Lean Startup Testing Hacks Gone Too Far?

I’ll admit it, when we started Estimize we put a Launchrock page up 3 months before we had anything to show anyone. I ran a classic lean startup test to see if there was enough interest in my idea. Did the social finance community want an open estimates platform where they would contribute their own estimates?

So I cooked up a simple logo, found a great image (the marble jar which is still on our landing page), and I threw it up there to see what would happen.

And it took off, we had over 1,000 signups in a week, from serious people at hedge funds, banks, and asset management firms, with zero press or┬ádistribution beyond a few tweets and a blog post. And that’s when we really knew this was something that had to be built. We had our first confirmation that the idea for the product hit a nerve, even before people completely knew what it was.

This was a classic lean startup hack, where you test your idea before you put time, energy, and money into building it. So many people waste time building products no one wants. They could have saved all that time and money by just throwing up a page that said what the product was, and seeing if anyone found interest. If they do, you build it, if not, move on to the next idea, or don’t and go work for someone else, that’s not the end of the world. But don’t waste 4 years of your life toiling away at something no one wants.

I have seen recently there’s starting to be some push back on this strategy. Some people are obviously a little sick of signing up for things and never seeing them come to market as an actual product. The screen shot above is from a startup that I think has a pretty good idea, and they went out of their way to say that it was real and they were building it, that this wasn’t just a lean hack.

Have we gone too far with the hacks, putting up pages for things that don’t exist? I say no, definitely not. Yes, building any great product and company takes vision, taste, and many other things. I find the whole “come to Y-Combinator without an idea” thing to be┬áridiculous. Founders need vision and drive, and you only get that if you have a deep yearning to build what you’re building. Why the fuck would someone make me the founder of some food startup or whatever? You need vision and drive and experience in that space to succeed.

But that doesn’t mean you should throw all caution to the wind just because you have a vision. We all have a vision for different things, that doesn’t mean it’s a good one, or one that others will buy into. We’re not all Steve Jobs, we can’t just will our vision on others, and we don’t all have spectacular vision to begin with.

Don’t run before you’ve proven you can walk. There are plenty of customers out there, don’t worry about pissing them off. Besides, they’ll never even know it was you if you scrap the idea. There will always be early adopters for good products.

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