Search for Product/Market Fit in the 1880s

As startup aficionados, we like to think of our understanding of the search for product/market fit and stages of the startup lifecycle as more evolved and sophisticated when compared to our predecessors. Only, entrepreneurs are an intuitive bunch that have been scraping and clawing their way to success since the dawn of time. I’m reminded of this when reading the book Secret Formula: The Inside Story of How Coca-Cola Became the Best-Known Brand in the World recently and learning the story of John Stith Pemberton, the inventor of Coca-Cola, as he searched for product/market fit in 1886:

As Pemberton made his adjustments in the formula for the new syrup, “it was taken to Mr. Venable’s soda fountain for the purpose of trying it and ascertaining whether it was something the people would like or not.”

Pg 28

Here, the pharmacist believed he was onto to something. People wanted a sugary drink that was refreshing and had a bit of cocaine for medicinal purposes (later replaced with caffeine). Then, through an iterative loop of tweaking and testing, came up with the secret formula that has since sold trillions of cases of product over the last 130+ years.

“Ascertaining whether it was something the people would like or not” sums up the most important next step of the post-idea entrepreneur journey.

When searching for product/market, remember that every entrepreneur goes through the same experience, including the inventor of Coke in the 1880s.

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