Tom Chi, the cofounder of Google X, didn’t always wear Google Glass, one of the first, best-known experiments with wearable tech. After launching with a smash in 2014, Google closed its Glass Explorer program in early 2015 and will remain an example of a high-profile product test for years to come.
The first prototype for Google Glass, he said, was pieced together in about three hours, from parts that included a coat hanger and the stretchable fabric high school kids use to cover their textbooks.
But that came after way too many hand-wringing sessions over questions like Glass’s display colors, he said.
“The innovation that we have is 100 or 1,000 times too slow,” he said at a conference in 2015.
And that’s because organizations — even the top thinkers at Google — spend too much time planning and not enough fiddling with a real, actionable prototype.
After there’s a prototype, startup entrepreneurs should not be afraid to test their products and fail fast.
Massimo Baldini, cofounder of mobile connectivity company Tome, is building an Internet of Things-focused company in Detroit. He said businesses should dread reaching a “zombie” state, when a project isn’t going anywhere but still costing time and money. Here, startups may have an edge on larger competitors.
“The ability which is embedded in small companies of making it or breaking it within weeks or months as opposed to having an idea that can float in the back of a corporate office for years, that’s priceless,” Baldini said.
With a startup, the need to take action is especially pronounced, when your own savings or a limited amount of funding are at stake. Carlos Currea of community crowdfunding startup Loqalus is one of a growing number of civic-oriented entrepreneurs in Chicago. As he described it, founders are “running against the clock.”
So, what’s a good way for organizations to cut to the chase? Through rapid prototyping: putting the developer and designer in a room, to face a stream of nonnegotiable feedback from users, all the while coding and rebuilding the project. Chi knows best the software and IT hardware world, but the logic follows for any group executing on a mission. Test early and test often.
“It’s better to get out there and find out that you were totally wrong and still have the resources you need to continue on, than to spend months or years building something that really nobody ever wanted,” Currea said.
The flow of reinvention is meant to free the creators from the Scylla and Charybdis of “deck dilution” and excessive attachment to one iteration of the project, allowing them to push forward with interesting new ideas, he said. So get the leanest test, your most minimum viable product done before you move forward.
Once you’ve immediately tested your idea and found there is something worth pursuing, you’re ready to do just that. The point here is you must test your core idea as quickly as possible in as small a way as possible.
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