My musings on the economy, life, technology, business and things I find interesting.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

On either side of Fail Fast is Stupid

Lets get it straight, I'm a big believer in fail fast.  Failure is a magnificent tool for improvement - its raw, unforgiving and truthful.  Quite often its the only way people will except reality.  Failure ain't no model T Ford though, it comes in all shades of grey.

The crux of it is that everyone has a different definition of failure.  Imagine for a moment a passionate and energetic individual who believes in themselves.  Mary Jane left the corporate world to develop Property Barron.  Mary believes she's got the perfect product on hand: a unique mix of Monopoly and Risk.  She has a fun way for everyone to satisfy their real estate investment urges.  Mary believes she's going to sell a million copies.

When Does Mary Fail?
  • If Mary's idea is rejected by angels - has she failed?
  • If major distribution channels reject her idea after prototype development - has she failed?
  • If Mary makes the equivalent of minimum wage after pushing her game for 3 years - has she failed?
  • What happens if Marys family begins to fall apart - has she failed?
  • If Mary needs to pour her life savings into the idea to move it forward - has she failed?
  • If Mary ties her self worth to success - has she failed?

Don't Wait for Failure - Define It
If you define failure you'll have a path to get there.  This is the point of fail fast, it means literally to get to a point where you've proven or disproven your business model / midterm goal / concept / etc.  It also means you're setting acceptable investment risks for each stage vs a loose concept of product success.  Without this you are the proverbial bird with it's head in the sand, the entrepreneurial ignoramus suspended in their own delusional disbelief.  I like to be harsh here, Kevin O'Leary style - harshness is needed to cut through the bulls___ that people put up around them.  Be harsh, be real.  Why is this so important?  Entrepreneurs often confuse their own self worth with success and failure - but fail fast methodology says something else entirely: that success shouldn't be expected every time and that failure is part of long term lifetime success.  Being harsh and hard helps you embrace failure.  Sugarcoating is for losers because failure is by definition for winners.

Stupidity on Either Side
When I say fail fast is surrounded by stupidity I'm talking about the extremes to either side.  On one side you give up too early and on the other too late.  Lets take a look at both and how one might end up there.

Failing Too Early
  • Unrealistic understanding of time and resources required (ran out of money on a viable idea)
  • No gut for controversy, failure, challenges
  • Impatience
  • Misprioritization
  • Fear of invalidating a larger goal (where the larger goal sits in the Giving up Too Late category)
  • Not accepting investment and the business dying on the vine
Failing Too Late
  • Fear of failure
  • No goals/failure points set to gauge success along the way
  • Stubborn about beliefs
  • Self worth tied up in the businesses success
  • Belief that the money spent on the idea converted into a valuable asset and thus the unwillingness to "waste" the investment (note: it was likely wasted a long time ago)
Some Thoughts on How to Fail Fast
  • Set tight failure points - be very raw about why they constitute failure
  • Set failure points well before you become emotionally attached
  • Spend as little money as possible between failure points
  • Get lots of feedback from smart people - set failure points to prove them right or wrong then show them proof and why they're wrong or adapt/shut down as they're proven right
  • Learn to love failing - this is the same as learning to acknowledge reality
  • Help others fail fast
As we build Snapsort we're trying to fail fast, this helps us refine the business model and our assumptions around it.  Failure is painful but as they say change or die.

1 comment:

EStar said...

Good post Chris you have a unique insight into things.