Failing Your Way to Not Failing

There I was, taken aback by the question I received. I was talking to a former colleague at my former job, and explaining some of the things we are doing with different colleges in and around the area. After looking confused, he stopped me and asked, “Wait, I thought you were working with high schools?”

I hadn’t really spoken to him since I left, and though that was only 6 months earlier, it was like a lifetime in startup years. I told him about some of the transitions we’d made, and what caused us to target colleges instead. “Wow, sounds like you’ve jumped around a lot. Is that good?”

As you work on your idea, remember this one key point: The idea that caused you to make the plunge is likely not the idea that will be successful.

Hopefully by now, you have heard and/or read about The Lean Startup method. If you haven’t this is something you and your co-founders should read before really getting started in investing time and resources. These experiments, for example, can focus on which product to offer, how much a customer would be willing to pay for an item or service, the design of the site and more.

It helps to provide a roadmap toward success. With one caveat: for those of us bootstrapping to success, you will soon find that the “experiments” you would like to run as part of The Lean Startup are just too expensive. If you run a mobile or web startup, this can definitely be a drain on finances. Luckily, there are sites that allow you to create such experiments cheaply. There are two sites I would recommend:

(1) Optimizely- I really like this site because you can type in your URL, and begin with what your site looks like that that moment. You can then play with different variations and use Optimizely to conduct A/B testing to your audience. I haven’t found another site to date that works that easily.

(2) Unbounce – I also like Unbounce because it offers a lot of the same features as Optimezly, but the pricing is more affordable. So if you are very budget-conscious, Unbounce would be the better options.

In order to drive people to these tests, I would recommend doing a Google Ad campaign. This is because, unlike friends and family who want to see you succeed and will tell you what you want to hear, Google Ad campaigns bring people in who have no connection to you (Google ads are not the way to go for building your company, just for testing purposes. Here is a great read on why you should not depend solely on Google for customer acquisition.)

Remember, the idea of the initial few months is to keep on iterating. Iterate while it’s cheap, instead of building a product and then realizing that it was the wrong product. I can tell you, we did not follow this mantra. We thought we were the only ones to do our idea, and that we knew everything about how to get it done. Fortunately for us, we werebroke. This little concern caused us to default to creating cheaply and then putting our idea out there quickly. As a result, our first site was built using — of all things — WordPress. Our tutors were all Math tutors, and were based in India to save on costs. Everything we did was a hodge-podge of third party applications, strung together to create a semblance of a website for less than $1000 (including tutor costs!)

However, what we learned from that experience could not be understated. We quickly understood the needs of institutions vs. individuals, the value of data collection and reporting, the importance of 24/7 access to tutors, mentors and coaches, and much more. By the time we arrived with platform 2.0, our entire approach was different.

And today we are still learning, improving and iterating. Today, our iterations are smaller, and hopefully that means we are on the right track. But there is nothing that really replaces those initial learnings, so keep an open mind, understand that mistakes are part of the learning process, and prepare to stumble your way to potentially something great.

Check out this video from Climate Corporation founder David Friedberg. I love this quote he makes: “It’s easy to see the startup experience as iterative failure rather than iterative success, because you’re constantly failing until you’re just barely not.”

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