The three tests of founder fitness
3 min read

The three tests of founder fitness

There are two other kinds of fit to test for beyond product-market fit, whether you're building a SaaS or offering expertise-based services.

The three tests of founder fitness are:

  • Product-market fit (PMF) – does the product/service fit the needs of the target market? Does it solve an expensive problem?
  • Founder-market fit (FMF) – how well do you as the founder fit your market? Are you an insider? An outsider? Have you worked with this market in past projects or jobs? Are you helping people you like get what they want?
  • Product-founder fit (PFF) – how well do you as the founder fit your product or service? Is it something you enjoy doing, or is it a drag? Does it let you work within your genius zone?

I originally heard these through Justin Jackson on the Build Your SaaS podcast. It's a good listen; it's a live recording of his Microconf talk:

Build Your SaaS | How to validate your product idea
Don’t waste time and money building something people don’t want!

Someone in my group coaching asked me for clarity around these and I actually forgot the third one initially – so I wanted to write down some quick thoughts. That way, if anyone asks again, I can just point them here.

An example of failing the tests

For my consulting experiment, one reason that made me abandon it was that all three fit tests ultimately failed.

  • Product-market fit: I couldn't find the right thing to package and sell, and I tried at least 4 beta offers which went nowhere.
  • Founder-market fit: Started out okay ("I help technical founders!") but failed by the end because I learned that 90% of my target market would be based out of Silicon Valley and VC-backed – I'm just not into that and I could feel my motivation waning.
  • Product-founder fit: Started out okay ("I can make custom, boutique courseware!") but then failed because I learned I'd likely need to sell content marketing services, or scale as an agency with employees/contractors, and I just wasn't into that... it didn't speak to me.

An example of passing the tests

Now let's compare the three tests for Keep Track of My Games:

  • Product-market fit: I've had people pay for the app, there are at least 20 competitors, and people keep finding and signing up without any focused effort on my part. That's pretty good validation.
  • Founder-market fit: I'm a lifelong gamer, I have gamer friends, and I enjoy the company of gamers. I seek them out. They're my rat people.
  • Product-founder fit: I'm a software developer by trade, I love working on products, and if I can replace a spreadsheet with better UX, it makes me happy. I'd say it's an excellent fit.

So you see, even judging by these three simple tests, it makes more sense to pursue the one that passes than trying to make the other one pass. 

Because I COULD try to make it pass, right? 


RGR comes from the practice of test-driven development (TDD): You start out with a failing test (figure out the problem you're trying to solve), you make it pass (validate and build the MVP), and then you refactor the code to improve it (scale it).

If I wanted to try and make consulting work, I could have targeted each test and refactored what I was doing:

  • Product-market fit: I could keep testing beta offers, doing experiments, doing cold outreach, networking, attending conferences, and getting to know my market better.
  • Founder-market fit: I could target bootstrapped tech companies, and I would be happier to help them.
  • Product-founder fit: I could change from professional services to building a SaaS that solves an expensive problem for that target audience, and I'd be happier.

You need time (and money) to pass all the tests

The problem with applying RGR to this process is that you need time and time costs money.

That's one reason why I think it makes sense to be financially independent, or at least well on your way, before trying to build your own business.

Obviously, people make it work, but there's no secret there; it's just dedicated, long, hard work that takes time. When you're financially independent or close to it, you don't need to worry about making rent or the mortgage – that frees up your time and your mind to focus on the business.


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