Furor over WhatsApp outage shows product-market fit

Joseph Neusu Avatar

WhatsApp down 1Most WhatsApp users worldwide still remember with indignation the day the roof fell on their favourite social chat platform after its server had crashed. The result was a tortuous social media outage that disrupted communication for 210 minutes.

A huge outcry that was amplified on social media followed this event as users flocked to Twitter to register their undisguised discontent. The question is, why were so many people affected?

The answer to that question reveals a very fundamental marketing principle that every entrepreneur should take note of. Any product or service should be created to solve a real and practical need within the target market. This equilibrium is known as the product-market fit.

Kali Albright puts it this way:

“…creating the best product is not necessarily as critical to achieving product/market fit as creating the minimum viable product that satisfies a problem/need that exists and is worth solving.”

The satisfaction of a recognised need is the quickest way to success for a business venture of any size. Unfortunately, many products are created by inward looking entrepreneurs who come up with product concepts in a boardroom or office somewhere, launch it and then inexplicably expect the market to like their new shiny toy! This is the wrong way of doing things and it inevitably leads to failure.

Examples of products that failed internationally include New Coke, WebTV and Crystal Pepsi. Locally, the tinned sadza project failed to take off.

The WhatsApp example shows how a product can be designed to become an extension of people’s daily lives and how its repeated usage ingrains it in their habits.

Another example is Uber, an app that allows its users to get taxi cabs in many cities. What was the problem that Uber solved? Many people faced difficulties in locating a cab especially at night. Most of the vehicles were dirty and the drivers unruly.

Enter Uber. Its users can locate a cab nearest to their location and check out the ratings of the driver, whose picture will also be shown. No payments are made in the cab as the user’s credit card are debited automatically upon arrival at their destination.

This ability to provide a practical solution to a widespread problem has enhanced Uber’s appeal and in the process, increased subscriber base with a very limited marketing budget. Uber users are powerful evangelists of the product as they are so excited about the product to keep quiet about it.

Best-selling author Nir Eyal is one great exponent of this concept. One quote from his book, Hooked, How to build habit-forming product, states that following:

“Instead of relying on expensive marketing, habit-forming companies link their services to the users’ daily routines and emotions.”

This connection to the users or clients is the “not-so-secret” secret to success.

In other words, companies, especially startups, should be driven by market focused strategies to increase their probability of success. The customer is still king and remains the reason for the existence of a business.

Product excellence should not be merely measured by how sophisticated or igneous the design is. Rather focus should be on its ability to match the exact specifications of the target market’s requirements.

The question you need to ask yourself is, “what would happen if my product was withdrawn for a week?”


  1. Anonymous

    Joseph Neusu,

    Basic marketing fail: You pose as a marketing expert but then neglect tn tell your readers what your own product, service or general credentials are!

    Score:? :Zero

  2. Robert Ndlovu

    Dont expect too much from “free” services.