Every single founder out there quickly hears about the product-market fit. But many entrepreneurs go for years before thinking about another such “fit” that is pivotal in how well your market responds to your product.
Let’s talk about the Solution-Workflow Fit.
As a software entrepreneur, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of developing a product that solves a critical problem for a validated group of people. That’s already a great start and beats the “idea first” approach that causes so many SaaS businesses to fizzle out after months of work.
But focusing solely on the technical side of your solution is not enough. To truly create a successful business on top of solving a critical problem, you also have to consider the medium in which your solution is implemented and the workflow of your customers in which it will be used. This is the “solution-workflow” fit, and it is a crucial element of building a successful SaaS business.
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Understanding the Medium of Your Solution
Successful SaaS businesses usually follow a pattern. They find a certain group of people with a shared critical problem, come up with a solution, and implement that as a product that they can repeatedly and sustainably sell to that group.
Unfortunately, many founders skip the middle parts: they come up with a great idea, maybe even validate that there is a market for their product, and then jump straight to building. That’s not very surprising, as most SaaS founders are also developers, and we developers sure love solving every problem with code.
But looking at the problem we solve and the solution we come up with to solve it is worth spending some time on. When it comes to solutions, it’s important to consider the medium that your customers expect them to happen in. This means thinking outside the technical implementation of your solution and considering the context in which it will be used.
For instance, consider the difference between a physical book and an eBook. While both formats serve the same purpose of conveying information, the medium in which they are presented can make a massive difference to the consumer. The same goes for software solutions; it’s not just about solving a problem but also about providing the solution in a medium that makes sense for the user.
This is often mind-boggling for developers who have been building web apps for over a decade and now want to start a business. A software as a service (SaaS) solution might be ideal for solving certain problems, but sometimes, the best solution could be a checklist or a printed book.
We developers gravitate towards the tools we already know. You jump to building a web application because that’s what you’re familiar with. But this approach will limit your customers in unexpected ways. A SaaS is a very opinionated implementation of a process. How you build it will restrict how your customers can solve their problems. You might end up hindering their ability to use your solution to its fullest potential because they expect it to work very differently.
So, when developing a solution, it’s important to consider the medium in which it will exist. This means thinking about how your customers will interact with your product and ensuring that it is accessible in the lived reality of their professional lives.
Consider building a business that helps farmers track their inventory. Most inventory tools are written as web applications with interfaces best used on a desktop or laptop computer. But farmers don’t work at a desk all day long. If you want to give them the right tools, you have to make sure they exist in the medium they can actually use: you’ll need to build a mobile app that can accompany the farmer into their barn or on the tractor. If you only build a clunky web app, it can be incredibly powerful but won’t be useful.
Considering the Workflow of Your Customers
And the medium people expect their tools to exist in is decided by the workflows our prospective customers execute to get stuff done.
This means you need to know what tools and processes they use in their day-to-day work and then ensure that your solution integrates seamlessly into that very real and hard-to-change workflow.
If you want to build a business that serves audio engineers, a web-based SaaS probably won’t be enough. Again, you need to place your solution in the medium they’re using, and for sound people, that’s their DAW. Whatever you build needs to integrate seamlessly into the digital audio workstation that they are using. You can still build a software platform, but it won’t be of much use if audio engineers need to export their audio files from their DAW, upload it to your service, work on it, then download the result and re-import it into their DAW. That’s a workflow-buster, and it will keep people from even trying your service.
To get this right, in any industry, you will need to know the inputs and outputs that your solution needs to work with and build your product so that it’s compatible with the file formats that your customers are using. It’s not about what you can build — it’s about what they need to continue their work.
No software is ever used in isolation. That’s why it’s so important not to skip these parts of your journey. Before you start building, you need to develop a deep understanding of the industry you’re serving. What are the standard tools being used? How do they integrate with each other? Are there best practices? Common formats? Getting this right is essential if you want your solution to be adopted widely — or at least by professionals.
Building a Solution Workflow Fit
So, how do you get to the solution-workflow-fit?
You start by researching to understand the existing workflows in your target industry. This means identifying the tools and processes your future customers use and which inputs and outputs your solution needs to work with. YouTube is often a great source of information here. Find subject matter experts and watch their tutorials or explainer videos. Often, they will talk about their tools or at least share screenshots where you can see which tools they deem important enough to have a place in their dock or taskbar. Investigate these tools to learn all the file formats and data transformation expectations. What do the marketing websites for these tools suggest they can handle? What file formats are supported by all tools, and which are more specific to certain tools? How do users combine these tools to get their work done?
Once you understand the existing workflows, you can begin to design your solution to fit right between the existing tools. This means thinking about the medium in which your solution will be offered and ensuring that it is accessible across the different devices and platforms that your prospects commonly use. This means designing your solution to integrate seamlessly into your customers’ existing toolchain so they don’t have to change their processes too much to use your product. They will have to change something, but they shouldn’t have to learn everything from scratch again.
A willingness to adapt your solution to fit your customers’ needs is foundational to building the right thing. Leave our ego at the door. You don’t know better. And even if you do, that won’t convince your prospects. They have a job to be done, and they already have a way of doing it. Instead of telling them they’re doing it wrong, give them something that makes things much easier without having to redefine their work completely. A good product will change an industry’s processes and best practices over time, not overnight.
Don’t Force It
Consider that some problems don’t need a software-based solution in the first place. Or at least entertain the idea that your business success doesn’t depend on a SaaS being built. You might have a much bigger impact creating an info product —like a technical handbook or a process manual— that people can use as a reference to establish a better way of getting their work done. Who knows, a book could build the foundation for a future SaaS business that implements those newly established business processes a few years down the line.
And when you find yourself building a software product, always think from the perspective of someone executing a particular task for the hundredth time. If you find a way to make the next time faster and more efficient without making the whole process harder, you’re looking at a candidate for solution-workflow fit.
Never forget why we build businesses: to help the people we choose to serve and empower. Think from their perspective, and you’ll build something that integrates well into the reality of their professional lives.