA 3.0)

Let’s take a look at Trello. Unless you’re a survivalist whose been awaiting the inevitable end of civilisation in a hardened concrete bunker in Idaho,1 you’ll have noticed that Trello’s had an interesting few years.

The rise and rise of Trello #

Credit: Trello, Inc.
Credit: Trello, Inc.

Let’s start with a bit of background. Fog Creek Software launched Trello towards the end of 2011 as a free product, then promptly saw adoption take off like a rocket, hitting the 10 million user mark in October 2015.

Trello user growth July 2014
Trello user growth as at July 2014 (Credit: Joel Spolsky / Trello Inc.)

But this was always part of the plan, as cofounder Joel Spolsky described back in January 2012:

Trello is free. The friction caused by charging for a product is the biggest impediment to massive growth. In the long run, we think it’s much easier to figure out how to extract a small amount of money out of a large number of users than to extract a large amount of money out of a small number of users.”

So far, so Facebook – in other words, build a massive user base, then figure out how to make money from it later on.

So next came the challenge of making some real money from Trello. Business Class appeared in 2013 and Trello Gold not soon after, but these add-ons didn’t take off to the same extent that the original free version did. It always seemed to me that pretty much all the value to the average user was already in the free version – there simply wasn’t enough of a reason to go for the paid versions.

Nevertheless, having several million users brought investors clamouring to their door to invest in Trello, so Fog Creek spun it out into its own company in 2014.

Defining product-market fit #

Marc Andreessen (of Netscape and VC Andreessen Horowitz fame) once wrote:

“If you ask entrepreneurs or VCs which of team, product, or market is most important, many will say team. … Personally, I’ll take the third position — I’ll assert that market is the most important factor in a startup’s success or failure.


“In a great market — a market with lots of real potential customers — the market pulls product out of the startup.”

Marc Andreessen

Trello has seen fantastic product-market fit with the free version, but not so much with its Business Class and Gold add-ons. That may well be changing with the addition of their Power-Ups, however. Power-Ups were introduced to Trello Business Class in 2015 to pull information from other services like GitHub, Slack and Google Drive directly into cards in Trello.

Indigo Ocean to Lauren • 3 days ago Harvest above all else. Adding a time card for Trello activity while still in Trello is key. Why go back and forth when a single pop-up is all you need, and it is relevant to what you're doing right then. Jennifer Soucy to Lauren • 3 days ago I'd *become* a Trello Gold user with Harvest integration. Just sayin'.
Some user comments from Trello’s launch announcement of Power-Ups (source)

Based on the comments, because Power-Ups are only currently available to Business Class users, it sounds like free and Gold users are pulling the product out of Trello’s hands. All that remains, it seems, is for Trello to find the right price point for non-Business Class users, and they’ll be up, up and away (again).

If this isn’t a strong signal of being close to product-market fit, I don’t know what is.

Notes #

  1. In which case, why on earth are you reading this?

Get articles when they’re published

My articles get published irregularly (erratically, some might say). Never miss an article again by getting them delivered direct to your inbox as soon as they go live.  

Read more from Jock

The Practitioner's Guide to Product Management book cover

The Practitioner's Guide To Product Management

by Jock Busuttil

“This is a great book for Product Managers or those considering a career in Product Management.”

— Lyndsay Denton

Jock Busuttil is a freelance head of product, product management coach and author. He has spent over two decades working with technology companies to improve their product management practices, from startups to multinationals. In 2012 Jock founded Product People Limited, which provides product management consultancy, coaching and training. Its clients include BBC, University of Cambridge, Ometria, Prolific and the UK’s Ministry of Justice and Government Digital Service (GDS). Jock holds a master’s degree in Classics from the University of Cambridge. He is the author of the popular book The Practitioner’s Guide To Product Management, which was published in January 2015 by Grand Central Publishing in the US and Piatkus in the UK. He writes the blog I Manage Products and weekly product management newsletter PRODUCTHEAD. You can find him on Mastodon, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Agree? Disagree? Share your views: