Fail Fast to Build Fast

Many founders approach me with two pressing questions:

  1. I have this million-dollar idea. How can I build it (i.e., technology stack)?

  2. How much time will it take?

These are misguided questions. The real questions should be: Why do you want to build it? How will it attract customers? Do customers even need it?

In this edition, we will discuss:

  • The Startup Chicken Egg Problem

  • How can failing help you build faster?

  • Techniques to fail faster

  • How to learn from these failures

Building a startup is not a straightforward journey. It's a series of small steps, each in varying directions, and sticking to the ones that promise success. When you first stumble upon an idea, it's exhilarating. However, often our judgment is clouded by over-optimism. It's only when we start implementing these ideas that we realize several things:

  1. It's not easy to build and often requires more resources.

  2. Others are already doing it.

  3. There might not be a significant demand.

  4. Even if there is demand, people may not pay for it.

This leads us to the startup chicken egg problem:

"I need investment to build the product" -> "Investors need to see some revenue" -> "Revenue requires customers" -> "The product needs investment."

It's tempting to think investment is the magic solution, but it's not. Building a startup from scratch is about eliminating obstacles:

  • Anything needing money should be bootstrapped.

  • Anything needing a product should be serviced first.

  • Anything needing marketing should be researched first.

This proactive approach is how startups overcome the chicken egg problem. And that's where the concept of failing more and faster becomes vital.

How can Failing Help You Build Faster?

The key to early customer acquisition is to build what they truly want and are willing to pay for. But it's not as simple as just asking customers their preferences. They might not even know what they want. Therefore, it's crucial to demonstrate, not just tell.

Think like a scientist. Treat every idea as a hypothesis, and your goal is to validate or invalidate it. The quicker you can do this, the faster you can either delve deeper or move on.

Instead of dazzling customers with sleek app designs, your aim should be to receive a "NO" on your basic prototype. The more rejections you get and understand why they're happening, the closer you are to the real solution.

This method can be applied across all startup sectors, including:

  1. Design, Branding, and UX

  2. Engineering and Tech Stack

  3. Marketing, Copy, and Messaging

  4. Sales, Pricing, and Bundling

Run multiple experiments concurrently and test them with customers simultaneously. Rather than guessing the best approach, put it before the customer and let them decide.

How to Fail Faster and Smarter

The manner in which we fail is pivotal. We're not merely looking at missteps, but rather controlled failures that lead to valuable lessons and actionable insights.

Customer Interviews

  • Purpose: Quickly and without investment, confirm or debunk your hypotheses regarding problems, ideas, or features.

  • Technique:Engage without selling. Instead, aim to validate your idea.Prior to sharing your idea, pose these inquiries:When did they last encounter the problem? (Frequency)How did it affect them? (Pain)What solutions did they explore? (Competition)How satisfactory was the solution? (Gap)Interact with at least 40 target users and map their feedback.Document and share this feedback with your team for deeper insights.

Visual Tests

  • Purpose: When discussions may not suffice, visual representations can offer clarity.

  • Stages of Visual Testing:

Stages of Visual test

Wireframe: Commence with a basic outline of your product, concentrating on the problem-solving journey.

LoFi UI Design: Craft a rudimentary design to examine if users can intuitively navigate.

HiFi UI Design: Elevate the design to include brand aesthetics and richer graphics to test the UI concept with users.

Rapid Prototyping

  • Purpose: Validate whether your approach effectively addresses the problem.

  • Methods: Utilize platforms like Notion, Airtable, or WordPress.Prioritize testing one function or feature at once.Remember, this prototype isn't the final product but a model to validate your hypothesis.

Feature Testing

  • Purpose: Discern which features to prioritize and keep your product streamlined.

  • Approaches:Feature Flagging: Post-release, keenly observe feature adoption. Tools such as Posthog can be invaluable here.A/B Testing: Introduce two variations of a feature, gauge user preferences, and retain the one with higher adoption.

Product Feedback

  • Purpose: Regularly amass user feedback to refine your product progressively.

  • Methods:Proactive Reachout: Periodically reconnect with users to gauge their satisfaction levels with new enhancements.Product Feedback Widget: Integrate feedback mechanisms within the product. Even a simple tool like Intercom can provide rich insights. Host Office Hours: Organize sessions to interact with your most active users, providing a platform for feedback and discussions on potential features.

Learning from These Failures to Build Faster

All these methods offer excellent opportunities to test the waters and fail faster. However, it's easy to stumble into product pitfalls. Even if you're ticking off all these strategies, you might not be failing enough. Let's delve into some common pitfalls and ways to navigate them:

Naive Optimism

Engaging users with naive optimism can be a mistake. Always make it clear that you're seeking feedback, not selling. This centers the conversation around the user, not your product, making them more likely to offer honest criticism. If a user gives feedback on a feature—even one your product already possesses—avoid the instinct to argue. Instead, realize you may need to better highlight that feature. After all, you won't always be there to guide every user. So, pinpoint signs that indicate when users are missing something.

Document Everything

Distilling your thoughts in line with evidence can be daunting. Given our limited attention span, we might overlook crucial feedback. My solution? Whiteboard all feedback, allowing a comprehensive overview. When developing a new feature, revisit these notes to ensure alignment.

Miro Board with all customer conversation

Discuss Evidence, Not Opinions

Team brainstorming sessions should avoid becoming political battles. Instead, focus on tangible evidence gathered from users. Cultivate a culture that values this approach, ensuring even founders are held accountable.

Don't Hesitate to Ask the User

When evidence is scarce, turn to your users. They should always be the ultimate decision-makers. Approach them with an open mind, offering two genuine options. Sometimes, encouraging them to suggest an alternative can be invaluable, especially if neither of the given choices seems ideal.

Iterating Faster

Feedback has a shelf life. It's most valuable when users' experiences are fresh in their minds. So, strive to act swiftly. Employ UI prototypes or low-code prototypes, and test them with users immediately. If integrating feedback into the product doesn't derail the development roadmap, incorporate it. Swift responses make users feel valued, fostering further engagement. To accelerate, maintain momentum.


Lastly, possess the courage to accept failure and pivot. I've come to understand that building a startup isn't about founder ego—it's about arriving at the best solution. When things aren't aligning, be brave enough to acknowledge it, and if necessary, start anew.


I won't lie, Building a startup also needs luck. But you can increase your odds by moving faster and getting all the failure points sooner than later. If you are wrong, be wrong in early days then when you a huge team. Your ability to fail diminishes as you have more headcount.

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