on February 11, 2010
Executive SummaryTo be effective, conserve your resources but commit them in proper measures. As they say in the military, practice "the economy of force."
The most efficient work is the work that you didn't do. The most effective guy/gal is the one who has to do the least work. I only wish things are so clear and obvious at all times.
Recently I read a book called "Low-budget Marketing for Rookies." The book being for rookies, states a lot of the obvious, the commonsensical. You and I, being marketing black-belts ( having bought these belts from the store), will not make any of the obvious, 'rookie' mistakes that she mentioned.
That is good news. The bad news is: the mistakes being so basic, even if you make only one mistake, it can cost you dearly. I will discuss one mistake that has stuck to me for a few years. Even if you have read about a concept a hundred times, that can still trouble you until you have internalized it through bitter experience. As I have said in a previous post, it's emotions again: your personal traumas, foibles, etc.
My StoriesOnce we developed a Java Swing application for teachers to create and edit their lessons and tests. It was technically challenging for us but we finished it. It was ready for distribution in CD's. Only then, we realized that in our target regions, book stores and other retail stores took 60% commissions of the sales of such CD's. We had to repurpose it for distribution via the web.
Lessons seem to take more than one mistake to take roots in the learners. The very next year, we developed a Question-Answer Exchange system in PHP, something way better than Stack Overflow and Expert Exchange in many ways. We even deployed the application and promoted it for a while. Only then --- what a hateful pair of words for our team --- we realized that our plan called for the cooperation of a few hundreds of teachers. Our finances were not that strong for such recruitment. We cut our losses and quit.
Her adviceDon't go into production, don't even do a prototype until after you have tested the idea with real customers. Maybe with san-gen(a Japanese word for "three reals"): real users, real contexts, real products.
Possible counter-examplesWalkman, ipod, iphone, ipad. Apple proudly quotes Jobs in their ads that they do great products and zero market research.
Furthermore, sometimes a product or service proves its value only after being in use for a few times. e.g. Blogger.com, Twitter, Predator (These three examples came from Wired or Businessweek.)
The Mother of all the counter-examples goes that if Edison had asked the customers, he would not have come up with the electric bulb but with a bigger candle!
How do we reconcile the two views?I got inspiration from two sources.
1. Software Development
Writing down the requirements can expose a number of mistakes, but not all. There is no point to wait till we have surfaced all possible mistakes.
Writing down the specs can expose a number of mistakes, but not all. There is no point to wait till we have surfaced all possible mistakes.
Prototyping can expose a number of mistakes, but not all. There is no point to wait till we have surfaced all possible mistakes.
Code inspection, according to Robert Glass, can expose a lot of mistakes, but not all. There is no point to wait till we have surfaced all possible mistakes.
Now you get the message: it is the Defense in depth thing. No filter is perfect, which does not mean we can forgo any imperfect one.
Brainstorm, talk to customers, prototype, test-market, consult Tarot cards, get feedback and adapt.
2. A Venture Capitalist's remark.
In effect she said: many failures are almost identical to the successful ones, except the former ran out of cash earlier!
She acknowledged the need for experimentation and encouraged risk-taking but advised the entrepreneurs to be very conservative about the cost estimate of their tests.
Let me hear your thoughts. Please comment.