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How to Measure Your Way to Product-Market Fit

Updated: Jun 10

Whether your business is just starting to focus more heavily on product-market fit, or if the goal is to raise money so you can continue to grow, today’s market is proof that customer focus will remain a critical element in success. Whatever stage in the game you’re at, here’s some wisdom you can take to the bank: don’t get tunnel vision when raising money.

How to measure and validate your SaaS startup's product-market fit

A common mistake startup entrepreneurs often make the fundraising trail is focusing on raising money instead of their customers and product-market fit. If you jump right into fundraising as soon as you have a product, though, you're putting the cart before the horse.

Investors and lenders alike not only want to review your financial history, but also they'll want to gauge your startup's ability to be profitable to feel confident that your business is a sound investment.

Your time is much better spent on building up your business to show future investors that your value proposition and offering has traction and resonates with a market. in other words, before you go on a quest to fund raise, focus on your customers and product-market fit.

In the guide below, you’ll learn how to measure product-market fit and why it matters.

We’ll show you how to calculate and track two key SaaS metrics that validate product-market fit, which investors use to determine whether your business is a good investment.

Why product-market fit matters

Tap into any startup community discussion and you’ll quickly discover that product-market fit is one of the hottest topics. The buzz around this concept can be distilled into a simple phrase: make things that people want.

While it seems obvious that you need to find a market for your product, the number one reason why startups fail is lack of product-market fit, according to CBInsights. From the report:

“Tackling problems that are interesting to solve rather than those that serve a market need was cited at the No. 1 reason for failure, noted in 42% of cases.”

Creating a product that has a strong market demand is especially important when raising investor money. Venture capitalists and debt lenders are willing to take a chance on your company only if they think they can get a return on the investment. If your product is not in high demand, the chance of getting good returns on their investment is slim.

Product-market fit is the only thing that matters and companies should strive obsessively to achieve it until they do. 

So how do you ensure that you’re building the right product for the right market? And how do you convince potential investors you have nailed it?

There are many different models for measuring product-market fit, yet in our experience the process can be more qualitative than quantitative. Many startups never achieve product-market fit, while others pivot multiple times to get there.

SaaS Metrics that Validate Product-Market Fit

SaaS businesses rely heavily on gaining and retaining customers to grow their recurring revenue stream. There are two commonly used SaaS metrics that indicate how well you’re doing in this respect: customer churn and MRR churn.

These metrics can help you and your potential investors determine if your offering is well-received by your customer base and may help highlight some masked performance indicators. Having a well-received product is the first step to a strong and profitable company.

1. Customer Churn

Customer churn is the percentage of customers that cancel their subscriptions in a given time period.

Why customer churn matters

Customer churn offers important insights into how well you’re meeting your customers’ needs. In the early stages, when you’re first reaching out to your potential customer base, your revenues and total number of customers can be growing while you are still hemorrhaging a large percent of existing customers every month.

To find out if there’s an underlying problem with customer satisfaction, you need to step away from overall revenue and total number of customers and look at the customer churn.

Why Customer Churn matters to investors

If founders are only focused on overall growth and not on customer churn, they might believe everything is moving in the right direction when in reality there is a severe underlying problem that’s causing a large portion of their customers to quit using their service or product. If new customer sign-ups drop off, the company’s revenue stream will rapidly decline.

The below chart reveals the impact of customer churn:

How total customer count can be deceptive

Customer churn is usually measured on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis.

It’s also worth noting that this ratio doesn’t account for the gross customer accounts at the end of the period or the value you’re getting from each of the lost customers.

Your CRM software can give you insights into your customer churn rate (CCR). You can also determine this rate by looking in your accounting software for revenue streams from customers that go to zero in a given month.

What is a good customer churn rate?

Ideally, a company’s customer churn rate would be well under 10 percent. But this figure can vary depending on industry competition, end customer type, and how mature is your product or service. For companies serving primarily SMBs, the customer churn rate is not as relevant, as small businesses frequently go out of business.

It’s inevitable for some customers to leave now and again, but it’s important to make sure you’re looking at the trends that reveal sustainability. If your business has a high customer churn rate, it’s important to understand what the underlying drivers of the fleeing customer base are — and to take measures to stem the flow as quickly as possible.

Dig deeper into customer churn

A great way to better understand your customer churn is to do a cohort analysis, which can reveal specific customer churn trends over time. For example, customers that have been with your company for more than six months may tend to churn at a lower rate than those that have been with you for one month.

This trend suggests that the longer customers stay with you, the more likely they are to remain customers for the long haul, and you can increase customer retention by improving the initial onboarding experience. If you can get customers to adopt your product, they’re going to stick around.

Next, we'll talk about that other indicator of product-market fit, MRR churn.

2. MRR Churn

MRR churn is the monthly revenue lost from canceled contracts during that month. The MRR churn rate is the MRR churn compared to the MRR at the start of the month.

A more accurate picture of MRR churn can be calculated by including the revenue lost through contract contraction, as well the MRR gained through contract expansion and reactivation.

Why MRR churn matters

MMR churn is an important metric for entrepreneurs as it relates to your customer churn. It can provide additional insights into the health of your business.

Why MRR Churn matters to investors

Understanding MRR churn

Understanding MRR churn can help you determine the magnitude of the impact of lost customers on your revenue. It can also help you understand if those losses are manageable, especially when you compare it to the MRR associated with new customers you are bringing on each period. As you move forward and your business begins to grow, it can even help you forecast future revenue performance.

Following your MRR churn closely can serve as a sort of early warning system for your SaaS business — over time it will show if there's a disconnect between your product and what people want. It's a strong indication that your product-market fit isn't there.

Your MRR can be growing at a good clip, while your MRR churn is quite high, simultaneously. If you're tracking MRR churn, you can identify problems you wouldn't have seen tracking MRR alone, and you'll have more time to pivot before your company goes bust.

How to Calculate MRR Churn

First, let’s look at the different scenarios that are possible with a customer:

  1. Do nothing, and leave the purchase the same as before (MRR)

  2. Buy the product for the first time – New Customer (New MRR)

  3. Increase the purchase – Upgrades (MRR Up-sell)

  4. Decrease the purchase – Downgrades (MRR Decrease)

  5. Stop buying all together – Lost Customer (MRR Lost)

With these five things identified, let’s look at how they all work together to get to your MRR revenue levels. MRR analysis is something that is done over time. This means we are either looking at month-over-month, quarter-over-quarter, or year-over-year. In this example we are going to look at month-over-month.

In the beginning of January, our sample company had 100 customers with a total purchase volume equal to $100,000. During the month of January, 10 new customers purchased your product at $3,000 per month, resulting in $30,000 new MRR. Four of your current customers increased their monthly purchase amount by $2,500 each, resulting in $10,000 up-sell MRR. Two customers decreased their monthly purchase amounts by $2,500 each, resulting in $5,000 decreased MRR. Four customers went out of business and therefore stopped buying your product altogether; their purchase was typically $2,500 per month, resulting in $10,000 lost MRR. There were no other changes with the rest of the customers.

So, we end up with the following:

Calculated MRR Chart

Now let’s look at the percentage change for each respective area.

  1. New MRR Percentage: $30,000/$100,000 = +30%

  2. Up-sell MRR Percentage: $10,000/$100,000 = +10%

  3. Decrease MRR Percentage: $5,000/$100,000 = -5%

  4. Lost MRR Percentage: $10,000/$100,000 = -10%

By summing all of the above percentages or working from the original revenue values, we are able to look at the Net MRR Increase/Decrease, show in the calculations below:

  1. Net MRR: +30% + 10% – 5% – 10% = +25%

  2. Net MRR: ($30,000 + $10,000 – $5,000 – $10,000) / $100,000 = +25%

Like with MRR, the data you need to calculate MRR churn should be recorded in your accounting software.

Finding Product-Market Fit

Use and track the SaaS metrics explained above to hone in on your customers' desires and achieve product-market fit. When you ensure your value proposition and offering resonates with a market and can show you've got traction, you’ll be in a much stronger position when you present to investors. With this information, investors will have solid data to evaluate how well your startup is performing.

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