Through the Valley of Death: Failing quickly and cheaply

One of the many hidden blessings of starting out with nothing is that you become extremely inventive.  Forget being a disciple of the “lean startup” or The Cathedral and the Bazaar philosophy, you have to be a “lean” startup because you have no other choice. 

As you look across the desolate span of desert that is the “valley of death” stage of your startup you have no choice but to pull on your boots and get… well, “bootstrapping”…

Many of you will have seen companies that started out with a wealth of startup capital fall over because they never had to be lean. They threw good money away on bad ideas or failed methods, simply because they didn’t have to listen to anyone – certainly not their market – or engage with a crowd to get anything done. They had cash and that can be a substitute for good ideas.

If you’re doling out the cash you’ll get a lot of “yes men”, but when you’ve got nothing to offer but an idea and an opportunity you’ll be faced with doubt, questions and a resultant, fundamental need to change what you’re doing almost every step of the way.

A major part of being “lean” lies in your Proof of Concept, the so-called MVP (“minimum viable product” or, less usually, “Pretotype”) stage.  If you’re running on empty when it comes to funds you’ll need to fail quickly and cheaply which means determining without much expense or time if your idea is as awesome as it seemed, whether you need to make major alterations to the design or whether you need to just give up and get a real job.

So, how do you do it…

  • First, think about what are you trying to prove?   Put it into a statement, i.e. “People will buy widgets via mobile.”
  • Work out the simplest way to prove this statement.  This could be using an existing platform – like an existing mCommerce platform in our example.  Consider other ways to test – i.e. surveying your target market or visiting a professional organisation comprising members of your target market.
  • Get a crowd. You need your crowd of potential users and influencers you’ve been building.  A crowd of target users in the bazaar trying out your basic PoC version will provide a great guide. 
  • Do we have a viable business here?  Your results might tell you that you have something at the hobby level – something very niche – or perhaps an idea that could become incredibly popular.

Overall, be prepared to fail.  It’s harsh in the valley of death and not everyone makes it across.  But if you do fail you can be comforted by the fact that at least you did it quickly.  And cheaply. With your boots on.

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