Academic spin-offs are an important means for technology transfer from public research and strongly contribute to regional development. However, these companies have to overcome major challenges at start-up. Academic founders often lack business know-how and a market-oriented way of thinking. At the same time spin-off technology often still is at an early development stage and involves considerable uncertainties. Accordingly, many spin-offs follow suboptimal market chances and fail. Successful entrepreneurs, on the contrary, learn about markets right from the start and incorporate this knowledge in their product development activities. So far, little is known about the nature of these market-based learning processes in new ventures. Drawing on a database of 71 academic spin-offs, this study investigates how new ventures learn about markets at an early stage and how this influences market performance of spin-offs.