How The America's Cup and The Weather Channel Can Help You Nail Product/Market Fit

Product/market fit isn't just building a better mousetrap. You have to have a crystal-clear idea of what your product actually is (hint: it isn't the mousetrap) and why your customers want it. Then, use all the capital and resources you have to facilitate customers' access to your product.

Compare two organizations using data to ensure their products fit their markets' needs. First, the America's Cup that took place last summer. (Oracle Team USA won over Emirates Team New Zealand in an extremely exciting series, if you want to check it out.) The race and U.S. team were primarily financed by Larry Ellison and Oracle. Ellison's goal was to broaden the appeal of sailboat racing and he believed the best way to do that was to make the boats faster—which also means more dangerous and exciting—and the coverage more extensive. It would be the first America's Cup designed for TV and the Internet, with multiple cameras and microphones per boat and graphical data laid over the broadcast (from the same company that does the first-down markers for NFL broadcasts).

 13 stories tall, 85 feet long, 13,000 pounds, all screaming across the water at over 50mph

13 stories tall, 85 feet long, 13,000 pounds, all screaming across the water at over 50mph

The boats they used in the finals, the AC72s, each produced a gigabyte of raw data per day, in addition to 200 gigabytes of video per day. Each team used this data for its own purposes, of course. But what was surprising was the extent to which the data was made available to the public. Not just detailed stats and clever video overlays, but the raw data itself. And it's even cooler than that. The team behind the Cup built an API to access the live feeds, with extensive documentation and step-by-step instructions. It's not an exaggeration to say that the documentation was more extensive than the majority of enterprise apps. And the API was available to anyone on the planet, totally free.

For the first time, a lightly-skilled hobbyist could access a sporting event's API and add live race data to their own website or app.

Compare this set-the-data-free approach with that of The Weather Channel. Certainly, The Weather Channel collects and creates at least as much data per day as the America's Cup did. They also make that data available and have an extensively documented API, but they charge for and manage access.

Why the different approaches? It's not simple supply and demand, even though demand is high for weather information vs. relatively low for sailboat racing coverage. Nearly half of TWC's revenue comes from their apps and website, yet they still enable competitors by licensing their core data. They could quickly reduce the supply side of the equation by shutting off the data spigot if they really wanted to leverage their market position. The reason they don't is because of their product/market approach.

Ellison's goal is to get more viewers of the Cup and more sailors on the water. You do that by encouraging engagement, which the free and expansive data feed facilitates. People are "hiring" the data to do the job of teaching them more (or enabling others to help them learn more) about the core product, the sailing. Data enables context, which leads to understanding, which begets viewership. So you spend capital to facilitate that viewership.

For TWC, their product is their data, but also the additional value they add, in the form of analysis, expertise, on-site coverage and historical perspectives. TWC needs to facilitate access to that data and expertise, but they cannot be on every phone, computer and television, so they make their data available to other apps and outlets to meet customers' immediate needs. They charge for this access, but it's a fairly modest amount, one assumes just enough to cover the expenses to create and maintain the data and feeds, while enforcing control via the licensing.

The resulting tighter control allows TWC to manage how their data is used and presented, which is why they differ from the America's Cup approach. Data ubiquity meets immediate customer needs, which reinforces the brand, which is backed up by additional value, which begets continued engagement. So you spend capital to enable data access but you retain control so the market is encouraged to engage with your added value.

Learn the lesson taught by The America's Cup and The Weather Channel: know exactly why your customers are or will be using your product, and then do whatever is necessary to eliminate friction and encourage engagement. If you're an un-followed sport, make it approachable and understandable, and make your data as extensive and unencumbered as possible. If you're selling a freely available raw material (weather), make sure you're adding needed value, and make your brand ubiquitous via your data.