There’s a lot of talk in the startup world about product-market fit. Broadly defined, this means that there is a meaningful market that a product is targeting, and that the product is able to satisfy the needs of that market. Entrepreneurs and investors often use metrics around retention, engagement and lifetime value to define this elusive milestone in a startup’s trajectory. It’s a really good idea (from a time and money perspective) to find product-market fit before scaling a company, and these common metrics are definitely useful gauges of that.
As we build OwnTrail as an AuthenTech company, guided by our values and centering the women in our community, we have identified an additional indicator of product-market fit that is critical to a company like ours: authenticity.
To explain why authenticity is so crucial here, let me quickly remind you of what OwnTrail is. The foundation of OwnTrail is women sharing their past, present and aspirational journeys as trails – a series of milestones that make up key moments in our lives. These trails span our personal and professional lives, and showcase the highs and the lows. The achievements and the obstacles.
In this context, authenticity is the key ingredient in the power that trails have to transform our perspectives. It’s authenticity that makes reflecting on our journey so healing and empowering, and exploring the trails of others so inspiring. Without it, OwnTrail would just be another surface-level networking site. (And we have plenty of those already, for better or worse.)
Of course, the ability and desire to show up authentically requires the safety and trust that come from being in an inclusive space. As Jodi-Ann Burey described in her must-watch TEDx Talk, asking someone to be their “authentic selves” in a space that doesn’t value and support them can be unpleasant and even carry repercussions. That’s why it’s so important for OwnTrail to focus on intersectionality and emotional safety in order to foster authenticity.
The OwnTrail experience starts with building a trail, then moves on to connecting with and supporting other women. While traditional product-market fit indicators do a decent job of proving success with the latter part of that experience, we believe that authenticity is the “fit” we need to find first.
So how can we measure authenticity on OwnTrail? We’ve found signals that factor into authenticity product-market fit:
Signal 1: Personal and professional life integration
We’ve been taught to compartmentalize our personal and professional lives. LinkedIn and resumes are for our professional sides, and social media captures some (often just the picture-perfect) version of our personal selves. The first step towards building an authentic trail on OwnTrail is embracing the interconnectedness of those sides. We measure this as the presence of both personal and professional milestones on a trail.
Signal 2: Sharing more than the hits
The milestones on OwnTrail are categorized by type of event — there are about 50 broad categories to choose from. Some of those tend to be things that are often shared openly: promotions, weddings, moves. And others are those topics that don’t get talked about as much: infertility, discrimination, loss. Trails that contain some of the latter tend to be highly authentic. We measure this by the presence of milestones not found on traditional social platforms. (Note: women can use anonymous screen names and mark milestones as private for only their connections to see. Having agency is a huge part of that safety ingredient.)
Signal 3: Going into detail
There’s sharing that a milestone occurred, and then there’s really reflecting on the experience. The most authentic milestones going into a greater level of detail about the experience. We measure this by the presence and vulnerability of milestone descriptions.
Just like there’s no one right path through life, there’s no “right” way to build a trail. Women should share what serves them and what feels right and have agency over who gets to see that. As we continue to build OwnTrail, we hope it’s a space where being authentic feels right. Because if we can’t support that, the rest of the Product-Market Fit metrics won’t count.