Start Smaller

[intro-text size=”25px”]If a product is to succeed at all, it must first succeed on a smaller scale.[/intro-text]

Small products  do not always succeed, but they are easier and faster to build, test, and tweak than bigger products. This also applies to features. Perhaps John Gall put it best when he said:

[blockquote source=”Gall’s Law”]A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a working simple system.[/blockquote]

Mighty Oaks from Little Acorns

We would not have…

  • the globally distributed real-time content network that is Twitter 2014
  • the “1000 songs in your pocket” that was the iPod
  • the marketplace of 500k unique places to stay in 34k cities around the world that is Airbnb

if people didn’t first appreciate…

Only through the small product was the bigger, more powerful and complicated one able to emerge.

Your V1 Is Probably Too Big

Right after we had launched the barebones for Ridejoy in August 2011 to help 1600+ Burners share rides to the festival, we planned to go back and “build a simple V1 of the whole product”. That was going to include a payment system. It seemed obvious – how could you build a marketplace for ridesharing if you didn’t have a way to pay?

But when we talked to one of the YC partners, Emmett Shear (I think), we changed our minds.

We’d learn a ton from just launching a more basic ridesharing marketplace, Shear argued, even if we just had messaging and no transactions, than we would from spending an extra month to build a solid payment/transaction infrastructure.

He was right. After launching our V1 in October, it turned out our priorities shifted to growth and the search + profile experience. Payments didn’t come till months later.

Whatever product/feature/service you are trying to build, you can probably build a smaller version of it. Focus on just one feature of the product, or address one use case, or take on one customer type, or do a single pilot project. It will force you to make decisions and really prioritize.

The sooner you get something into the real world, the sooner you’ll get real data and experience on what actually matters.

Start smaller.

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[label style=”grey”]Photo Credit: Lotus Carroll via Compfight cc[/label]

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Jason Shen

Jason is a tech entrepreneur and talent expert. He is CEO of a performance hiring platform called Headlight, a Fast Company contributor, and an advocate for Asian American men. Follow him on Twitter at @jasonshen and subscribe to his private newsletter.

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  1. Nicely written. If you haven’t read it, I would recommend reading the book “Getting Real” by 37 Signals. I have a hardcopy, but it’s available as a free download now (Google to find it, or visit my blog where I wrote a very short post about it). I’m not affiliated with 37 Signals in any way – I just identified a number of similarities in the concepts you write about above with the content of their book.

  2. Jesus said highs and lows balance.  For ten years I’ve been so poor I can’t drive and I live with my parents and I’ve worked on my operating system,.  I should gamble because I am due good luck.

  3. I failed after working on 3D printing for a year in 1996-7.  I failed after writing SimStructure, a physics program for a year.  I have worked for ten years on my operating system.  I know that highs and lows balance.

  4. brendaningram  Thanks Brendan. Getting Real is a great book. Haven’t taken a look in a while but definitely worth a revisit.

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