I have long been a proponent of doing over planning: In today’s digital world, creating a working prototype of your idea can take hours instead of years.
I don’t understand how startups that are developing simple concepts still take years to create a functional product. In a similar vein, many entrepreneurs spend months simply planning their ventures instead of putting it into practice.
I am opposed to planning because it is divorced from reality – five minutes into your implementation you find things have changed radically, and you find yourself needing to improvise anyway.
My approach, which I try to live by personally, is “do first, and ask questions later”.
Here are two real examples from my own personal experience of startups that can be started with a a couple hundred dollars and a few days of work. The first is negative, an example of someone not doing what I recommended. The second has a happy ending.
"Do first, ask questions later"
In the course of the various marketing and startup conferences I attend in Jerusalem, I routinely bump into a recurring character, who we’ll call Galit. Galit is a petite ballet teacher who has been bitten by the entrepreneurship bug and has an idea for platform that will pair people with their ideal roommate.
She has worked with a psychologist to create a questionnaire that helps match people up with like-minded individuals and help reduce conflict between people who will be renting an apartment together.
Not one that I would potentially invest in, but I am not here to discuss the viability of different ideas, just the way in which they are executed.
So I would run into this woman in conference after conference. And each time she would step up the front of the room, a five-foot-one ball of charm and energy and present her idea. She got accepted into accelerators and fundraising meetups. She took selfies. And she stayed in the same place for months.
This was exasperating.
In my first meeting with her, I told her that her idea sounded very similar to a dating website, except that it helped people found the roommate, instead of their soulmate. I told her there were turn-key dating websites available for purchase for less than $100 dollars.
She could build such a site, pay a web developer a small fee to modify the text and graphics to reflect the platonic nature of her venture, and at the very least have a working prototype that roughly demonstrates her concept.
I tried pushing this idea upon her in several subsequent meetings, but she never seemed to understand what I was talking about, and never pursued my offers to help her - free of charge!
I believe that the issue here is that really wasn’t ready to actually implement her idea. The planning stage is a very safe and comfortable place – everything looks good on paper. And many people would prefer to stay in that place then enter the rocky world of trial and error.
Doing it Right
My second example involves an idea for an innovative crowdfunding venture that a close friend of mine came up with. He presented it to me, and to his credit, showed me several crowdfunding WordPress plugins he had found.
I pushed him to launch the site as soon as possible, even though he felt he needed to do more “market research”. Fortunately, one of the potential clients he spoke to expressed interest in his platform, which motivated him to actually launch it.
As a web-developer, I helped him with the initial stages of setting up the website, and I had the structure of the site up within a matter of hours. A couple days later, we had paid a developer a couple of dollars on Fiverr to make some of the modifications that set the site apart from classic crowdfunding platforms.
Don’t get me wrong, it was not all smooth sailing.
He was on a tight deadline, and a lot of things did not work properly (a specialty of WordPress, if I might gripe for a moment). Our payment processor bailed on us for no good reason at the very last second. My friend experienced several harrowing, sleepless nights.
But he got the campaign up on a time, and ran it successfully. And now, only a couple weeks later, he’s upgraded the appearance of the site, and has a fully functioning prototype that he can actually use to make more money.
Will he eventually need to rebuild a custom platform from scratch? It’s very likely, if he wants it to work exactly as he envisions it. But in the meantime, instead of wasting months “planning”, or burning through thousands of dollars “developing”, he took an existing concept, tweaked it as necessary, and built TheCauseMatch.com.
All for a couple hundreds of dollars - which he might very-well recoup with just one or two more successful campaigns.
This approach is strongly recommended by Jason Fried, founder of 37 Signals and creator of Basecamp, in his book Rework. In our world of continuous change and endless iteration, launching early, getting feedback, and implementing accordingly are the best ways to get your venture up and running.
In record time.
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