Fake it before you make it

I recently went to a few Lean Startup events and one theme that recurred is the idea of making exteme minimum viable product. Instead of writing code, you fake it before you make it to see if users are interested.

-Steve Blank claims you should close sales with wireframes and presentations before they are developed (particularly in a B2B context) in his customer development methodology.

-Dropbox produced a video that went viral explaining their product. They used this to produce a large list of emails of potential users.

-Paul Howe, founder of blue spark, used a $40 greasemonkey script to simulate his product (it put fake posts in user's facebook stream) then recruited people via craigslist for a social media focus group. His conclusion was the people hated it, and he changed course.

-Food on the Table did the tasks for their early customers by hand. Rather than creating web software, they implemented the service in person.

-Aardvark, the question site, used what people call the wizard of Oz approach. They build software to collect the questions, but provided results manually.

Fake it before you make it ideas don't have to be for the initial product. Numerous people suggest that once you have some traction you can introduce features as links to see if people even click on them. If the users do click on them present them with a form saying the feature is in development and they can choose to be notified when it's completed. If few people click it, don't implement it. Also, you don't have to show the feature to all your customers.

The underlying principle is that the biggest risk is making things that people don't want. So the measure of efficiency is how quickly you can determine if people are interested in your product or feature.

If you're interested further in lean startup, I recommend Eric Ries's blog and upcoming book The Lean Startup. (I read an advanced copy that I got at SLL conference)


Casey said...

Information marketers have been advocating marketing and sales before producing the product for years. It's a great idea for many people; however, if you don't work well under pressure you may find it hard to complete your product with a bunch of sales and customer inquiries hanging over your head.

Andrew said...

what are some good information marketing resources?

i agree there can be a lot of pressure in apps that are sold before they are built. especially because it's hard to do good estimates.

Alex Skorulis said...

I always like to get straight into coding as it helps me refine the idea and usually quite quickly I can see that it's not going to work. Ideas always seem so much cooler when they're just in my head.
On the other hand, if it does work then I've already made a start.

Paul said...

I read about a company last week that builds all of it's new features into their api first, before their webapp. They then test it out in curl for a while to see how useful it is. Seems like a decent idea.

James said...

I like the idea of faking it. Though I have come across to much software that seems to fake the features that would actually sell it. Which in the long term actually can hurt.

Joe said...

This is not an idea confined to start up companies. There are plenty of "Enterprise" level companies selling software they don't have.

Joe Simes said...

I don't have a problem with wire-framing or faking functionality as long as you can follow thorough once the interest is sparked.

Too many times I have dealt with marketing people that have dummied up functionality that is not practical or even doable and then the developer ends up looking like a fool for not following through.

Charles Clifford said...

Fake it before you make it? Just another lame rhyme for our time? Fradulent and deceptive practices are the mark of the con artist, they are not the means by which sustainable businesses are built.

Albegor said...

You can't build a sustainable business, I agree, but prototyping can benefit a lot from this practice.

Selling "vaporware" is another issue, btw.

Andrew said...

Just to be clear I nor anyone in lean startup is advocating deceptive practices or vaporware. the idea is to gauge interest in a non-scalable way where potential users are aware of the execution risks and the risk that if there is low interest the product may not be developed. The Steve Blank example of closing enterprise sales before completed has the highest risk of vaporware. It is important that the customer knows it's not yet developed and there is technical execution risk.

Andrew said...

the misconceptions about deceptive practices are also discussed at hacker news.

Edward1968 said...

I am not sure I agree with this and I am going to blog about it on my site. Look forward to a fun conversation.

Dirty Fingers

Anonymous said...

How about throwing up a site one year before you turn it into a business? I created MyLifeAudio.Com (http://mylifeaudio.com) just to get input into what I plan to do during retirement. I get the site out of the Google sandbox and blog along the way to develop an audience.
Thanks, Len.

Anonymous said...

I guess marketing IS virtual reality in a sense.

Edward1968 said...

I decided to blog about this article. Here are my thoughts.

Take them for what they are worth.

Dirty Fingers