Time to market is everything. Most startups and even big companies live by that creed. The theory goes that the sooner you can sell your Minimum Viable Product (MVP), the better off you are. This is clearly the case if you have a product that the market wants. What complicates this approach is when a startup or any company, trades a solid product strategy for speed. Building something quick is always a good idea but what you build has to be what the market needs. Moving too fast might create products that people want to use but will never make any money. Case in point — Webvan.
Webvan was an online “credit and delivery” grocery business that delivered groceries to customers homes within a 30 minute window. People loved it. The convenience of ordering your groceries was compelling to the dot comers who were busy changing the world. Unfortunately, it went bankrupt in 2001. It’s downfall stemmed from moving way too fast on building infrastructure and market expansion without considering how the company will make a profit. This “first mover advantage” idea was a common one used during the dot com bubble. A similar company, Peapod, moved fast but based their strategy on using existing infrastructure. Peapod is still around and it’s business model has been copied by Safeway for it’s home delivery service.
Time to Market vs Time to Profit
Webvan’s time to market strategy was a good idea but what got lost by moving too fast was the fundamentals — time to profit. Time to profit should be considered just as important as time to market since that’s your real end game — deliver a product to the marketplace and start making profits. Ideally, the correlation between your arrival in the market and when you start making money will coincide. This ideal scenario rarely happens but it’s the most desirable. When you move too fast, this perspective gets lost because of the “we can make it up in volume” or “let’s seed the market first” types of arguments. This attitude is dangerous and will set your business up for failure.
Planning at the Speed of Light
Getting stuff done is important but more important is getting the right stuff done. In order to do the right things, you have to spend some time planning and considering your time to profit. Once you have a plan, then it all comes down to execution. That’s why startups or small automatous teams have an advantage — they have laser focus on the tasks in front of them without the distractions of a big company. Laser focus is vital to a successful project but that focus has to be properly directed. That’s why it’s essential that when you are racing to get your product done that you at least step back and plan for success. You can build fast and plan for success by following the ideas listed below:
Build Platforms: When you build a platform, you allow yourself to use it for many different things. This may seem counterintuitive to the whole focus idea but it’s not. Platforms allow for changing direction without having to scrap a lot of work.
Leverage Others: Part of your project plan should consider how to leverage the work of others. Anything you don’t have to create is one less thing that might go wrong.
Fail fast: Risk is always part of any project. Not properly mitigating risk can kill a project faster than anything. The key to risk mitigation is to fail fast and be able to recover quickly since you usually can’t afford parallel paths in a fast paced startup.
Iterate with trusted end users: End user feedback is vital to a successful product. The sooner you can get users involved, the better. This also allows for critical course corrections that most of the time, you can’t plan anyway.
Plan for the Zig: All projects have to zig and zag around obstacles to breakthrough into success. Make sure you at least have those potential zigs in mind when you launch off on your project.
Step outside the bubble: The fog of a project will skew your reality. It’s best to step outside the daily grind and validate that what you are building still makes sense. This single method will prove to be the most valuable since you don’t always see problems that could be right in front of you.
Plan to iterate: Ideally, you would build your MVP, launch it and become wildly successful. That rarely happens. What typically happens is that you launch something, it kinda works and then you need to tweak it. Build these tweaks into your plans so that an accurate picture of time to money can be achieved.
Speed Kills Only if You Let it
Most entrepreneurs are impatient. They know that time is money and want to get their product out as fast as possible. This single focus values getting stuff done as opposed to getting the right stuff done. That’s dangerous since the biggest failure of any rapidly moving project is that the market conditions change and the project should have zigged when it zagged. Don’t get me wrong. Moving fast is important. The faster you get something done the less likely the market requirements will change and the closer you are to profit. Do be wary of moving too fast that you get blinded by the “time to do it over but no time to do it right” or “we can make it up in volume” conundrum. This is the surest way to be the next Webvan.