From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur Pam's Blog Moved.

Question for you: what stops you from testing your biz ideas early? What helps?

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I am really obsessed with the topic of test often and fail fast. I wrote a whole chapter about it in my book, and still feel like I barely scratched the surface.

By “test often and fail fast,” I mean the ability to create a very small prototype or sample of your product or service and get it in front of your target market for feedback.

So many new entrepreneurs get paralyzed with perfectionism. And you know what I feel about that!

I am writing an article on this topic, and would love your insight into two questions (choose either or both, depending on which apply to your situation):

  1. What stops you from testing early? (for those of you feeling paralyzed)
  2. What helps you to test early? (for those of you who have made progress with early testing)

This video gives a little more background.

Test often and fail fast from Pamela Slim on Vimeo.

Thanks in advance for what sure are to be wise words. :)

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45 Responses to “Question for you: what stops you from testing your biz ideas early? What helps?”

  1. [...] sub-groups in your organizations or different mini-projects. Be willing to test things out and fail fast until you figure out what [...]

  2. [...] Pam says it’s useful to fail fast, and I feel sure that continuing to fail slow will mean going ever slower while I get and keep a [...]

  3. [...] Pam says it’s useful to fail fast, and I feel sure that continuing to fail slow will mean going ever slower while I get and keep a [...]

  4. Josesphat says:

    Aeeee. What puts asunder between my dreams and I is the fear of what people may say if in any case I fail. That not withstanding, worry of insufficient funds is also a terrible thing

  5. [...] Pam says it’s useful to fail fast, and I feel sure that continuing to fail slow will mean going ever slower while I get and keep a [...]

  6. Yuen Mun says:

    Thank you Pam! Inspiring post.

    Just bought hosting and started my website right after watching the video.

  7. Juicy, Pamela. I’m doing the dance right now, about to put up a website for a tightly-niched concept. I think what has stopped me from testing in the past is that I fall in love with my ideas. How can I torture them with this testing thing? They’re already so perfect and beautiful!! Of course they don’t get anywhere that way. This time I am taking cues from Seth Godin’s talk about the lizard brain. I am thrashing at the beginning and going straight into the part that makes me the most scared. The test is really about me, anyway. Can I actually do the steps that this project requires? Right now? Pray for me.
    Suzanna

  8. Jason M. Beauford says:

    I truly believe the concept of test often and fail fast. One book that really drove this idea home for me was “The Max Strategy: How A Buisnessman Got Stuck At An Airport”. I highly recommend this short book. It will really change the way you think about entrepreneurship.

    Really I think it all comes down to fear; fear of not being taken seriously, fear of not having the education or experience to be considered an expert, fear of not generating enough income to support a current lifestyle, fear that you wont have support of your family, or perhaps even fear of success.

    Lot’s of different things hold people, including myself, back from realizing my dreams. However, I’ve recently adopted a new credo that I think is absolutely true and beneficial to anyone in any business: “Today, work is about two things: Talent and Projects”. With this in mind, I find that I am a little bit less fearful because I realize that I have the Talent part and that the only thing stopping me are the Projects. And the Projects are out there to be taken, it’s just a matter of asking for them.

    Fear not, success is but an action away.

    Cheers!

    @JasonMBeauford

  9. Dina Curtis says:

    Hmm…this got me thinking and I’ve dug up a limiting belief that I wasn’t aware of. Thanks Pam. What stops me from testing early is a belief that I only get so many flops or false starts before I start to look like an a**. When I believe this I hold back in order to avoid using up one of those few precious chances to fall on my face and get away with it. I think I believe that it is safer to save them up for some super amazing future project.

  10. [...] helps?” In two days she has received 32 comments on the subject. I read them all and added my own to the [...]

  11. Richard says:

    The fear of taxes and liability keeps me from testing my ideas more. It’s a catch-22, I’d like to test a product or service but worry about the tax liability I will incur or run the risk of getting sued. I could cover myself with insurance and filing out the right paperwork but I wouldn’t know where to start.

  12. [...] helps?” In two days she has received 32 comments on the subject. I read them all and added my own to the [...]

  13. Roslynn says:

    Thought provoking responses here. Thanks for setting this forum up and for all the generous sharing you do here on your site, Pam!

    1. I share the fears of everyone who has posted here. In thinking about my fear (of criticism, of being misunderstood, of being piggy-backed before I have a chance to fully express my idea, etc) it is clear to me that there is an underlying fear: what it might mean about me. Ack! If I receive critical or even harsh feedback that could mean A LOT about me (not much of it good). If I am misunderstood that, too could mean A LOT about me. If someone better equipped to execute “my idea” runs with it before I can get out of the gate that could mean A LOT about me, too.

    I’m already tired of writing this whole process out. You may feel tired just reading it. I find that is exactly the weariness that strikes whenever I “make stuff up in my office” (thanks, Elaine!) for too long without testing it. My true self understands that I get to choose whether to interpret feedback on an idea as feedback about ME…and that further more, I get to choose what it means. In practice, however, when it comes to my new and shiny ideas I can get stuck in the habit of negative personalization.

    2. When I experience a willingness to test and an openness to what I might learn as a result is usually once I have recognized that my ego is dominating my creative and business life. Once I recognize this I utilize a couple of simple practices that put my true self back in the driver’s seat. I’ll write a post about these in my blog today for anyone who is interested.

    While recognition of this fear of negative personalization and the restoration of my true self to the driver’s seat are powerful, it can take me longer than I like to recognize when I am all caught up.

    In the interests of staying in the flow and out of my own way more often. I think the key words in your phrase “test early, fail often” for me are “early” and “often.” This post is providing me a nice kick in the pants to implement an idea I’ve been sitting on for weeks.

    I am going to utilize Rypple to solicit anonymous feedback on my current projects from people in my small, but growing network. I think it will help me do two things: 1) depersonalize and 2) to make routine the asking for and receiving of feedback. I can do it as early as tomorrow and think it would be useful to try it as often as monthly while I am starting my coaching practice.

    I love Greg’s sharing of how he is writing his book riff by riff in order to get a pulse on his audience that can help him channel his best work and ultimately be of greatest service to the classical music community now and future.

    If you are curious about Rypple and would like to sit on the sidelines of my test by receiving the first anonymous feedback request, you are welcome! Just send me an email at [email protected] by tomorrow (2/2) at noon.

  14. I’ve been building my “prototype” and using it myself for over a year now but it’s never quite ready for a beta test. I fear disappointing those people who’ve signed up for the beta test (even though, frankly, that’s only 25 people from a tiny portion of my market). I fear that they’ll see I’m missing some feature or data source and never come back (“it’s useless without an iphone app!” etc). I’ve read the books (inc. yours!) and the blogs. I know that I need customer feedback and the sooner the better… but I keep putting it off.

    I was talking about this to a few other entrepreneurs recently and they mentioned how much easier it is to ignore deadlines if no one else is counting on you. So, this week’s task is to pick a date and email each of my beta testers informing them of when it’ll be available (and reminding them what Shutter Scouts is all about). Then I’ll be committed. Whatever is done is done; whatever isn’t, isn’t.

    • Dara Bell says:

      I thought that building an app was meant to build for oneself. Tim Ferris said this what Eve at Twitter did. If you like it are using it then it might just be alright for 100,000 people.

  15. Kelly says:

    I will quote Kit (above) for my biggest reason for not testing:
    “Time is the thing that always gets me. I tend to get sucked into the urgent stuff and to not spend enough time in the “important, not urgent” space. I also struggle with the fact that I usually have 5-6 things I want to do floating around in my head, all of which are important and that I’m passionate about.”

    And also fear – fear that it’s not going to work, fear about how my fiance will react to that and fear that I don’t have enough in savings to take care of me if it doesn’t work out.

  16. Greg Sandow says:

    Pamela, a dear friend and mentor suggested I learn about you. So I came to your site — and found that, right here, you’re suggesting exactly what I’m currently doing. I feel encouraged, supported, inspired, confirmed.

    I’m writing a book on the future of classical music. This is a tricky subject, because there are many people in classical music who don’t want to change, many strong but unfounded opinions, and a lack of easily found and accurate data about what’s actually happening in the field. Plus many, many people who are eager for change, and often making change happen, but who aren’t aware of each other.

    So I decided to write riffs from the book — informal accounts, chapter by chapter — of what it might to say — and make them available on my blog, and by email to people who subscribe to them. I’ve also put them in the hands of industry leaders.

    The objections to this are simple enough. Why don’t I simply sit down and write the book, as writers traditionally have done? Why don’t I find a publisher who’ll put the book in print, and distribute it to bookstores?

    Well, at some point I’ll do those things. (Though the publisher might — conceivably — not be needed.)

    But what I’m getting from the road I’m on is priceless. I’m promoting the book — getting people involved with it and with me — before it’s written. I’m building my brand. I’m serving as a catalyst for change, and, just maybe, I’m building a movement of classical music change agents, which can come together around my book.

    And best of all, I’m getting feedback. I encourage comments, and people are telling me — on the blog and by email, on Facebook and Twitter — what they like and don’t like about what I’m writing. What isn’t clear, what needs more emphasis, what doesn’t make sense to them. And, of course, what resonates in their hearts. People give me information I didn’t have. And they give me support and encouragement.

    Since I want the book to be useful — to help people make change — it becomes much more useful, if the people it’s for can help me shape it. I’m dazzled by the reactions I’ve gotten so far, and I’ve been enormously helped. The book will be better, because of the help that I’m getting, and the experience of writing improves. Instead of sitting alone, I feel I’m connected, that I’m part of a community. If I make a mistake — if I get something wrong, if I don’t find the right tone of voice (for instance, in addressing people who resist the change I’m talking about) — to fix this in public means that my standards get higher. So I do better work.

    That’s what I’ve learned. And I’m greatly encouraged to find the discussion here. My heart goes out to all of you thinking of working this way, both those who are doing it, and those who find it hard. I’ve seen both sides.

    For anyone curious, you can see what I’ve done on a page on my blog site, http://www.artsjournal.com/sandow/2007/01/rebirth.html

    Thanks, Pam, for posting these thoughts.

  17. Dara Bell says:

    Looks like it is time more than anything there Mark.

  18. Mark R says:

    I too have faced the fear of launch, even to the point of fearing to begin. Finally I started my manifesto and system on a 4 hr drive from as sales appointment. It is time, and for me the fear of starting , fearing I cannot finish.

    Well now I have started, knowing I have to finish.

    POWER ON–Mark

  19. Dara Bell says:

    Good for you Adam, you just went ahead and did, leaving the fear and regret for another day.

  20. Deborah Fike says:

    My start-up company is building a new on-line project management tool called Fellowstream. We started out by taking a company business problem, looking at the competition, and then creating something not available out on the marketplace. Then we spent a month hashing out a design, and now my partner is building the first alpha spec while I work with contractors to get a good solid design for Fellowstream.

    We’ve tried to show mock-ups to people who might use the tool, but since they can’t *use* it yet, our feedback has been lackluster. We could try to release bits of the tool at one time and get feedback on individual parts (rather than release the whole thing at once), but the tool’s strength relies on how all the moving parts work together. We are going to release a public version online as soon as all the functionality works fairly well at our minimum spec, but that will probably take two months of development. My question to you is, do you feel this is fast enough to count as “early testing?” If not, what steps could we take now to get feedback even earlier?

  21. Chris says:

    I think one of my challenges is the idea of Deterrent Conversations. When you have an idea, it is very scary to bring that idea out to be exposed. The reason for me is that my idea is built around who I am. If you have a Deterrent Conversation, then you have to be strong enough to withstand positive and negative feedback. This goes back to your mental game. Staying strong, tough and positive. I have found my Vistage group to be one of the safest places to share ideas because they know me and what I share stays there.
    Second, sometimes you can bring an idea to the market and then realize someone else or the state for that matter is doing it for free. Um ‘er looks like I need to tweak that one.

  22. Adam says:

    On the first of January I came up with an idea for an ebook, and inspired by the concept of writing and publishing an ebook in a weekend I decided to plough straight into it..I wrote it in about three days and after a week of editing/checking I decided to dive straight in and publish it (http://adamwestbrook.wordpress.com/ebooks).

    And I’m so glad I did. What helped me overcome the anxiety about doing it was precisely what you mentioned at the top of this post- test often and fail fast. I had some harsh reviews initially which set my confidence back, but I know if I’d protected myself from that by holding off publishing it never would have seen the light of day.

    Sometimes, you just got to put your head above the parapet. And for better or worse, the book has opened new doors for me, so absolutely no regrets!

  23. Carme says:

    Dear Pam,
    Some days ago, in your “Controversy is Good” article, you described so well the way an entrepreneur feels when facing criticism… It takes a good and clear understanding to overcome it.
    Thanks so much to the people sharing the enthusiasm and energy from early positive feedback.

  24. Dara Bell says:

    I think this is good advice, to test often to testing early is the alchemical element as we are making gold in entrepeunership, or creative endevour or whatever. We want situations where we can sprint take stock or anaylse or get a nice word from a trusted friend. We want alchemy we need alchemy to make gold.

    Dara Bell

  25. I’m afraid of testing early because the ideas we mean to develop/market might be shot down before we’ve really dressed them up. The same effect as showing up to a blind date’s house 30 minutes early. You never get another chance to make a first impression; we want everything in order so as to give our idea (our baby) the best chance possible to take flight!

  26. Susan says:

    I test early. I test fast. And sometimes I fail. Just this past week I threw together a coaching package for my readers that didn’t resonate with them. That is all good, because I did it quickly and got the feedback that it didn’t fit their needs. Sometimes I wonder if I put more time, energy, thought into it, would it have done better?
    This post and the replies gave me the idea to just, well, ASK my group if they are interested in something I am putting together before putting in the effort. Sure beats guessing :-).

  27. Phil Bolton says:

    Pam – thanks for a stimulating post. It has opened my eyes to the fact that most of my ideas stay as ideas in my book and don’t hit the real world. Time to shape up. Thank you.

  28. Kit Brown-Hoekstra says:

    1. Time is the thing that always gets me. I tend to get sucked into the urgent stuff and to not spend enough time in the “important, not urgent” space. I also struggle with the fact that I usually have 5-6 things I want to do floating around in my head, all of which are important and that I’m passionate about. How do I pick which one to focus on first? How do I keep track of the ones that are out there or that I want to do later but have set aside in favor of a different thing? I know I want to make a significant difference in the world, but how do I choose which passion to follow? I feel at a crossroads…
    2. I usually end up doing the thing that seems to be clamoring for the most attention at the time, but it’s not always the thing that “should” be capturing my attention. I would rather be more proactive. I have also started outsourcing parts of my life–cleaning the house, bookkeeping, and other chores that need to be done that I dislike doing and for which I can pay people less than my own hourly rate. I’m hoping that, after the initial settling in adjustment, doing so will give me more bandwidth to pursue the important stuff and to allow me to have more fun.

  29. Eric says:

    2) Constant reassessment and analysis. Not just with the idea in itself, but with every stage and step. You always have to question to find weakness.

  30. This is a fantastic question, and so very poignant for me currently. I’m probably most afraid of getting the attention and inadequately communicating the idea, thus spending my scarce attention capital with my audience. In the communication without a finished product, I fear that they might not understand what value my software brings, or that I would inadvertently mislead them because my mockups don’t match then end product, or that someone might take “my one good idea” and beat me to release.

  31. Evo Terra says:

    Time. Yeah, it’s crazy. Yeah, I know it saves time in the back end, especially when the released product/service/offering misses the mark. Heck, I advise clients to test early and figure out fast fail points. I get it. But do I *do* it? Not as much as I should. That may be due to my personality — how could I possibly be wrong? ;) – as anything.

  32. Chris Horner says:

    What has stopped me in the past from testing early was fear of not being able to show a 100% finished product then being worried about not being taken seriously.

  33. Wow, your post on perfectionism really hit home for me – I hadn’t seen it before.

    I’m in a slightly different situation from some of the other commenters here, in that my product is artistic (fiction, and more recently, textile art). So perhaps my reluctance to test early stems partly from the fact that I have such a huge emotional investment in the work. But then again, perhaps my assumption that more “businessy” people don’t have a similarly strong emotional investment is oversimplistic.

    Elaine says “arrogance”, but I say “fear”. I fear all sorts of things. With my novel, for instance, there’s general fear that “people won’t like it”, but there’s also a strong belief floating around that you get one shot with an agent, so you’d better not send out an unpolished book. It’s not like shipping a product that you can later tweak.

    With my textile art ideas (one of which I will be developing with you and Chris in April – whee!), I fear that nobody will feel the same way about this stuff as I do. I also fear that my idea is so blindingly facile that nobody will want to pay money for it. I also fear that my complete (I mean, total) lack of basic familiarity with The Business World will cause me to be crushed like an egg as soon as I venture out of my hiding place. I also fear that if I launch a prototype, it’ll be so utterly obvious where I’m planning to go with it later on that someone with their systems already in place will pick it up and run with it, and I’ll miss my chance.

    I haven’t tested any of my textile art ideas yet – which is partly because they’re pretty new. I do test my writing with a select group of trusted friends. Trust is particularly important for readers of novel drafts – not least because it takes a fairly significant effort to read an unfinished book and give feedback.

    Mostly, though, it’s the perfectionism! Working on that…

  34. See if there is a market for it. Adwords is an excellent cheap way of doing that. I got a £75 voucher through free yesterday.

  35. David says:

    Test often and fail fast. Yes!

    I had been racking my brain trying to create service packages for my design clients. The inherent problem in racking my own brain is that I was answering my own questions and solving my own imagined problems. I can guess what my clients need and be almost right. I can ask them what they need and often they can’t articulate it – like someone stopping you on the street and asking, “Hey! What do you need?”

    So on a whim (sort of) I threw together (tested) an email campaign package and priced it at rock bottom as a January special. I’m up to my eyeballs in design, but that’s only a small part of the result.

    The bigger part is that as I’m consulting with the people who bought the package, I’m learning all kinds of juicy stuff about what they *really* need. In some cases, it’s been something much broader in scope and in others it’s simply an hour’s worth of advice and a pat on the back.

    I tested and it failed because I misjudged what people were looking for. However, the failure was a huge success because I don’t have to guess anymore.

    And I made some excellent new relationships in the process.

    Test often. Fail fast. It’s good for you.

  36. Daryl Gerke says:

    In the engineering world, these tests are called models, prototypes, beta tests, etc. The idea is to test the design on a small scale before committing to large scale production. As consulting engineers, we’ve used this concept this many times in our business, and as a result we’ve killed a number of ideas — fast.

    My favorite test was done about 25 years ago. My business partner and I were both searching for our niche while moonlighting as adult education instructors. Personal computers were new, so we developed a three hour seminar on using PCs in small business. Offered through the school, the first class was a big success. Figuring we had a winner, I was ready to quit my day job and go full steam ahead.

    Fortunately, my business partner suggested we try a quick test on our own. So we secured a hotel, ran newspaper ads, and waited for the money to roll in. Oops — only 3 people showed up, in a room that could accommodate about 100. Talk about embarrassing!

    Over coffee, the three attendees mentioned they had missed the “free” seminar, so they came to ours instead. What free seminar??? It seems a new computer store had just opened, and to promote their business, they were offering free seminars. How do you compete with free?

    Was our test a failure? Not at all. We quickly learned that while we had a product, we did not have a market — at least one willing to pay for our product. We also learned about barriers to entry, as in “Don’t start a business where some kid from the computer store can eat your lunch.” We regrouped, refocused on our strengths as engineers, and have run a successful technical consulting and training firm for 23 years. And it has been great fun!

    Keep up the good work, Pam.

  37. Hi Pamela
    Great question to ponder! I am a little embarrassed to admit that I am reluctant to test my big ideas with others because I am worried they will use them! And then do a better job than me with the idea. Also the old faithful – not wanting to share something until it is shaped really well – so as to avoid criticism.

    I suppose if we were all better at collaboration we would be sharing and testing ideas sooner with each other and then building them better – together. This skill IS developing and our culture IS changing to support collaboration…

  38. Elaine says:

    I think arrogance has a lot to do with resistance to testing. Testing means you have to be willing to accept you could be completely wrong in your assumptions, or you picked a problem that didn’t exist, or your solution didn’t solve the problem. People who believe they know better than their customers tend to make stuff up in their offices (to use a David Meerman Scott term), resist testing, strive for the illusion of perfection and closure, etc., and they end up paying dearly for it.

    On the contrary, a company that has a culture of open-mindedness and a commitment to fact-based decision making would be very supportive of product managers or other team members in their quest to test paper or functional prototypes with customers and prospects. The company must also have a nimble culture that supports pivoting to find the right solutions for the problems it has chosen to solve. So I’d say culture is a big part of it.

  39. Mike says:

    Hey Pamela,
    I hear so much about testing business ideas and I think it is a great concept. My main problem is getting people(that I do not know) to give me feedback on my ideas. So although I always try to test I feel as though I am missing some tactics to get people to respond. For instance currently I have an idea for an ecommerce site. I bought a domain and placed a brief survey on it, however I have only had 3 people respond so far. To drive traffic to the site I have used social media as well as commenting on relevant blogs, and basically telling people I know about it. Kind of a long response but I am looking forward to your post on testing and I hope it includes some tactics for people that do not have a large audience yet.

    Thanks,
    Mike

  40. Lori says:

    The main thing that helps me test early is my own excitement for the project. I want to share the idea and get feedback more than I don’t. This does not mean that I always test early, in fact, the reason I haven’t tested early… many times… is because I’m so excited about it, I want it to be the way I envision it in my head before I share it with others. I want them to see the pretty design, features, etc. that I see in my head.

    As someone who was a product manager for some time, my logic tells me that I need to just get it out there and start getting feedback so I can determine if I’m on the right path or not. But… the emotional side of me, the side who has personalized the project because it is mine… has a hard time with this. It is a constant struggle, one that I’m in the middle of right now. So, I look forward to reading more comments and your upcoming blog post on the subject. :-)

  41. Christian says:

    1. For me, the is a big chasm between the idea and the actual “thing” I would charge money for. There is often several paths I could go down, which one to choose? Do I do all of them equally? Or do I spend time going down one path, take it to the end, then try another path?

    2. Commercial reality! (back to point 1) if I can see a quick return on investment of my time (through feedback or whatever) I am much more likely to “get it out there”

  42. Bridget says:

    I often test early, but I don’t fail often. I try to zero in ahead of time. I think that may leave some things unexplored. I’m not sure that not failing is a good thing.

    Also, I test in promotion more than I test in product. That is, I’m often asking my twitter audience and former clients if something would appeal to them.

    What helps me test early is the enthusiasm that my clients give me. When I hear a “I’d buy that.” That gets me fired up to say, “What about this?”

    The tipping point for me is that I crave interaction more than I fear failure.

    • Good input Bridget, and nice video blog Pam!

      I think if we aren’t failing than we aren’t challenging ourselves enough and therefore we are limiting our growth. My blog is not even a year old and I can already count several major failures, but then I use that experience to leverage myself to the next level.

  43. Nelia says:

    To the second question. Urgency. Always urgency.

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