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Fail fast!

Posted: April 18th, 2010 | Author: timo | No Comments »

One of the major themes the past year or two has been something that could be described as “We have to move shortest possible distance, fail fast, get up fast and because most of our assumptions are wrong anyway, we have to correct them fast”. This could be also titled “fail fast”.

If you are totally new to fail fast meme, which is circulating the startup circles, take a look at this for starters:

No plan survives first contact with customers (also read the comments, lot’s of valuable stuff in there). “The problem was that two weeks after they got out of the building talking to potential customers and users, they realized that at least 1/2 of their key assumptions in their wonderfully well crafted plan were wrong.”

And here are couple other good links:

The Best Entrepreneurs Know How To Fail Fast

Fail Fast, Fail Cheap“The only barrier to failing fast and failing cheap is your ego. You must be willing to fail, fail, and fail again if you are going to win in today’s competitive marketplace. Remember, even if you’re falling flat on your face, at least you’re still moving forward.

Failure success and neither (Seth Godin)

Before continuing any further, its good to look at an opposite opinion as well. Here is a good article by Mark Suster calling the fail fast meme the latest “emperors new clothes”. Why the fail fast mantra needs to fail. This is a nice provocative article that gets most things right, but the idea of the “fail fast” little wrong in my opinion. One of the key points of this article that I fully agree with though, is this: “You want to talk about the ultimate “fail fast” – how about if you fail before you’ve spent any money building product because you validate there isn’t a big enough market or you can’t make money?” Couldn’t agree more with that.

What is important to note, is that failing fast is not same as giving up. Startup company should not be filled with philosophers that try to think how world might be, but with doers that can get things “out there” to see for real and reflect on their own assumptions all the time. Ie. it encourages humility. We do, we learn. We try, we fail. We get up, and try differently.

And this is what we should be doing as opposed to concepting untill we bleed, specifying untill we get the caffeine jitters and implementing untill we dream wacky dreams of software modules that do trivial tasks.

And related to that, another good article: Startup Lessons Learned: Validating an idea, case study

So we need to (CASE 1):
1. Understand what is required to make the business work
2. Test as many of those assumptions as possible
3. Expose the idea to real market test — will they buy?
4. Fail
5. Improve and try again untill we succeed
6. Worry about the other stuff only after this

Where as before we used to (CASE 2):
1. Do lot’s and lot’s of ideating (secrecy is a big plus here)
2. Write a clever business plan (volume of pages is a big plus here)
3. Gather a team (impressive cv’s, anyone?)
4. Raise funding (more the merrier)
5. Start executing the idea (it ought to be diffcifult, right? Everyone knows it is, when its big!)
6. Expose it to real customer (of course they can’t FULLY understand it at this point)
7. Fail

CASE 1 = cheap, some weeks
CASE 2 = expensive, some years

As back to Mark’s concern, it might help to rename the whole fail fast ideology. How about if we just call it “Try fast” or “Squeeze”?

I’m planning a followup article on the suitability of this ideology in terms of funding. Especially in Finland we are blessed (?) with many public funding instruments, which principals have a limited understanding of such thinking. How can you seek funding and say that we don’t have all the answers? Good question, and all input in regards to this topic, is greatly appreciated. Do drop me a line if you have good insights into this!

ps. Big thanks goes to Osma, who has a very wise view on these matters and who has pointed most of the source materials to me.

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