Builders Conference / Philly Tech Week

To hone your product, talk to as many people as you can, and remember that ‘what matters is the user’

Insights from a startup fishbowl session at the 2024 Builders Conference.

Founders Adeola Ajani of FemEquity and Nikisha Bailey of CoffeePLUG discuss product-market fit at a fishbowl session at the 2024 Builders Conference (Danya Henninger/

Following is a recap of one of the sessions at the 2024 Builders Conference, a daylong convening on building better innovation ecosystems. Notes for this piece were documented in real time on our community Slack — join here. Find other takeaways from the conference here.

Two women founders of very different startups found several commonalities in how they shaped their product to fit the market — including a wholehearted embrace of partnerships, and the recognition that sometimes you have to educate your audience to create customers.

Both Nikisha Bailey and Adeola Ajani launched their companies after recognizing a gap in the market through personal experience. 

For Bailey, whose CoffeePLUG platform gives small growers and small business owners a way to circumvent the commoditized nature of the global coffee supply chain, it was frustration with not being able to order beans for her cafe without going through middle-men who charged huge markups. 

Ajani launched FemEquity, a career advancement platform and community originally designed to serve women and now expanding to other underrepresented groups, after discovering she was making $45,000 less than her male counterparts on Wall Street. 

“There were already resources to tell people they were being underpaid,” Ajani said, “but they lacked ways to actually help people close that gap.”

I talked to over 100 people when I first startedAdeola Ajani FemEquity

She started with a free salary awareness tool, attracting a user base that became a built-in cohort for market research. Ajani tracked stats to determine how long people were staying on the platform and what features they used when. Then she began paid services, marketing them to people already using the tool.

Don’t be afraid to test the waters, she said. You can start lower and increase prices as you prove your value, or offer a variety of pricing options and rigorously A/B test to find the right ones.  

To figure out the pricing model for CoffeePLUG, Bailey broke customers into three different groups by annual spend, and calculated from there. She suggested founders speak to as many finance people as they can to understand what scale or growth could look like. “Making sure I’m talking to people that know more about the world than I do” was a priority starting out, she said.

Both women said early partnerships were key, noting money doesn’t have to change hands to bring value. “I talked to over 100 people when I first started,” Ajani said. 

An audience member wanted to know: How much attention do they pay to competing products or services? “Competitors don’t matter,” Ajani asserted. “What matters is the user and delivering the best experience.”

Bailey said she looked at some of the similar products out there to help assess the market, but didn’t let them dominate her planning. You’re probably not the first person to think of the overall concept, she said, but you can be the first to come up with a solution that prioritizes a specific aspect. For CoffeePLUG, for example, it’s social impact. 

You’ll likely also have to do some education to convince potential customers your product or service is worth adopting. “People may know the problem,” Ajani said, “but they don’t know the solution as well as you do.”

They finished with some general advice. “Bet on yourself, take the risk,” Bailey said. “It’s hard out there right now,” Ajani added. “Just keep doing it.”

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