The Idea Dude


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Learning to fail fast

If you're a serial entrepreneur, Roger Ehrenberg's post mortem of a failed startup is a must read. It is unlikely that the exact same 7 deadly sins will spell doom for every startup nevertheless they are ones to watch out for simply because each one on its own is hardly a giant killer. Rather it is a case of circumstance and dying of a thousand cuts.

There were two that resonated with me. Firstly, falling in love with the vision and the conflict between technology and product. Those how have failed many times and succeeded some times will tell you that the successful vision is often not the same as the one you started with. The difficulty is knowing when to stick your guns and when to know the vision is not financially viable. Usually it is an answer we can only tell after the fact and often too late.

Questioning our assumptions has to be a regular event and not seen as doubting our capabilities.

In fact it is the recognition that even with best efforts, we sometimes cannot predict changes in world around us. Also, our planning is based on what we know and we cannot account for things that we don't know.

The second one is failing fast.

From childhood, we are taught to be winners and success is a measure of personal worth. Everyone loves a winner and failure is a social stigma. So our fear causes paralysis. We delay product releases because we want the product to be perfect. The more features the better. We stop speaking to customers in case they tell us what they hate the most about our product and our company. In reality, following a path with closed eyes and ignoring the pulse of public opinion only makes the ultimate failure an even more bitter one.

Gone are the days of quarterly or yearly product cycles. The internet has changed all that. No longer do you have to wait for months for customer feedback. The playing field has levelled which means whatever you do, the chances are someone else will claim to do the same in 30 days. The appetite of the technology consumers has accelerated. They expect changes in days not month. They expect responses in hours not days.

While it is not the silver bullet, one of keys to survival in the modern technology age is learning to iterate quickly and often. To do that effectively, means constantly listening to our customers and recognizing and admitting to our failures quickly regardless of whether it is product of our incompetences or market changes.

The regret I have the most often with many of my decisions?

I wish I did it sooner


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