Manual Work is the New Path to Product-Market Fit

October 22, 2023

Many startup founders often feel the pressure to make everything flawless before they release their product to the world.

They think that they need to have Stripe billing set up perfectly, a smooth user login process, and everything should be in tip-top shape before they can launch.

You're seeing your competitors raking in the profits while your friends express their enthusiasm for your idea.

You might be convinced that the only missing piece of the puzzle is launching and securing funding.

The reality, however, is that you haven't made any money yet, and you've only had 1-10 conversations with potential customers.

The thinking goes - my competitors launched seamlessly, so I have to also.

My product needs to be fully buttoned up or else no one will take it seriously.

The Perfection Trap 😨

Many founders mistakenly believe that they must create a flawless product before launch. They invest countless hours in building intricate features. However, this perfectionism often leads to several problems:

Lack of Customer Feedback: Spending too much time perfecting the product before involving customers means missing out on valuable feedback. Months or even years can pass without real user input.

Assumptions About User Needs: Integrating complex systems and features without customer involvement is similar to guesswork. Founders assume that they understand their customers' problems and needs, which may not be the case.

Overengineering: The belief that the first version of a product must solve all industry problems leads to feature creep and wasted effort.

Why Manual Work Triumphs Over Automation Initially 🏆

For early-stage startups, manual work can outperform automation in several ways:

Simplicity over Complexity: Complex systems and automation can create more problems than they solve during the initial stages. Focusing on intricate integrations like Stripe can divert your attention from your core offering.

Instant Feedback and Relationships: Manual work allows you to build direct relationships with your first users and gather instant feedback. These connections are invaluable during the early phases of your startup.

Automation Comes Later: Overengineering for an unknown user base can be a waste of time. Automation can be introduced once you have a clear understanding of your users' needs.

Leveraging Manual Work 🪜

Here are some practical tips for leveraging manual work over automation during the startup phase:

Direct Communication: Communicate directly with your initial users. Collect their phone numbers and engage in conversations via email and other channels.

Manual Billing: If needed, bill customers manually through Stripe invoicing. Avoid the complexities of integrating a billing system at this stage.

Hands-On Delivery: Initially, deliver your product or service manually, even if it takes more time and effort on your part.

Simplified Tools: Utilize simple tools that don't require heavy integration, such as Carrd, Airtable, and Calendly.

Frequent User Interaction: Talk to users regularly to gain a deep understanding of their needs. Allow them to guide your product development instead of relying on assumptions.

Case Studies of Success 👏

To emphasize the effectiveness of manual work in achieving product-market fit, let's look at a few success stories:

Max Marchione (

Max achieved $500,000 in annual recurring revenue in just three weeks by manually delivering meals to customers. This hands-on approach allowed him to validate his idea and build a strong foundation for his business.

Robert (React to Figma)

People would pay him money to turn Figma designs into React code. He then later automated it. Now he has tons of revenue, funded by PearVC and other top VCs.


Rather than building extensive integrations upfront, Patrick focused on sales calls with mid-market companies. He charged customers for each integration, creating a sustainable revenue stream. This manual approach allowed him to achieve $100,000 in monthly recurring revenue before transitioning to a product-led growth strategy.

If you're ready to break free from the perfection trap and start gaining real customer traction, consider joining a community like Founders Cafe. They can help you acquire your first 5-10 paying customers within just a few months, all by focusing on customer discovery and raw traction through manual work. Don't let perfectionism hold you back; sign up and take the first step toward success today.

Maddie Wang founders of founders cafe solo founder
Maddie Wang
Gay / Solo-Founder / Stanford Dropout

I'm building Founders Cafe because as a solo founder, it can be very isolating. Last year, I lost 4 co-founders and a best friend on a previous startup.

Previously built a Minecraft Server ($61k), Amazon Store ($120k), and Queer Chart, where I met my girlfriend & close friends.

If you're interested in joining the Founders Cafe, let's talk and if it's a good fit, down to invite you!

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