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Virality Without Product/Market Fit Is Useless.

I’ll be honest — I don’t have data like viral coefficients, reproduction rates or probability of word of mouth transmission because I had no clue what those were a few months ago.

This is a story of my experience. In my opinion, the startup I’m working with achieved virality some months ago— people were talking about us and we were getting more traffic than ever before with no marketing dollars. Blog coverage generated >20k shares and site traffic spiked by >10x.

Our product was being hotly debated on online forums, newspapers & discussed at the water cooler in at least one investment bank (that I know of). Heck, the MOD was called to comment on us more than once! It generated conversation — good & bad. What it didn’t generate was satisfactory conversion.

We optimized the activation and retention rates by testing and tweaking the landing page and email drip campaign. Referrals seem to run by itself because the product was so controversial.

Yet we couldn’t seem to move the needle on the revenue conversion for it. We tried dropping the price & even giving it away for free - no joy.

Eventually traffic nose-dived as we stopped being the hot story and we tried to reignite it with paid advertising and tagging on more features onto the product. As you’d expect, this didn’t work.

As I explore the fundamentals of start-up products in greater detail, I’ve hypothesized that achieving virality without product/market fit is useless. A product may be awesome as hell and users want to share it with all their friends because its funny, stupid, insane, ridiculous, awesome etc.

But sharing online or offline(and thereby virality) is no indication of whether one will use a product much less of whether one is willing to pay for a product. This can only be ascertained via effective customer development and developing a must-have product. Only once a product has achieved product/market fit can optimization and growth tactics make an impact on your bottom line.

In essence, virality should not be the goal of any startup BPMF. Heck, it shouldn’t even be on the radar. The focus should be on obsessively achieving product/market fit.

Lesson well learnt.

By Rohit Mulani

Reach me at rohit@mulani.co or Twitter: @RohitMulani

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