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Kill your ideas before you build them (whether you’ve got funding or not)


I saw an interesting talk by Tom Chi from Google a couple of months back about how they experiment and validate/invalidate their ideas.

They basically run a ton of experiments at any one time and create quick, low-fi prototypes rather than using all the funds/time/resource at their disposal to engineer a completed product. He showed how they quickly (in less than an hour) built a prototype for Project Glass (slides here). They quickly found out that you can take more weight on your ear than your nose. Most previous attempts at something similar looked more like this. Without interacting with a real artefact and actual people they would never have been able to discover this.

To some extent they know it’s a number game with ideas too. The more bets you place, the better your chance of success. Amazon, GE and many others also embrace this philosophy. Jeff Bezos talks about ‘blind alleys’ rather than failure. Learn from your mistakes and move on.

Tom Chi emphasised the importance of creative learning ie. what % of this thing worked?’ ie. nothing fails 100% He talked about ‘rate-based goals’ – ie. say the things you try have a 5% chance of success. By the time you try 20 things this increases to 64%, and once it gets to 50 things your chances of success increase to 92%. It pays to quickly test lots ideas and learn from them, rather than taking one massive punt that could end up on the scrapheap (and you a lot poorer).

Having early-stage investment can have its down sides. It won’t help you get to where you want to get to quicker ie. proof of concept, problem-solution fit. In fact, it may slow you down. Timeboxing experiments and being more frugal, with a focus on short sprints, helps to focus the mind on what’s important. And by interacting directly with customers you can quickly kill your idea before you build anything. I’ve invalidated a bunch of startup ideas just by talking to a handful of people. No prototype, just conversation.

As Marty Cagan said at the same conference “About 3/4 of our ideas are never going to work. The other 1/4 are going to take 3-4 iterations to get right. Kill your ideas before you build them.”

Sound advice.

If you need help turning your startup idea into a successful web product, visit www.spookstudio.com or contact me via Twitter @welovelean. I offer a free 20 minute sanity check for startup founders to share and discuss their ideas in confidence via Skype.

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