How to Find Market-Fit: A Secret Story of Harry Potter’s Origin

written by  Ryan Seamons


Harry Potter owes its first publishing to an 8-year-old. Nigel Newton, CEO of Bloomsbury Publishing, didn’t read through the first manuscript of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone himself. He brought it home and gave it to his 8-year-old daughter, Alice, to read. She read the first chapter and came away glowing.

“Dad, this is so much better than anything else.”

It didn’t just stop there. Alice nagged her dad for months wanting to see what was next.

It seems so obvious to talk about it after the fact, but testing something out is the best way to gauge how it will land in the market. Picking a children’s book? Give it to a child to read and see what they think.

This is why anyone starting an idea with their focus being to get rich has a harder time gaining traction with their product compared to someone who genuinely loves solving the problem they are working on. Knowing what you’re doing will make the world a better place and solving an interesting problem will make you a better maker. You will be able to focus on the problem and how customers react.

Nigel obviously loves his work and reading. He’s raising a daughter who wants to read. He wasn’t only thinking about making money quick. Enlisting your 8-year-old for help is now how you make money quickly. But it is how you love the journey of testing out books to find the next endearing story (which Harry Potter definitely has become).

Goblins at Gringotts

Don’t Just Focus on the Money

The secret is to not only think about what the customer would like but to actually test it.

Don’t ask a customer what they think, but actually watch them use your product. This is amazingly easy to talk about, and amazingly hard to do. The arrogance that we know what is good or not good is a vice for most product makers. 

Validate your ideas. Watch a customer use some simple version of them. This is one way that sprints brings tremendous insight and generates excitement to help you and your team continue forward.

When people ask me about sprints, I tell them the most important principle is having the humility to learn. That’s why you should prototype and test. Watching people use a prototype will teach you more in a few hours than months of building something will ever uncover.


Validating first makes for great products and happy teams.


This connection was first called out in Sprints, the book about design sprints by Jake Knapp.

About the Author

Ryan Seamons
writes about more human approaches to modern management.

Join Patterns for weekly ideas about making work better.

Also check out Manager School to become a better manager.