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Maple is an operators VC based in Tel-Aviv, focused on enterprise infrastructure and being the ideal all-round collaborator for technical founders right from the notebook phase

  • Ben Tytonovich

A few years back, it used to be the case where VCs would be all about the grand vision of a startup. Then, a “correction” was made and VCs started paying much more attention to the first product offering and its relevance to the target persona, adopting a more Product Management oriented outlook. Finally, we reached the current (healthier) situation where the emphasis is on both - the short term goal alongside the long term one. Let’s call the former - the foot in the door (FITD) use case and the latter - the grand vision.


Founders often find it challenging to target both goals at the same time, often focusing on one while letting go of the other. This makes all the sense in the world, for several reasons -

  1. They don’t always align perfectly, at least not at first. It could be that the grand vision involves additional buyers/users from other departments or that there is a giant leap (too big for some) between the two in the middle of the journey.

  2. It could be that a later use case may turn the FITD use case obsolete.

  3. There are frequently too many unknowns about one of the two (especially the grand vision, which makes sense).

  4. Technical founders occasionally create a company out of a specific pain they themselves felt, which is basically the FITD use case, and don’t necessarily have the broader plan panned out just yet.

While all these reasons are completely legitimate, my belief is that you should always have at least some idea regarding the two, so that there’s a clear path from the FITD use case and into more advanced ones. As Eisenhower once said, “plans are worthless but planning is everything”. It’s important to continuously strengthen the planning muscle, even in increased uncertainty. But just as importantly (or even more so), all stakeholders involved should be able to let go of a plan if new counter evidence presents itself.


As Eisenhower once said, “plans are worthless but planning is everything”. It’s important to continuously strengthen the planning muscle, even in increased uncertainty. But just as importantly (or even more so), all stakeholders involved should be able to let go of a plan if new counter evidence presents itself.

Having said that, it’s not just the planning muscle that’s important to exercise. It’s also very much about clarity. One FITD use case can lead to multiple grand visions. As such, it would be hard to rally investors or employees around a clear direction without a defined path leading from the FITD use case to the grand vision.


Lastly, while having these two components (at least temporarily - until further evidence is discovered) crystalized is important, another important exercise is creating a use case evolution slide/doc. This is basically the gradual progression from the FITD use case into later use cases and with that showing the evolution of the product vis-a-vis the target market. At the very beginning this might be very hard to predict and definitely to follow through. But as mentioned, it’s the planning and crystallization of the direction that is important here, not the execution itself (at least not yet).


Ideation processes are tricky. They’re somewhat amorphic in their nature (you can try and model them, but only to a degree), they often take (much?) longer than the founding team expects and the most frustrating thing about them - it’s not entirely obvious when you should end them. In other words, the actual criteria you need to cross can be very tricky to nail down. How can you identify that a certain problem that arose during persona interviews justifies doubling down on? Spoiler - urgency and land ACVs are definitely key, but not the whole picture.


We all know that problems startups choose to target change (or evolve) throughout their journey. So betting on a specific problem, while sensible, is probably not enough. Betting on a problem space rather, might be a better choice. A problem space is essentially a set of several problems within a target market, and it is something worth considering when you’re at the finalization of an ideation process. But then it begs the question - what are the makings of the right problem space for you specifically?


Pivotability is one aspect of a problem space worth paying attention to. The ability to pivot organically to adjacent problems/use cases within a problem space is an important aspect of the target space you choose. A high level of pivotability stems from the founders’ ability to navigate within a space, the potential of an MVP (minimal viable product) to translate its value (at least to a degree) to adjacent use cases and whether there is a wide enough range of problems within a problem space.


A high level of pivotability stems from the founders’ ability to navigate within a space, the potential of an MVP (minimal viable product) to translate its value (at least to a degree) to adjacent use cases and whether there is a wide enough range of problems within a problem space.

Founders’ chemistry with a potential target persona is also an essential aspect of a potential target problem space and a goal of the ideation process. Most tech solutions require a degree of market education so that buyers are persuaded to, well, buy. The sheer value of your product is not necessarily enough to fully support that persuasion process (unfortunate, but true). It is on the founders to inspire, convince and create urgency within the buyer persona (at least at the beginning of the journey, when founder-based sales are still the dominant sales process). And that requires chemistry.


Domain expertise is the third component in this triangle of optimization. While not a must and definitely something that can be developed (with the right foundations), domain expertise supports the other two components. Navigating through a problem space (e.g. pivotability) and inspiring potential buyers (e.g. chemistry) are both matters which (obviously) greatly benefit from a deep understanding of the space.


The story of the ideation process is nuanced and complex. It is not just about finding an urgent problem. Looking at problem spaces and judging them according to pivotability, chemistry and expertise can help crystallize whether an opportunity is worth pursuing and should give you conviction that you’re targeting the right problem space.

The famous PMF (product-market fit) equation has become a key prism through which we (founders, investors) examine the maturity of startups’ offerings vis-a-vis the target market they’re tackling. While this original equation is important in and of itself, I believe that the dynamic it represents between two factors (product, market) and their interrelationship is the key here. There are several other such “fits” I often use and believe to be worthwhile in examining different key aspects in a startup journey.


The Founder-Market fit is actually a more useful equation to use for earlier stage examinations. Oftentimes, founders are baffled by which target market they should tackle, feeling as if there’s no one single target market that is “healthy” enough for them to devote their efforts to. As several quick examples, you often hear that salespeople are (ironically) hard to sell to. Developers have their own preferences and it’s highly difficult to change their ways. Other departments don’t have a significant enough budget. The cyber stack is overcrowded. So if all of these target audiences aren’t optimal - what’s the answer? Who should you target? Well, it’s all about founder-market fit. A single target market can be the right one for one team and the wrong one for another.


So if all of these target audiences aren’t optimal - what’s the answer? Who should you target? Well, it’s all about founder-market fit. A single target market can be the right one for one team and the wrong one for another.

Founder-G2M Strategy fit is another interesting dynamic to look at. Some founders are clearly well positioned for a PLG (product-led growth) play, supported by their past experience in carrying out a marketing-initiated effort of a self-served product. Other founders have a more intuitive understanding of enterprise sales. It really depends on the specific skill sets the founding team either brings along with it or is naturally inclined to gradually develop in a (relatively) short period of time.


Product-founder fit is a less trivial dynamic, but just as important to at least occasionally consider. You would expect most of the co-founder/CEOs you work with to bring a product vision capacity with them. As such, the product they end up developing is usually, to a degree, a derivative of their outlook and tendencies as product leaders. Some product categories require diligence, precision and a level of meticulousness to them which doesn’t necessarily correlate with certain founders’ tendencies. Other product categories require an emphasis on a grander vision and some level of disruption, which is better suited for a different type of a CEO. As with most things, it really depends on the CEO persona.


There are several other ‘fits’ we can elaborate on, but the bottom line is that these dynamics allow us to have a more nuanced discussion when trying to understand many underlying (and critical) elements which should impact our decision-making processes.

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