Your idea is wrong… and that’s the best part.

Abandon the linear approach for a discovery model in order to ensure (eventual) success.

“Fail often so you can succeed sooner.” — Tom Kelley

Having an idea for a new venture can be an exhilarating experience. As the images in your head gain sharper focus, and the potential feature set grows into a rich ecosystem for future users, it becomes increasingly self-evident that wild success is just around the corner.

But your idea is wrong.

It may not be entirely wrong. You may have the right service but the wrong customers, or the right price point but the wrong monetization approach, or the right messaging but the wrong communication channels. Either way, it is extremely unlikely that all (or even most) aspects of the product as you are envisioning it will remotely resemble the optimal version. This conclusion is a matter of basic probability: in a world where even the simplest of concepts are built on a complex array of assumptions, yours won’t all be right.

This is not to say you will fail. In fact, your wrongness might actually be your greatest source of advantage. Right now, there are hundreds of other individuals around the world with your idea — their similar experiences and analysis have led them to imagine a product not unlike yours. If your collective concept was optimized, the chances you could execute faster than everyone else would be very slim. Put another way, if your idea was perfect, someone would have launched it already. But because you are all wrong, and because the truly great idea is hidden beneath layers of nuanced learnings, you can gain a distinct edge through your approach.

The key is not to get the answer right on the first try, which is nearly impossible (assuming your name is not Steve Jobs). Rather, the key is to test your (wrong) product as quickly and cheaply as possible, so that you can learn how it is wrong, and how to make the next version better. By iterating this process, and focusing on learnings rather than outcomes, your path may be circuitous, but you will ensure reaching the finish. This is the premise behind “lean methodology”: spending the least amount of time and money to learn the most.

Armed with the lean mindset, your approach to developing an app turns on its head. Rather than broadening the feature set to increase the likelihood of success, you might constrain it to isolate what works (and what doesn’t). Rather than taking your time to build the perfect design, you may launch a series of prototypes to confirm (and reject) assumptions. Fear of uncertainty and failure gives way to comfort and even excitement with the unknown. The greater the obstacles you face, the more your approach provides an advantage over your competition.

In the midst of all of this flux, the one thing that should remain steady is your mission. Whether to “organize the world’s information,” “give people the power to share,” or “make tools for the mind that advance humankind,” having a concrete objective for your work ensures that wherever your meandering journey takes you, it will be grounded in a more foundational aspiration. This is not mere lip service; it is the core principle that any future product feature must answer to, and the guiding light that will keep your journey of rapid failure on track.


This is the first installment of a five-part daily email series, AirDev Sprint Startup Lessons. The free lessons take entrepreneurial readers through the process of better understanding their concept, customers, hypotheses, and minimum viable product to be tested. Subscribe to the full series at airdev.co/sprint.