"What about the scrubbers on the command module?"

'They take square cartridges ... and the ones on the limbs are round.'

"Well I suggest you gentlemen invent a way to put a square peg in a round hole ... rapidly."

Once you know who you're selling to and understand them deeply, you will begin to make sales. Your product will have demonstrable value, and a great founder can sell almost anything to anyone.

But getting to product/market-fit, the phase where you make demand that drives sales, is a matter of adapting the shape of your product to create in-market distribution and adoption.

This is a frontier farther than most startups are able to go. Growth slows, the slow ramp of death takes over.

This isn't failure, but you didn't launch this mission to bring the astronauts home early.

Friction, Destroyer of Dreams

Adding "in-market" to distribution or adoption is redundant — where else would these take place? But distribution is too often conflated with marketing channels. And adoption is often conflated with onboarding. These are useful tactics, but accelerating your growth rate using these methods is akin to brute force — my favorite way to start, but a miserable way to finish.

The better way starts with understanding that software is malleable. Like money, if we don't like the shape of our software product, we can bend or stretch it into a different form factor while preserving its value.

And it turns out that every prospect has at least two preferred shapes in mind for your product:

first, the one that requires them to do zero additional work to find it;

then the one that requires them to do zero additional work to use it.

Getting in Discoverable Shape

SEO is search engine optimization: the act of shaping the edges of your product (adding a crimped [sitemap, great URL's, keywords!] content crust) that optimizes it for discovery by search engines: where a lot of people go to find things.

Therefore we can understand SEO as the act of kneading your software into a shape that makes it easy for your prospects to discover via search engines (probably Google).

The greatest trick Google ever played was convincing the world that there aren't other ways to shape yourself for discovery.

There are some products, great ones, perhaps yours, that people aren't yet using search engines to discover. Yet you can bet your equity they are searching in the places they've already hired to bring them new products and services. Like a suburban family at Costco, they are prone to wander, not aimlessly, but with joyful intent: "What will they show us next?!"

Unlike Costco, ideally this isn't a place where software is literally sold. If the shape your software has to assume is a deployed bundle with a price tag, look elsewhere. Instagram's discoverable shape was photo links appearing on Twitter and Facebook timelines. For Stormpulse, my weather tracking startup, it was our embedded maps appearing in newspaper websites. For Twitter: it was tweets appearing at SXSW. If you're trying to break into the market through a channel where software is already being sold, you're too late.

Becoming Adoptable

Once they bring your new thing home, it's equally important that they have to do zero additional work to put it into practice.

For Summit, this meant we had to shape our marketing platform into a microsite our customers could link to from their website navigation bars and footers. As marketers, our customers were already creating links. Using our product just gives them a new high-value place to link to.

What is your prospect already doing? Can they swap your thing in place of something else they're already working with? Preferably, something tiny?

For Flatfile, their ideal customers were already creating [Import CSV] buttons for their applications. Adopting Flatfile just means linking that button to a different action, powered by a snippet of JS pasted into their existing page head. Years of product development to be proud of, thousands of lines of code, endless meetings, and Flatfile figured out how to squeeze their entire value prop into a single, existing button!

If you're the type of person that marvels at the cashflowing business model behind the somehow-legal casino hosting your kid's 9th birthday party (and I know I am), this should fill you with both jealousy and joy. "How did these people do it?!" Sigh.

The point is: if adoption is slow, you're probably still asking too much because you've stopped short. "Enjoy your triangle! Don't forget to cut off the pointy parts to unlock its power!"

The Past Participle I Snuck In

If the title of this post had been "Are you removing friction?", then I might be talking about optimization. I'm not.

Instead, it's have removed, because shaping your product to conform to what's needed for in-market distribution and adoption isn't a progressive act, it's a phase transition.

Yes it's a climb. And if they could, it would be fair for all of those calories helping water get up to its boiling point to question if they're making any difference at all. But you and I know the magic that will happen at +373° K.

Don't stop short. Suddenly it will be worth it.

Have you removed friction?