Lean startup is about learning and adjusting. In other words, it’s about making mistakes. But they always talk about the right kind of mistakes. The ones you learn from. The basic idea is incredibly powerful: instead of basing your decisions on thoughts and possibly misguided beliefs, make all assumptions into as small a test as possible and validate. I’ve read quite a few books about getting started, and I’ll definitely write a post about them at some point, but most of them say similar things: iterate. Try something. Fail. Make it better. Making mistakes is just part of the process.
Cool. Sounds like a plan. Of course, no good plan survives its first encounter with reality. In reality things are complicated and messy. In reality it’s really hard to isolate what you are testing and how you are testing it and you always doubt yourself. Did this test really say what I think? If I just tweak it a little will I get a different result or do I need to change direction? And one of my favorite results is: this didn’t work but I just don’t know what will. Was this the right mistake to make?
Clear test, Clear result. An example of a good mistake. At the beginning my design for the main view of the ParentScheduler was very different than what it is today. I was so certain in my design I almost didn’t test that people got it. Of course they will get it. It was brilliant! But given all I’ve read I decided to create a quick test in UsabilityHub. I was sure of the tests’ success, it was so simple after all. As I mentioned in my post about funding, I’m bootstrapping so I did small batches which are apparently all you need.
Test No. 1 - only one person out of the 5 testers made it through. Ok… Well it’s probably because of this little thing… let me update it.
Test No. 2 - again only one person made it through. No no, that must be just 4 people who didn’t get it. Let’s run this same test again. Same result.
Test No. 3 - another tweak. Same result.
I was ready to pull my hair out. I was lost. What on earth is happening. Luckily I made sure to ask an open ended question as part of the test. And a kind tester wrote something that finally tipped me off. People just didn’t get my design, my base assumption was flawed.
I quickly made another test, mocking a new main view, very different from the design I was so certain of. 4 people out of 5 got through. And that’s only because the one person clicked just outside the area (pro tip - always make clicking areas bigger). I’m gonna call it 100% success. I couldn’t believe it. Literally. So I ran another one, a more complicated one, just to be sure.
This is an example of the “perfect” lean startup flow. I had an assumption with my original app design, I used user testing to validate it. Or in my case, to find out it was wrong and make it right. I made the right kind of mistake.
But things aren’t always so cut and dry. They are not always so clear. And here comes the bane of my existence (as an entrepreneur at least): marketing. Design? I’m not great but I do have an art degree. I can get by. Talking to users? Sure, I’m a bit of a loner but I can be very friendly when I leave my shell. Business? Again I’m not great at it. My business plan is more like a business wishlist. But marketing? Marketing I really suck at. I feel awkward. I don’t want to put myself forward. I hate being targeted for marketing so how can I do it to others.
What happens when you take a person like me and have me do marketing? A whole lotta flailing. A whole lotta drowning. I read books about it but have no idea how to put them into practice. In short, all I do in that realm are mistakes. I waste my time. I do it wrong. So very, very wrong.
To make things worse most marketing content tells you how important everything about it is. Everything is so crucial. Especially when you’re planning a launch. So many articles, like the ones I linked in my previous post, use words like flawless and perfect. And you know, I come from software, my job is to make bugs. No software is perfect out of the gate, so how can this be?
If I had listened to them I probably would have despaired and would have given up before launching. I wouldn’t have tried a ProductHunt launch cause I knew I wasn’t properly prepared. I would never have tried to do a paid Facebook post (such an epic fail). Or a paid ios ad (yet another wonderfully horrific result). I knew it was not recommended for early stage startups to invest in paid marketing (this link btw has some great general advice on what to invest on). But, guess what? I needed to try it for myself. Not spending much, just 10$ here and 10$ there… I knew it would likely fail but I decided to make those mistakes anyway. Because you know what’s worse than failing? Not trying. Not trying because we’re too scared to fail. Not trying because you’re not sure which of two things you should try (try a smaller version of both!). Letting the pressure paralyze you. Avoiding what scares you.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t minimize your failures or learn from others’ mistakes. But I heard so much about making the right kind of mistakes it made me afraid of doing anything. Cause if there are good mistakes to make how will I know I’m not making the bad ones? Am I going to fail failing?? So reduce risk but don’t give up for fear of failure. The price of not making any mistake is higher.