Fail Fast: Recovering from a startup false start

The ‘fail fast’ approach

You hear a lot about the need for failure in the startup world. It’s a natural part of innovative experimentation into new territory that some ideas don’t work out as planned. Serial entrepreneurs always have some failed startups under their belts informing their later successes.

You also hear a lot about how to recognise when it’s time to bow out. ‘Fail fast’ is something of a buzz phrase but there’s certainly a lot to be said for the approach; pushing hard on an idea for a short time and if it doesn’t go in the direction you were hoping, moving on to the next idea.

Ekreative’s startup system

In our own search for startup success we’ve very deliberately taken the attitude, “throw all your ideas against the wall and see what sticks”. First we generate a wide range of concepts and ideas, then put the most promising of them through a validation process, talking and planning them through. If something makes it through validation, it’s time to create an MVP and see what sort of a reaction it gets on the market. This is the point where you really get to see if your idea holds it’s own, but it’s also a time for tweaking, improving and sometimes rethinking the project in a bigger way. Once you think you’ve got the key elements of your concept down pat, only then can you think about scaling. It’s possible though that the MVP will reveal some unforeseen flaw in the plan which you’ll realise is really insurmountable and it’ll be time to head back to the drawing board.

Who’s on your team?

Perhaps you’ve got a different approach to turning your ideas into thriving companies. Perhaps you use many of the same elements we do. Either way there’s a part of this extended validation process which is key to its successful execution but which is potentially a very temperamental variable. I’m talking of course about your team!

A lot of the startups we encounter at ekreative are born out of the passion of one person or a small group of people. People with a big vision, a lot of courage and no team. They come to us to provide the elements of the team which they’re short of, whether it’s technical excellence, an eye for design or the business acumen to turn a concept into a company.myteam

Choosing the right development partner for your startup

It seems though that there’s another problem that many startups face: using the wrong developers! Getting your friend who knows a bit of coding on board is, in most cases, not going to be the best development option. Picking up a some freelance developers is also a risky way to go. Even hiring a fully fledged development outfit, you need to be discerning: read reviews, check in with some of their portfolio clients and ask for recommendations, talk to the company itself and make sure that the way they operate uses tools, processes and communication channels that you’re comfortable with.

It’s not too late

A surprisingly large number of projects come to us half done. The founder of the startup entrusted their idea to a development team and at some stage things fell apart, be it technically, operationally, or through a relationship break down. Theirs are sad, frustrating stories up to that point, but finding the right team, even mid-process can transform their experience.

I’m convinced that many reach that point and then decide it’s time to hand in the towel (and hopefully move on to the next project). But the problem they’ve encountered is actually one that can be managed and redeemed. If that’s you, I’d encourage you to take heart and don’t feel that you’re locked in with your existing developers, you can still turn things around!

Warning signs

Here are five signs that might show you your dev shop’s out of their depth:

  1. They’re difficult to keep in touch with. When it’s your startup idea being developed, you understandably want to be involved as much as possible: inputting, checking on progress, engaging with design and feature decisions and more. If your development group are hard to get hold of, don’t answer their phones and drag their feet on email and instant message answers, this is a good sign that something’s not right.
  2. The price they’re quoting seems too good to be true. When it comes to app development, you basically get what you pay for. Whilst it’s true that quality outsourcing outfits like ekreative can afford to make competitive quotes due to location, you still can’t expect to create a top class service on a shoestring. If someone’s offering you the works for an order of magnitude less than the other outfits you’ve approached, tread carefully!
  3. They don’t ask many questions. When developing a startup idea, everything needs to be questioned, at every stage. You explain your idea; expect questions to confirm and clarify the core concepts, questions about your target audience, and much, much more. They’re working on implementing a feature; expect them to come back with still more questions, eg. what’s the logic here? Where do you expect users to go from this screen? From colours to payment systems, everything needs to be discussed and questions are good. A firm that quietly nods while you talk and then get’s straight to work with nothing to ask is extremely likely to be heading down the wrong path.
  4. They miss deadlines. This is one of the more obvious flaws to keep an eye out for, a classic warning sign of unprofessional contractors. In the world of app and site development many seem to think that missed deadlines are part and parcel of the development process and it’s true that when an estimate is made for many months of work it has to come with a certain amount of leeway. You should expect though that a professional outfit will recognise problem areas early and keep you informed well in advance about any changes to the stated deadlines. You might think that there’s no real harm done and that might be true about one late milestone, but if deadlines are a consistent problem for your developer, it might be a sign that they’ve bitten off more than they can chew.
  5. They don’t offer a plan for your startup’s future. Any business includes some sort of ongoing work and costs and your startup is no exception. It’s likely that you’ll need some sort of solutions for content creation, support, analysis, ongoing server maintenance and in the large majority of cases ongoing development, with new features being added and existing features being fine tuned to keep you ahead of your competition. If they want your venture to succeed (and they really ought to!) your developers should be proposing answers to these questions and even gearing up to be a part of the solution. You need to ask some serious questions of any shop which has a ‘finish the job and then wash my hands of it’ approach to your project.

If the list above reads like a description of your startup’s development experience, you should definitely be getting out of there! Founding a startup is a big enough challenge without the extra headache of a difficult development partner.

Where next?

We’ve written before about how we know we’re up to the challenge of partnering on a wide range of different development projects, including the unique challenges that come with startups. I mentioned above that we also have first hand experience in taking on projects that someone else started badly and turning them around to create successful new businesses.

Of course Ekreative’s not the only option out there. Our guide to finding trustworthy outsourcing partners can be applied to any potential partner, overseas or not. So research some options, begin some conversations, get a few quotes and move your startup to a shop that you can work with on a confident, professional basis.