"Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth." -- Mike Tyson
In my last blog post, I gave a recipe for validating your product features and assumptions using surveys to get started. If you follow the recipe, what almost all of you will experience will be insight. This insight can almost start euphorically, because you started with hope and have a new found sense of control as you go get real feedback. You now know the features that really matter and the features that aren't worth pursuing further and this will give you hope that you can build a winning product.
However, this is where things take a turn for the worse. I often refer to this moment as the moment of false certainty. You had such passion for your product idea - to the point where it drove you to get started. The truth is, you thought your gut was nearly right, and friends & family encouraged you to go for it. When you met with your founders or co-workers, you were high fiving, fist bumping, or celebrating the victory that was to come if you just build the product you all believed would be a winner… And then, you went out and asked 20 strangers what they think of your features, and you found out your certainty is unfounded and false.
Surprisingly, many people will go from idea to building the product, so the first moment of feedback will be from usage of the product features. In many cases, they launch and hear crickets, because nobody uses the product. In some cases, the features used are different than you expected, but this insight is often a crushing blow because it tells you to make changes to your product. Said differently, you built the wrong thing.
This is why I care so deeply about Lean Validation. Products and services always change in the validation stages, but going from the hope of false certainty to the downer of insight is very uncomfortable. Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO, posted a project mood chart that I think illustrates this perfectly. You start at hope, you do the hard work that gives you powerful and amazing insights that can actually be kind of depressing - but for those who make the adjustments, a miracle happens… you crack the code and prototype a product that inspires people. They want to use and buy it if you build it! And this results in a real confidence that you can build a product with a much higher probability of success.
Another graphic on the Euonymous Redux web site illustrates this even further - and even adds a trap door when people bail out on their product because the realities of their insights causes them to quit (or in the case of a startup, perhaps they ran out of capital).
This mood pattern happens most of the time, but if you know its coming you can manage through it and in some cases, level it off. Don’t try to invert because hope is a very powerful tool. Keep the hope because it results in passion that will get you through the doldrums, but start embracing the insights. There is a proverb that says, “hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life,” so keep the hope. However, when truth arrives in the validation process, you need to start celebrating. That’s right: high five, fist bump, and celebrate the following:
• You now know the features that are important
• It was fairly inexpensive to find out features that won’t work
• You’ve saved so much time in identifying what to change or pivot
• You’ve saved so much money not building the wrong product
• You’re one step closer to nailing the right product
Believe me, if you talked with people for whom I have consulted, they would verify that when the insights hit, I’m strangely happy while they have sad, puppy dog faces.
That said... when it's been my product, I sometimes hated the survey or prototyping results. Sure, I questioned the results and tested again; it turns out the insights are almost always true, so eventually I gave up and embraced the right changes.
This approach correlates almost directly to my product successes and failures. The quicker I identified the right features and abandoned the useless ones, the more likely I was to succeed. The reciprocal is also true. I’ve built before I validated (how do you think I figured some of this out?), and it went badly. I’ve also validated and figured out nobody wanted my features and product. But when I do that fast enough, I now view these as some of my strongest successes.
So, what’s the worst that can happen? I find out quickly that nobody wants my product or there’s no features that users want that differentiate me from my competitors. Time to dance a jig and move on to another product or set of features that may work. But when you nail the right product, that’s miraculous. There’s nothing better when you are sitting in a Starbucks and someone is using a product that you created and they have never met you. This has happened to me a few times. It's infectious, and you’ll want to get back there so build stuff that matters and inspires people. It can all start with one simple survey where you validate the right features.