Find the Rickety Bridge

Ross Belmont
Jan 10, 2018 · 3 min read

You look like the type of product innovator who’s clear about what customer problem you’re solving. Better yet, you have a clear picture of the struggling moment during which your product saves the day. You can see it in your head like a scene from a movie.

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The Struggling Moment

So you’re working with the engineers, sorting out exactly what the solution needs and doesn’t need. It’s time to make trade-offs. How robust or fancy should it be? Does it need heated seats or a leather handle? Is it blinged out in Swarovski crystals? Costs are starting to add up, and the timeline for launch is stretching to an uncomfortable length.

You need a way to clarify and confirm what’s critical versus what’s nice-to-have. Fortunately, someone else may have already made those trade-offs. I’d get them on the horn.

Steve Blank, the Stanford professor behind the Lean Startup methodology, coined the term Earlyvangelist to describe a person who’s struggling with the problem your product addresses so badly that they’ve cobbled together a rickety solution on their own, burning either calories or dollars. The picture I always draw is a customer gingerly stepping across a rickety bridge of their own making.

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The Rickety Bridge

This person is probably still suffering in a variety of ways, because they’re not a bridge builder by trade. They may have fallen into the ditch a few times, or maybe they’re still there. (Throw them a rope.) But they did their best based on what they know and the materials they had on hand.

Though they succeeded or failed to different degrees, one thing’s for sure: they didn’t put one microgram more effort into the solution than was truly necessary. They didn’t overdo it. They had to quit screwing around with bridges and get back to their day job.

So when you’re figuring out what trade-offs to make, find the rickety bridge. Take measurements and talk to the builder. You’ll probably be surprised how little you can “get away with.” Even better, when you talk to the builder, you can get an idea of their budget pretty quickly. How much is this truly worth to them?

And if you can’t find any rickety bridges, ask yourself whether you’re solving an important enough problem. People get a lot done with spreadsheets, email, and duct tape.

Armed with these new insights, you can head back to the shop and get cracking on a properly engineered bridge that doesn’t go too far. Maybe it’s a beautiful structure made of steel and glass. Maybe it’s a quaint wooden number worthy of Madison County. Maybe it’s an ungainly monstrosity perfect for industrial use.

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Your Customer, Delighted by Your Offering

Whatever it is, it won’t be overdone. It’ll be just enough to delight your first few customers. You’ll add more later, but for the time being, you can get out there and get some traction.

For now, listen for that creaking sound.

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