In his excellent series of blog posts on building and managing technology startups, Marc Andreesen advances (with an oblique credit to Benchmark’s Andy Rachleff) the idea of “product/market fit” as the foundation of startup success. In his view, achieving product/market fit is the only thing that matters to a startup, trumping all other factors like quality of the idea, management team, technical execution, etc. Having seen this play out in the negative with Judy’s Book, I know viscerally that this is completely true. Which makes it all the more exciting when I see what looks like product/market fit coming together in another venture.
In the fall of 2004 I was approached after a speaking gig by a soft-spoken Indian entrepreneur named Sree Nagarajan. He said his attention had been caught by one of my slides titled “Commitment Creates Opportunity” and he asked if we could meet for coffee. I agreed and, over coffee he shared with me his idea to tap his network of offshore development and data analysis relationships to build a services company that could efficiently deliver sophisticated analytics capabilities to U.S. customers at a very competitive price. He didn’t yet have a specific target in mind, but was exploring different markets and looking for a sounding board to help him zero in and make the leap from employee to founder. I was impressed not only with his obvious intelligence and methodical approach to building a business, but also by his personal warmth and humility, and agreed to work with him to flesh out his idea and support him in whatever way I could.
Fast forward to today. Sree called me this morning to tell me he had just closed a major new client for his business, had several more equally big deals quickly coming together, and had just struck a deal with a long-time contractor to sign on full-time as VP of sales. His business, IndieMarketer, has evolved significantly since our first conversations, from its first incarnation as a self-service direct marketing platform for small artists and labels through several interim phases, finally emerging as a data and analytics provider to major labels and management companies (plus a back-office tools provider to music marketing agencies). In that time, Sree has worked through the full spectrum of startup challenges, from massive technology rewrites and personnel crises to the ever-present challenge of convincing your in-laws that your early promise as a marriage prospect has not been entirely scotched by your entrepreneurial efforts.
Whether Sree has truly reached this inflection point with his business remains to be seen, but having been with him through all the twists and turns to date, and seeing the momentum beginning to build in nearly every aspect of his business, it sure feels like it. My fingers are crossed for Sree, not just because I’m an investor in his business but because he’s earned it. Unless you’re extraordinarily good or extraordinarily lucky, achieving product/market fit requires massive effort and incredible personal resilience in the face of uncomfortable odds. Sree’s making it happen and I’m proud of him.