The Hidden Cost of a Test-and-Fail Approach

According to Reid Hoffman, the “Oracle of Silicon Valley,” one of the Ten Commandments of startup success is to release your products before you think they’re ready. Or, as Mark Zuckerberg put it, “Move fast and break things.” The rationale is to ship your products quickly and let user feedback drive their improvement.

Many startups are committed to this approach: they do it to remain agile and rely on it to quickly innovate. To them, consumer research slows things down too much. But this assumption could mean they’re leaving money on the table. What’s more, using consumer research may actually expedite, rather than slow, the path to success.

When you create a product from scratch, then let your users critique it, you aren’t getting a full picture of what they like, want, or need. You’re only getting a reaction that’s constrained by what you show them. But what if the thing you throw out there is conceptually off to begin with?

Using consumer research may actually expedite, rather than slow, the path to success.”

Consider two possible scenarios:

1. Scenario A: You create a product that is, for whatever reason, relevant and meaningful to 20% of the market. That 20% of the market will then shape the evolution of your product according to their preferences, meaning that your product could be stuck, unable to grow beyond that 20% market share. You’re limited in how much you can scale, and you may even need to slow down to figure out what’s not quite right.

2. Scenario B: Now imagine that you had the voices of 1,000 potential customers. Speaking to you through survey research results, they may tell you that if you simply tweaked your product in a particular way, it could become relevant and meaningful to 50% of the market. That’s many more people who will help you improve your product, not to mention much larger market share once you get that product right.

On your own, and by only seeking consumer reaction, you can’t know what innovations you’re missing. Only market research can tell you whether you have a 20% idea or a 50% idea.

Harness the power of research and let consumers tell you how to deliver innovation that will delight them.”

For every company like Facebook and Amazon where the “ship fast, tweak fast” approach worked, there are dozens more that don’t get far out of the gate, even though they respond quickly to user feedback. What’s more, companies like Airbnb prove that spending time up front to understand consumer needs leads to huge success and efficiency once it’s time to scale. Setting budget aside for traditional research, thinking ahead in terms of that research (the right time is always sooner than you think it is), and then running that research alongside a test-and-learn process — all of these strategies give you an edge. It might be this edge that makes you a big player.

Your products are for consumers. Why only give them the limited task of perfecting your idea? Harness the power of research and let consumers tell you how to deliver innovation that will delight them.

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