FISFintech Founder Feature | With Marla Johnson of LeapXL

Posted on August 26, 2020
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Editor’s Note: The 2020 FIS Fintech Accelerator features ten high-potential emerging fintech companies from around the world. Through the accelerator program, FIS explores these companies as potential partners to help how the world pays, banks and invests, and founders have a unique chance to grow their businesses everywhere in the world. Today, we’d like you to meet Marla Johnson with LeapXL. Learn more about the cohort at


The Quest for Product-Market Fit: Part One of Three

By Marla Johnson

I’m thinking about product-market fit every day during the FIS Fintech Accelerator, which is produced in partnership with The Venture Center. If you read books about having a successful tech start-up, you know that the quest for product-market fit never stops. So, hopefully, this article will be helpful to any tech entrepreneur, no matter where she or he is on the journey for customer development.

I’ve learned that a successful quest for product-market fit requires three things: (1) the right mindset, (2) the right input, and (3) the right goal set. This article focuses on getting into the right mindset.


1.     Adopt a Growth Mindset and Lean Business Strategy:

Immediately remove the idea that some platforms or competitors are good and others are bad. It will limit you and send you down rabbit holes. If you come to the table with the mindset that you have the best tech in the world, and if anyone says otherwise, you are shocked and dismayed, you are wasting valuable input. Learning and improving all the time is the name of the game. The day you think your platform or business is perfect is the day you start losing.  The lean approach to technology and business development is one of continuous improvement and failing fast. You want to reach high, fail fast, and capture meaningful lessons that take you to the next level.

I recommend the following books if you feel like you need to work on your mindset:

·       Carol Dweck: “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”

·       Etienne Garbugli: “Lean B2B: Build Products Businesses Want”

·       Eric Ries: “The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses”

2.     Separate Your Questions and Learnings into Buckets: 

Know the difference between your theory of the business, your technology, your product(s)/packaging, and your business model/strategy. When you are talking to potential customers and seeking advice, structure questions that get into each, so you can begin to apply your learnings to the right part of your business. To do that, you first have to identify and write down what those are. By way of example:

·       The theory of the business at LeapXL is that LeapXL can enable analysts, product managers, and business managers (not coders) to bring multiple sources of data together quickly, continuously, transparently, and simply so they can get value from their abundant data.

·       The technology is a no-code data integration and development platform with a lot of great auditing and transparency tools.

·       The product packaging and pricing revolve around four specific platform offerings for banks: (1)Process Automation, (2) Product Analysis, (3) Product Testing, and (4) Profitability Auditing.

·       The business model involves our staffing, go-to-market strategy, distribution and partnership plan, development roadmap, and funding and profitability strategy.

3.     Invite Negative Comments: 

This is really hard to do. People naturally have fight and/or flight responses to negativity or criticism. I certainly do. I have to put into structured practice how to ask the right questions — the hard questions — that get at what I need to know for LeapXL to succeed. Like all entrepreneurs, I have to balance being undaunted and confident with being courageous enough to ask straight-up questions that will help me know in what way my baby is, in fact, ugly. It helps to structure your questions around the same buckets above: business theory, technology, packaging/pricing, and business model. People don’t want to tell enthusiastic entrepreneurs who have everything at stake that their baby is ugly.  But they will tell you that you have a limitation or flaw in your theory, tech, packaging, or business model. Don’t expect them to tell you though if you don’t ask.

4.     It’s Not About You:

In the quest for product-market fit and customer development, you are NOT trying to get affirmation about how good you are. You ARE trying to build an empathy map around your prospective customer. (See the work of James Patell, Dave Gray and the “IBM Design Thinking Field Guide, 2017.)  You are trying to have as complete a picture as possible about what your customer wants. You know, pain points, use cases, customer personas, value proposition, actual tasks, and obstacles, but laid out in a visual map about your customer.

You have to have a strong ego to be a successful founder, but that should mean that you can listen, learn and improve because your self-worth is intact, your business hunch is strong, and you can afford to think about your customers above yourself.

My grand-daughter was not happy about her first day back at school with all the COVID-19 protection practices in place. She texted, “I can’t even hug my friends!” Searching for any way to console her, I texted back that I was sorry, and suggested, “Let’s think creatively about how you can give your friends a different kind of hug – maybe some sweet cards that you hand draw. They are going through what you are, so finding ways to help your friends could make you feel better too, and more connected.” Then I sent her a Pooh and Tigger virtual hug gif, and got supreme praise from my very upset and busy tween: “haha good idea.”

The point is, if we can get beyond ourselves, we can see that the trends and market forces impacting us are also impacting others. We have to be present to what is happening around us, seek patterns, and look for what is impacting our colleagues, our clients, our investors, our prospects, our friends, and our family.  Then, we can be in the right mindset to courageously ask hard questions, adapt or hone-in on our products to satisfy real hassles, and create innovative breakthroughs.