Test first, build later

The story goes that when Jony Ive and the team at Apple were building the iPad they used to carry around wooden blocks shaped like each of their designs. They’d tap at them, play with them, pretend to take notes. Each model iPad got them closer to the finished product.

The same should be true of anything you try. Building an app? Draw it on a piece of paper and ask people what they think – literally just that. Don’t give them any cues, just let them imagine the functionality. Building a business? Test it out using Excel spreadsheets and phone calls before you build anything. Trying to blog? Write a few test posts and share them with friends for feedback.

Startups are hypothesis testing machines. You come up with a proposition – that people want cupcakes delivered to their workplaces – you create a small business that does just that by walking around an office building with a box of cupcakes and some order cards. If 40 percent of the visits result in orders, you’re ready to go.

Startups are also tests. They are designed to frustrate every attempt to control them, break every effort at scaling them, and destroy your will to go on. That’s why you break the test up into sections with the first part, where you slap the wooden iPad on a conference table, and tell people this is the next big thing.

These tests get easier with time. The real challenge is to keep doing them until you hit gold.

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