In technology we often describe the adoption curve of products as an “S-curve.” This is a reference to the shape of the curve if you map adoption over time. In the early stages the growth is slow. Then at some point you pass the elbow and growth accelerates and builds on itself. And then eventually you reach saturation and the curve bends again as growth slows once more.

As important as it is to target overlapping S-curves in a balanced portfolio, it is also important to recognize you have to operate differently depending on which phase of the curve you are on.

Hunting: Before you have product market fit you just have an idea. In this phase it pays to move quickly. You don’t want to attempt to be perfectly efficient because you need to explore a little bit. But you also don’t want energy going in all directions or you might miss the market fit with all the noise. It pays to be a little overfunded to give yourself a few degrees of freedom.

Foraging: Once you find product market fit your job is to keep up with it. Grow as fast as you can to capitalize on the opportunity. Consumers are now aware of the product space and so are competitors. You will accumulate inefficiency but efforts to manage that likely come at an even higher opportunity cost because you’ll get far greater returns putting every available effort into growing the market.

Farming: Once you saturate the market your goal is just to serve your community as efficiently as possible. That doesn’t mean staying static, necessarily, but the value of exploration drops dramatically. Almost by definition consumers aren’t looking for something new, they are looking for the thing you already provide.