Not Cheap, Not Disposable

Giff Constable startups

disposablerazorsI side with Mark Suster on the need to retire the phrase “fail fast”.* I understand both sides, and the differences are hardly surprising since VCs live at the macro level (company fails) and entrepreneurs are immersed at the micro level (assumption fails). But it’s still a dumb phrase because it gets misinterpreted too easily.

Take this quote from Umair Haque who wrote: “Failure, not features: Next-gen products and services are built to fail, fast and cheap — instead of just offering tons of features.

The quote hits upon good trends of simplification, prioritization, and validation-before-spending, but it is easy for anyone outside of the lean startup circle to get the wrong message. Indeed, Umair’s quote led one venture capitalist to ask whether Web startups were turning into disposable razors: essentially, try something and if it’s not a hit, move on to the next thing.**

I hate this concept of “disposable” ideas. It leads to small thinking and weak tenacity.

This mentality adds fuel to the accusation that too many Web startups are “features” not companies. It can be seductive to outsiders because it makes startups feel like lower risk (“oh, it’s only a few weeks and maybe I’ll make the new Twitter!“), but the reality is that startups are a long, hard, unfunded, unfamous haul. You try to solve a big hairy problem and beat down the roadblocks with a two-by-four, taking your lumps in the process.***

I think that serious lean startup entrepreneurs are trying to do something of substance, not two-week stints coding gimmick apps that could become the flavor of the day. Hopefully this is more of a messaging problem than a substance problem. Yes, we all pivot, but our startups are not about cheap and disposable.  Them’s fighting words.

* If I had to pick a phrase, it would be “validate early”. and often. and intelligently.
** this feeds into my mixed feelings about the new religion of “landing page” smoke tests
*** not all startups have to solve a problem — they can instead entertain.