You’re guessing!

And you can’t afford to guess.

In order for your startup to succeed you need customers. These are actual people who find your product or service so valuable that they start using it regularly. People don’t like change, so this is hard.

“The primary thing that any technology startup must do is build a product that’s at least 10 times better at doing something than the current prevailing way of doing that thing. Two or three times better will not be good enough to get people to switch to the new thing fast enough or in large enough volume to matter.” — Ben Horowitz

Ten times better is hard! Especially because you have limited time and money, and other companies are working on the same thing. It’s important to move quickly to build something that people will love. Your best guess is a good starting point, but it won’t get you there. And yes you have analytics, but…

Analytics are great at telling us what our users do, but they don’t tell us why. Plus analytics don’t work until we have traffic. We actually have to talk to people to learn what they’re thinking. The good news is that we can start user testing today, before we spend precious time and money developing our app.

Google Ventures just changed my life. They are releasing a book called Sprint that shows tech companies how to gather feedback from users before building anything. The tagline is “How to solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days.”

The cool think about Google’s process is that you get user feedback so quickly that it saves a ton of time, money, guessing, and frustration.

Let’s back up for a minute so I can explain why this is important.

I talked about the “founder’s fallacy” that if you build it they will come. I see this all the time, where the CEO is convinced that if she builds the app she sees in her head then lots of people will show up and use it. It doesn’t typically work this way.

The truth is that getting people to use something new is typically a slow, painful process. There’s a balancing act between the vision—which is important—and the reality of what people actually think and want and do.

I often see a founder spend a bunch of time and money building something that…no one uses.

Human beings are an important part of designing any app. It’s true that if I’m building a bridge I want to finish construction before I allow people to walk across it. Otherwise it’s just plain dangerous.

But if I’m building an app I want people using it as soon as possible so I can learn how they use it and adjust accordingly. Only once I understand usage do I start to add more features. Otherwise I’m just guessing.

In startup school they teach us to build a minimum viable product (MVP). This is the least complicated app you can build that’s actually useful to someone. Then you get people to use it ASAP.

You want to cycle through Idea > Build > Launch > Learn as quickly and inexpensively as possible so you can iterate or pivot your MVP. You start with something crappy and turn it into something amazing over time with user feedback. This is what Facebook means when they say, “Move fast and break things.” But you still have to build an app.

Google has shortened the process by not even making an MVP. Instead they do a five-day “Design Sprint” to brainstorm and create a prototype in PowerPoint, Keynote, or JustInMind (my new favorite). Then they repeat based on the feedback. So they cycle between Idea > Learn, while skipping the expensive Build and Launch phases, until they understand what people will use and why they will use it. Then they go build the MVP.

And the true genius is that they sit down on a Monday and schedule five user testing sessions for that Friday. We all know that deadlines make things happen, so this forces us to design and build the prototype over the next few days.

I’ve been using the Google Ventures Design Sprint with three clients over the past few months and here’s what I’ve seen:

  1. The biggest value is that it shifts the conversation so you’re talking about data (what people actually do) vs. guessing (“we need to build it this way because people are going to love it”).
  2. You can quickly start to understand and confirm your value proposition. Because people say things like “I don’t care about this,” or, “I love this.”
  3. You can solve mysteries in your analytics about why people do—or don’t—behave the way you expect them to.
  4. Some founders are afraid of this process.
  5. Some developers are afraid of this process.

One of my clients pivoted an entire product based on user feedback. It happened quickly and it saved a ton of resources that would have been spent continuing down a dead-end path. An added benefit of this process is that we’ve developed a prototype that we can just hand to a development team.

You can pre-order the Sprint book from Amazon. And feel free to comment or reach out to me for more info.

Written by Mike Lingle, if you like this then follow my journey as I help startups start up.

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