How Good Businesses Learn By Showing Customers Their Rough Edges

Entrepreneurs are often reluctant to share early prototypes of their idea with customers, even though the feedback gathered could have a huge impact on success. Where does this reluctance come from, and why should it be overcome?

Becoming efficient

As a design team we are always trying new things out, keeping hold of what works and discarding what doesn’t. We got good at being efficient. Just enough work to communicate an idea but as little wasted effort as possible.

Entrepreneurs need to be good at this too. In their case it is customers they should be trying things out with. Most ideas fail because of the waste involved in learning what people want. Getting efficient at testing an idea is a key skill.

Barriers to learning

All too often we see founders with long lists of reasons to not talk to their customers or show them prototypes. They’re missing the importance of diving into their customers’ worlds to start experimenting and it’s harming their product.

Some of the common reasons are that the idea needs to be kept secret, worries that seeing anything unpolished might damage the brand, or, worst of all, a feeling that it would be a waste of time, this idea is just “going to work”.

These are easy to rebuke both logically and statistically but entrepreneurs still aren’t easily convinced. That’s because these aren’t the real reasons, they are the excuses. The real reason is fear.

Overcoming fear

Founding something means putting a lot on the line, both money and effort. To get up the guts to start a business takes a lot of positivity and encouragement. Prototype testing might be the first time someone says they don’t like the idea. I think founders don’t want any negative feedback in case it breaks the spell.

To get past this fear just look at battle-hardened serial founders that will scribble a sketch and push it towards you at the drop of a hat. Look at successful startups and the money they spend on trying to find out what you think. They understand that this is the number one priority for their business. If first time founders could understand it too then they’d have more success.

So forget your fear and give your prototype permission to suck a bit. While you’re at it separate criticism of your idea from criticism of you personally, these are not the same. The moment a prototype can help you learn, you should show it.