Why speed is better than perfection when building a company

This is the first of five key learnings from my journey of starting the hardware company, Stilla, in 100 days. You can find the other four learnings and read more about my entrepreneurial adventure here.

Learning # 1: Speed beats perfection

Like the media mogul Rupert Murdoch famously said a few years back “Big will not beat small anymore. It will be the fast beating the slow”. The world is moving fast for sure, but so could you. If you dare to not be perfect.

The dreaded 80% rule

In order to avoid ‘perfection paralysis’ in our company we have something we call the ‘80% rule’. What we mean with this is that when something is at least 80% acceptable according to our own standard, we need to agree to ship it if someone else in the team think its good enough. The last 20% will be iterated in the next version and will be improved based on real customer feedback.

Elin at Brilliant Minds

Being a ‘recovering perfectionist’ this is a pretty hard rule to live by sometimes, even if I was the one implementing it. The reason I live by it though is that we probably would still be more or less on square one if I wouldn’t have been willing to let go, make some mistakes, and lose control once in a while.

Like a few weeks ago when I got an unexpected invitation to present my company at ‘Brilliant Minds’, an exclusive event in Stockholm, Sweden. Other speakers were Eric Smith from Google and Niclas Zennstrom from Skype, among others. I only had a few hours to prepare, and probably even less time to sleep. Where the conditions perfect? No way. Did it end up being a perfect speech? Not even close.

However, it eventually meant new partners, new customers, and an incredibly valuable learning experience. All this was due to the fact that I went by our 80% rule of imperfect perfection, in good combination with Woody Allen’s very own iteration: “showing up is 80% of life”.

Building a company is not about your ego or your comfort zone as a CEO. It’s about your team, your customers and being passionate about fixing a problem worth solving.

The trick with the 80% rule is to work with great people that have 120% performance as their standard. That way the end result becomes pretty much 100% anyway compared to an average performer.

Of course the 80% rule won’t work in all areas and phases of a company, but to get as far as we have, in the short time frame that we have, I think the 80% rule has been a critical tool and a necessary mindset for us. I highly recommend giving it a try!

Perfection Paralysis

Talking is so much easier than doing. I don’t know how many experts and advisors I’ve come across in my life that ‘know’ exactly how things should be done, without actually having done it themselves. Trust me, I know. I used to be one of them…

Of course, you should listen to well-intentioned advice sometimes, but don’t underestimate the power of your own trial and error.

The entrepreneurial journey is seldom a smooth ride. Even if you, in theory, can come up with a perfect plan or strategy, there are a million factors that come into play that could make it fail anyway.

Instead of standing still while getting the full picture, or crafting the perfect plan, I find it better to make decisions based on the facts you have at hand. Take action and validate your assumption in practice.

When creating Stilla I had to do a lot of things that were less than perfect in order to move forward with necessary speed. I was determined to create a hardware company within 100 days and in order to accomplish that, I needed to learn a lot about my product and the wants and needs of our future customers exceptionally fast.

I made my first Minimum Viable Product (or MVP), like what Eric Ries is talking about in the great book The Lean Startup, with the mere use of Power Point and a small gadget that I found at home. The first 26 hardware prototypes were created by hand at my mom’s kitchen table using $47 dollars’ worth of clay and paint.

Intital clay prototypes of Stilla

They were all far from perfect, but they taught me a tremendous amount and were critical in order for us to keep the deadline. I will tell you more about the crazy but fun rapid prototyping process in a future blogpost.

So really, just do it. Whether it’s a new ad design, an updated feature or a new process that you’re developing, it’s more fruitful to try something live, validate through data and real customer feedback, iterate quickly and improve.

In this fast moving world I think it’s too big of a risk to get stuck in ‘perfection paralysis’. It’s often way better to take a step, fail if you have to, LEARN and then QUICKLY improve, rather than to not take a step at all.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or comments, or sign up on www.mystilla.com to follow our journey.

/Elin E


I would be happy to see you follow my endeavors on Instagram @elinelkehag or @elkehag on Twitter as well. /Elin E =)

PS. Staying true to the 80% rule, I just updated the images and heading since I liked these better, if you noticed a difference…