Brett van Zuiden

Push vs Pull

A good gauge for product success is whether customers are “pulling” the product into being with their requests, or whether the company is “pushing” the product along in search of growth. This is a easy, practical way of determining if you’ve found product-market fit.

A very common narrative in Silicon Valley: in order to grow, we need to build features X, Y, and Z, and in order to build those features in a reasonable time period, we need to hire more people and raise more money. The root need is “we want to grow” - and the hypothesis is that if we can deliver X, Y and Z, then we will have found the secret formula and we will generate growth. In essence, the next feature fallacy. This is the “push” scenario.

Contrast that with the following: We have this incredible growth, and our customers are beating down the door with additional requests. In order to satisfy their requests, we need to build X, Y, and Z, but in order to do it a time frame that satisfies our customer’s needs, we need to hire more people and raise more money. The root need is that “customers want more from our product” - and in order to satisfy that desire and continue to grow, we must deliver X, Y, and Z. This is the "pull" scenario.

Note that being at “push” feels a lot more fun - you get to have grand visions of how the world should be, and how by growing your team you’ll be able to build that vision - which of course customers will find so compelling that they’ll fawn all over it. Being at “pull” is stressful - there are always more demands than you can satisfy, and you can barely do the highest-priority tasks, let alone all the nice-to-haves that keep piling up. But “pull” means you’ve found product/market fit, and that you are on the path to success.

It is okay to be at “push” to start - many startups and new product moonshots in existing companies start by addressing a need no one is yet asking for. But in this stage, all of your efforts should be focused to finding that fit, where your customers are asking more from you than you can possibly deliver, and you need to scale the team to keep up.