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Want to start a company? You HAVE TO build a product FIRST



There are plenty of caveats to this post. I’m going to ignore them all.


I don’t believe in “customer validation” or “customer interviews” anymore.


We’ve tried to “validate” ideas many times and have never been able to truly validate something without building it first.


Here’s how I see it:


  1. People spend too long building products before trying to sell them.
  2. Lean comes in and teaches customer validation, but “validation” is misunderstood by almost everyone as a separate business activity which should exist before you build or sell a product.
  3. However, the original problem was not a lack of validation, but that companies spent too much time and money building their product.
  4. Therefore, the true solution is not to add a new step called “validation”, but to cut down the time and money it takes to build something.




We’ve come to the conclusion that the only true validation is sales. The rest is a waste of time. And very few people will buy a product they haven’t seen or tested, so at the end of the day, you have to build the product. The trick is figuring out how to do it very quickly.


People misunderstand this, though, and tend to think that they can start a company by doing customer interviews and surveys and then they never actually build a product or they take forever to do so, meaning they still have the same problem people did before “lean” became popular.


Good examples: Facebook: Zuckerberg built the first full version in two weeks. Basecamp: built in a few months; even Eric Ries’ IMVU was built and shipped very quickly. In all cases, the founders first build a product then started talking to customers, but they built their first products really quickly.


People just don’t get this. They discount the “build a product” part and we’re trying to get them to understand that it cannot be bypassed.


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  • Wade Anderson

    Love this post Jeff. I completely agree. I’ve spent many hours doing customer interviews pre Kickstarter campaign for our current product. Once we started selling we learned as much in our 30 day campaign as we did the previous 18 months.

    I think I know the answer to this question already, but I’d love to get your take – how do you apply fast product iteration when a consumer ready product takes a long time (and lots of money)?

    Take Novi for example. We built seven prototypes pre Kickstarter and one after. We’re now neck deep in code / engineering for a consumer ready release. I feel that we’re in a (very) long stretch – but building smaller product iterations seems like a distraction that wouldn’t help us get to market.

    • Jeff Schwarting

      Good question, Wade, I don’t really know the answer to that one, although if the objective is to build product more quickly, I’d follow the Basecamp founders’ advice: fix time and budget, flex scope. It’s better to built half a product (on time) than it is to built a half-baked product. Here are their thoughts on it (they’re really, really good):

      • Wade Anderson

        Thanks for sharing their post about that. I like it. Getting into the hardware world has been tough this way … its harder to release updates after you ship. I definitely see the software perspective though.

        • Prefundia

          Keep up the good work Wade! We are all impress with the progress you are making — great job with the latest prototype.

          • Wade Anderson

            Thank you! Working hard to deliver to our Kickstarter backers. We’ve had some great help from new Microsoft connections. Excited to come back to Provo start of 2015 though.

        • Jeff Schwarting

          Hardware can and is done the same way. Look at the feature sets for cars over time, for example, starting with the Model T to today. We’re adding stuff all the time, you just release a new version with better features. Apple does this with their products – the first iPad didn’t have a camera, the first iPhone was far less feature rich than they are today. It can be done.

          • Wade Anderson

            Yeah I wasn’t saying it doesn’t apply. My point was simply that software is easier than hardware to take an iterative approach. And really I don’t know much, just learning as I go. Appreciate your insights. You’ve got quite a handle on business.

          • Jeff Schwarting

            Yes, software is probably much easier, especially when the hardware also requires software to work. You guys are doing great!

          • Wade Anderson

            Thanks Jeff! We look up to you and Daniel. Keep these great posts coming.

  • Salvael

    I couldn’t agree more with most points. It is easy to get lost in methodologies that sequence processes and steps. Reality is quite different as you point out. All that matters is: can you make money? To make money you need to sell, and to sell you need a product (in whichever shape or form people are willing to pay for). Making money is the real validation.

    My motto is: whatever accelerates my trajectory to real validation I embrace, whatever slows me down I discard. To address some of Wade’s comments, with my clients (hardware/software products, mainly wearables) I’m always on the look-out for new ways to accelerate speed-to-money, including building things myself, buying them, or licensing them. Wake up and go to bed thinking about (1) what can accelerate you (embrace), and (2) what’s slowing you down, including dogmatic following of steps, process, and methodologies (kill).

    • WebberJ

      There is no single solution indeed, some aspects of marketing and selling requires different approach and strategies. That’s where these successful businessmen clearly foresee.