You can’t learn a language without speaking it. You can’t learn golf without hitting golf balls. So why do you think you can figure out if your idea is any good just by thinking about it.
It’s the most important personality trait of an entrepreneur; Do more and think less. I’m not sure if it’s nature or nurture, but the best entrepreneurs have figured out that time spent thinking through permutations of an idea is wasted time. The most effective thing they can do is stop thinking about an idea, and start working on a quick, cheap and easy way to test it.
23 years ago, when Reed picked me up for our morning commute and mentioned he had heard about a new technology called the DVD, it didn’t take long to realize that it might be the key to the video-rental-by-mail idea we had been kicking around. But rather than racing to write a business plan or build a pitch deck, we turned the car around, drove to town, bought a music CD, and mailed it to Reed’s house. In less than an hour of effort, we learned more about the validity of our idea than we would have from a month of “studying the problem”.
It’s such a simple solution: Just Do It. But surprisingly few people do. I don’t think it’s laziness. Instead, I think it stems from the discomfort most people feel doing something they think may not work. It’s human nature not wanting to embarrass yourself by flailing or failing
And that brings me back to learning a language. If you want to gain fluency, you won’t get it from books and tapes. Eventually you must march your grown ass into that coffee shop in another country, go up to the counter and order. Sure, you can “rehearse” exactly what you are going to say. But that plan falls apart the minute the barista asks what type of milk you want, or whether you want something to eat with that, or what you think about the state of politics back in the States. Then something is going to come out of your mouth which sounds suspiciously like you are a third grader.
But that’s how you learn. You’ll retreat to your table revisiting what you said, what worked, and what didn’t. You’ll think through what you will do next time you’re in that situation.
The process of starting a company is not different. All that time spent preparing the perfect product to spring upon your customer is a waste of time, because you don’t know yet what a perfect product is. And no business plan is going to survive that initial collision with a real customer. If you are doing something that hasn’t been done before, the only way to learn it is to show them an imperfect product and see how they react.
I call it validation hacking. It’s validating your idea without doing it. I’m not talking about minimal viable product, because if you’re building a minimal viable product, you’re building too much. It’s minimal unviable product. It’s not good enough to stand on its own. It’s not repeatable nor scalable. But it’s quick, it’s cheap, it’s easy, it’s not going to work, and it’s a critical part of the trial and error that will inform your next step. And the step after that. And the next. Until eventually one of those steps leads to the idea that does work.
All five of my regular readers know that at this point in an essay, I try to seamlessly work in the announcement that (surprise surprise!) the topic of this essay just happens to be the subject of my latest That Will Never Work podcast.
But not this time. (This week’s new episode is about something else entirely - and has the distinction of being the first one that was ever cut short by a tornado).
No, instead I’m announcing that this week - with episode 21 - the That Will Never Work podcast is moving to weekly! It marks the point, more than a year into the process, that I feel I’m getting close to finding product market fit, so we’re going to pick up the pace a little.
I’ve always believed that the tips, tricks, and secrets I’ve learned over four decades as an entrepreneur could be applied to anyone looking to turn a dream into reality. So, I take a small satisfaction from the fact that I applied this thinking to my own small dream.
As you may remember, the podcast started out as a minimal, non-viable product; I simply recorded the mentoring calls I was doing anyway and then checked to see if anyone else enjoyed listening to them. This led to a 4-episode beta - as I experimented with different ways of finding topics, recruiting participants, and recording the episodes. This was followed by another 4-episodes where I worked on how to get more quickly from problem to advice, how to maintain pacing and energy, and how to capture both sides of a conversation in decent audio quality.
All of this never saw the light of day (unless you were one of the dozens of “guinea pigs” who graciously volunteered to listen to these early test episodes) but was my way of “colliding my ideas with reality”, of seeing what worked, of trying new things, of “doing more and thinking less”.
250,000 downloads later we still haven’t stopped experimenting. As my team is now probably tired of hearing, my inevitable reaction to every new idea is “let’s try it.” And so, we do. Some work, and some ...well...
For the last nine months, I’ve not only had the opportunity to learn way more than ever expected about audio engineering but also had the chance to speak to dozens of early-stage entrepreneurs and do my best to move them in a slightly better direction.
As we move to weekly, besides talking to even more entrepreneurs, I’m looking forward to what else there is to learn, to improve, and to make the podcast even more helpful.
If you’re a listener, thanks for being along for the ride. If you are not, please do check it out. And if you don’t like it? Well, check back again in a few months - because one thing I can promise you is that it will be even better then.
Mostly though, if you have ideas about how to make the podcast better, let me know. Because you know what my answer will be? Let’s try it!