3 Disasters I Barely Avoided While Finding Epic Product Market Fit

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Peter Shallard
CEO | Commit Action |

This article is a behind-the-scenes opening of the kimono. It’s particularly relevant for hardcore Commit Action fans and members (hi friends!) who want to know how we do things internally.

It’s also for any business owner who’s struggled to find the absolute center of the bullseye in terms of product-market-fit.

I’m humbly offering up the costly, painful product-market-fit learnings we’ve made here at CA. I personally could’ve used these lessons years ago.

In 2017, something really clicked. These hard won epiphanies doubled the size of our business (and doubled it again) in the last year.

(Actually, it happened over about 16 months from mid 2016 onwards. Because calendar dates are meaningless and real life isn’t that well organized.)

Anyway, I started this company – like most entrepreneurs – for kinda the wrong reasons.

Well… if we rewind far enough… I actually started my first business for the biggest “wrong reason” of all: I thought starting my own therapy practice would be easier than getting a job.

(Imagine hitting that learning curve!)

By the time Commit Action was a sparkle in my eye, I was pretty established as The Shrink for Entrepreneurs. I wanted to build something that scaled, I wanted to serve the wider audience outside of the tiny cadre of elite startup founders on my client roster.

Most of all, I wanted to rid the world of procrastination.

I got lucky with Commit Action. I got lucky, because I made a few BIG mistakes and found success anyway.

First mistake: Building a company for you, instead of for your customers

I never stopped to ask if our customers actually wanted to rid the world of procrastination. Hell, I never even considered if it was the biggest problem they had.

The most subtly dangerous thing about turning some crazy idea you have into a business… is that there’s always someone who’ll resonate with it.

We sold out Commit Action’s initial “beta” test within a week, so we thought we had found enough customers who resonated with this core “procrastination fix” premise. We checked the “Validation box” in our Lean Startup playbook and started building.

The good luck of finding those procrastinating customers was a kind of bad luck in disguise:

The fact that a few people were willing to pay money for that solution sent us on a marketing wild goose chase… at the expense of realizing we’d stumbled upon a different kind of magic.

For the next few years, we worked our asses off to market-to and acquire procrastinating customers. All the while, ignoring a much bigger opportunity right under our noses.

Second mistake: Not talking to customers (and really listening to them)

We got lucky because our best customers were smart enough to see beyond our marketing. Our biggest fans found a value in our service beyond “fixing procrastination”.

It wasn’t until I actually started engaging one-to-one with customers – really getting to know them – that things started to click.

If I had to describe 2017 with a single word, it’s empathy.

Empathy in entrepreneurship is taking the time (and having the curiosity) to find out what your customer really wants, rather than just assuming. It’s being able to listen, actively. It’s been able to step into someone else’s shoes.

Most of all, it’s being able to realize that even though you know about these empathy ideas, actually USING them requires extraordinary effort.

Empathy (and the genuine insights it generates) won’t come naturally. No one should take it for granted. And if you think you’re nailing it, you’re probably not.

One specific example is chiseled into my memory from last year:

I had a IM conversation with a CA customer who was telling me – emphatically – that Commit Action wasn’t important to him for preventing procrastination. Instead, he said, he treasured CA because it kept him focused and accountable on a handful of high leverage actions that typically would otherwise fall by the wayside.

He said he used CA to be more mindful and deliberate about putting his time and energy where he wanted it. Rather than allowing urgent business stuff to swallow his schedule alive. He viewed our service as tool to focus him on behaviors that in turn led to him having more control over his time, to intentionally sculpt his lifestyle.

I remember actually arguing with this entrepreneur, pushing back and saying “I get it, but I think you’re a superstar and most CA customers aren’t like you”.

…. uh….

Third mistake: Not making your superstar customers your target customers

I blame my background as a therapist for this one.

For years, I just wanted to make medicine. A cure to fix everyone struggling with procrastination.

Everyone knows that businesses need to solve problems, so fixing broken people has to be the ultimate business. Right?


Turns out that most of the people who get a TON out of Commit Action are – just quietly – pretty freaking awesome entrepreneurs.

In the last year we dove deep into our customer demographics and psychographics. And we discovered a new type of entrepreneur. One that we didn’t know was “out there”.

We found people quietly, reliably showing up and kicking ass with the help of our service.

These entrepreneurs were augmenting their teams, whether big or small, by using Commit Action to keep them focused on the ambitious stuff on their project list.

Right then, we realized we weren’t in the fixing-procrastination business. And our customers aren’t broken people.


We’re in the focus and effectiveness business. Our customers are badass entrepreneurs pushing themselves to be the best, highest leverage versions of themselves possible.

The scary part? While my team have been working daily with these amazing people, I’d been focusing drumming up new business with procrastinators.

Acting fast on big learnings

Once these wrecking-ball sized realizations hit, we didn’t waste any time. I roped in every mentor and advisor in my Rolodex. I got up to my eyeballs in marketing books, product strategy guides, analytics. You name it.

We started modeling the service we were providing for our very best, most treasured customers… working backwards to see how they had tweaked Commit Action to their needs and how we could learn from them.

What we arrived at was a new way to define what we do here at Commit Action. We also teased out a new set of principles we’re now operating by.

The art of the reverse pivot

It’s a weird thing to admit that we’re not pivoting the company entirely, we’re instead placing a new emphasis on something that’s been happening all along… and making that our full time focus.

It’s not a reinvention or some giant bold new direction. It’s the humbling realization that the answers were in front of us all along.

Commit Action exists to help entrepreneurs become the highest leverage version of themselves possible.

Our service enables you to outsource your battle for focus and productivity,

Crucially, what we do isn’t – and arguably never has been “coaching” – instead we provide an Executive Aide for Effectiveness service… that’s more a to-do list concierge, source of objective accountability and productivity personal trainer.

As of today, we’re delivering the same service of checking in – one-to-one and weekly – with our customers. The evolution of our service and particularly the tech that supports it will evolve further in this direction: Supporting badass entrepreneurs to become super high leverage.

What does it mean to Be High Leverage?

For the first time at Commit Action, we can clearly articulate our total philosophy. This simple description of what we stand for – what we’re here to help you accomplish – is the crux of everything we’ve learned.

I’d like to introduce you to the Commit Action manifesto. Oh and by the way… Our website is totally different. And we have a ton of badass tech coming to our service in the next few months.

New year, new us. Big stuff happening. Thanks for being a part of it. If you’ve read this far, you’re in our inner circle and know it.

Here’s the manifesto. It’s everything we’re about. We invite you to be about it, too.

Be High Leverage

Prioritize the highest leverage, most courageous action possible. Act on everything you learn. Learn from every act. Over deliver on promises. Create, build and scale. Make a difference. Work “on" instead of "in”. When you cannot, do what’s needed so that – tomorrow – you can.

Live well and with intention. Eliminate everything low-leverage and draining. Lose yourself in what you love. Stay down to earth. Remember nothing lasts forever. Be present. Connect with your people without distraction. Seek out new experiences. Stretch yourself. Play.

No one succeeds alone.

Achieve Your Goals Faster