Finding a product-market fit is the elusive sweet spot every startup founder is looking to hit. It is the degree to which a product satisfies a strong market demand, often seen as the first step to building a successful venture. Getting to the root of consumer’s biggest pain points can be challenging, especially if you’re entering an unfamiliar market.
This month I spoke with Andrew Ferdinando and Dom Hay, co-founders of AdHoc, who offer a Virtual Marketing Director service for business owners looking to up their marketing game with limited resources.
Tell me what brought you both to New Zealand and how you met.
I married a Kiwi! She always wanted to come back, so I knew I’d be moving over. I had a business in the UK which I managed my way out of, so I moved over here and sold the business. I wasn’t sure what to do with myself, and I was looking around for different opportunities. I met a friend and he introduced me to Dom. We got chatting and realised we had some shared ideas on how business should be run and we both came from a marketing background. Long story short!
I’d been living in Australia for a long time before coming to New Zealand. We moved as a family essentially to enjoy a more rural life – we didn’t think there were many places left on the planet where you could live 30 minutes outside the city centre and enjoy the countryside as we do in Auckland. One of my new chums had recently met Andrew and it was a question of you guys need to hook up because you have a lot in common.
When you first started working together, what did AdHoc look like?
It was a training and a coaching company. We established there are a lot of small businesses over here, who need some training on marketing, digital marketing, and social media. We started with group workshops and did some 1-2-1 training too.
How have you changed your business model over time?
We’ve had a couple of iterations…Now we offer a Virtual Marketing Director service, which is where we work with companies for a few hours every month, to provide them with a part-time marketing resource. We offer them technical coaching and strategic advice. Most businesses we’ve met don’t have resources to have a full-time Marketing Director, so we play that role for a few hours a month.
Do you feel like you’ve found your “product/market fit”?
It’s taken us a wee while, and that’s a factor of me coming from the Australian market, and Andrew came from the UK market. It’s taken us a while to understand how business is and how business owners prefer to operate and the sort of skillsets they’re happy to invest in for themselves and their team.
How did you use feedback from your early clients to inform the development of your product?
With the feedback we got from our first clients, we kept hearing the same things. So we kept hearing marketing managers from big businesses say to us “I’m not just a marketing manager, I wear many hats. I do lots of different things, I don’t have a marketing background. I need strategic advice and I need someone to help show me how to use the tools.”
We kept on hearing that they didn’t want to use marketing agencies. They’d tried using them but it hadn’t worked for them. We kept on hearing that they’d had marketing plans done in the past but they’d never executed those plans. We kept on hearing the same things, and on the back of that, we thought maybe we could provide a product that supports marketing managers that helps them execute a plan. We can be there along the way and to help them execute it.
How have you leveraged word of mouth as you’ve grown?
It’s been everything for us. We arrived knowing very few people. I knew a few Kiwis who I’d met in Sydney, who had returned home, but essentially we had to build a referral network for ourselves. A big component of that was embracing a traditional approach to word of mouth, but putting an engine behind that of social media.
The other component of that of course as we had no reputation that we could even begin to talk about. We had to demonstrate that we know our stuff and that we might be able to help them. Rather than telling people that we are qualified to assist, we had to show and demonstrate, give away some of our IP in the early days, just to reassure people we knew what we were talking about.
What’s been your biggest learnings about adapting to the New Zealand market?
It’s very different to London and Sydney. The businesses over here aren’t as big, which is very different. I spent many years working in London and I never had a farming client, but over here it’s a big industry. Budgets aren’t as big and there’s a different culture. Kiwis are very happy and keen to try and do things themselves. That’s great for our product because we want to try and support people to do it themselves.
In the UK, we’d see more businesses wanting to outsource. We’ve had to model the product development around Kiwi business. It’s taken us a bit of time to find out how that all worked and we’re pretty comfortable with that now.
There are lots of cliches around “failing fast” but we’ve been able to see the benefits of changing quite quickly. We also realised many of our current or previous customers may well be interested in our product if we repackaged it in a slightly different way.
One of the things that we reflected on a lot recently was how we were able to take a skillset and package it up, in a way to make it relatively attractive. When we reflected on it we’re not selling anything different, but the way you package it up, the way you badge it, the way you price it, can position it in a way to make it much more attractive. That’s one of the biggest learnings but that takes time to learn what will work and what will get the response that you want.