Business Strategy Consulting

Should you plan to “fail fast”?

In a recent HBR interview, Jim Barksdale, former CEO of Netscape, made this observation…

images-1“On the Internet, just put it up. If people hit on it, it’s a product. If they don’t, it’s market research. It didn’t cost you anything, or it didn’t cost you very much.”

This might be OK on the internet where “it doesn’t cost much”, but what about in other business?

In marketing and across all areas of business there has long been argument as to the legitimacy of the old mantra of ‘fail fast, fail often’. Many argue that failing often and failing fast minimises cost of failure and maximises the opportunity of success.

I agree with this to a point. Failing fast is fine. But if you are to fail fast, it should be done on the back of sound planning, not a carefree, devil-may-care attitude that will lead to wasted investment, frustration and if it continues, a reputation for failure.

So rather than follow the ‘fail fat’ mantra with gay abandon, use it as part of a planned approach to your business development:

  • Is there a problem or need that your product or service can address? Define it.
  • Conduct informal market research to determine the competitive landscape, the potential market size and the ease and cost of market entry.
  • Make sure you have a value proposition that will deliver a profit. At the end of the day it’s about making money and if you are just delivering a ‘me to’ offering you will struggle to make a dent in the market.
  • If after this you believe there is a market for your product or service and it can turn a profit, then go for it.

I am not suggesting you stifle creativity and innovation with restrictive procedures. The research needs to be simple, quick and to the point. If you see there is an opportunity, you can then ‘go for it’ and be prepared to fail fast. But you would be wise to heed the words of Tom Peters who offers a revised version of this old mantra…“Test fast, fail fast, adjust fast”.