The Myth of Quick and Dirty

How to sabotage a great idea

Jordan Davis
Oct 15, 2013 · 3 min read

Want to know if your idea is great? Quick and dirty idea validation is the perennial favourite of the huckster business guru, and with good reason. “With just a day of work, and hardly any money, you can find out whether your business idea is worth pursuing.” It sounds so good.

Perfect for the kind of person who might want to work, say, four hours a week. Just crank out a fast, poorly thought out website (“It doesn’t have to be perfect!”), throw a Paypal button on there, and wait for the cha-chings.

And if they don’t? Well, you gave it a try. You can go back to pulling double shot americanos, and wait for a better idea.

The problem is this: If you build a crappy site, and throw a Paypal button on it, the only thing you are learning is that people won’t spend money on a crappy site with a Paypal button on it. Nothing more.

There is a seed of truth in the underlying philosophy — it’s easy for someone to distract themselves and spend a huge amount of time and resources on an idea without knowing if it is a terrible idea or not. And as the proponents often point out, asking your friends is basically useless. But the “quick and dirty” method is the other far end of the spectrum. The reality is that the best way to validate your idea falls somewhere in the middle.

When I started my online business, I built what I thought was a pretty great site. Numbermyhouse.com sells modern looking house numbers, and I built a fancy Javascript preview that was ahead of the competition. I spent many, many hours on it. We took it live, and started to advertise the site. And we didn’t get a single order for a whole year.

From a “quick and dirty” idea validation perspective, this was an unqualified failure. We should have shut it down and ran for our lives. But we didn’t. In fact, I rebuilt the site four times in total, and it wasn’t until the third time that it started to get sales. Now it makes a pretty decent living. It’s a top three Google search result in some geographic locations. We haven’t spent any money on advertising this year, because we get as many orders as we can handle.

And so I wonder: How many potentially great ideas have died because of failed “quick and dirty” tests? The people advocating this method are telling people what they want to hear, instead of the more complicated truth. People who know better will tell you: Business success often comes to those who will stick with a great idea longest, those who will refuse to give up.

You can get a lot of validation by trying to build a product someone will actually want, and selling it the best that you possibly can. Anything less is selling yourself, and your idea short.

    Jordan Davis

    Written by

    An experimental person