App Prototyping

with Erin Parker

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Determine when you have failed vs. when you just need to pivot an idea.

Erin Parker

Founder, Spitfire Athlete; iOS Engineer; National-Level Weightlifter

Lessons Learned

Failure comes down to: either your execution sucks or there is no need for your product.

Pivoting is about developing your intuition.

You can do a lot of testing in one week with just 5 people.


Lesson: App Prototyping with Erin Parker

Step #5 Pivoting: Determine when you have failed vs. when you just need to pivot an idea

There's the case where your execution sucks. That's why you're failing. Then there's the case where your execution is awesome but no one just wants what you want to make, which is why you are failing. I think it's really hard to know which one is which. I think also there could be multiple reasons for failure. So what does failure mean? Does failure mean there is not enough traction? Or does failure mean there is traction, but there is not enough of it right now for you to be able to keep doing what you're doing? An example of that kind of failure is Airbnb.

Before, when they started, they were barely making ends meet. They weren't getting enough traction, but they knew that if they kept persisting with what they were doing, that they were going to fundamentally change an industry and make something happen. So they raised money. Raising money was the solution to that problem of letting them have the longevity that they needed to take over the market.

That's one example where deep down inside, you just aren't seeing the traction that you need, but you know that the market and the need is there. You just need more time to take that idea and let it grow. That is a different type of "non-failure".

I think true failure is where you try to make something and really, just no one wants it. You show it to them. They have this apathetic look on their faces or you're like, "Wait, but I thought you would use this" and there isn't a time at all when they would use this. I think that is when you really need to pay attention as an entrepreneur. When they're apathetic. They don't care. They can't envision themselves using your product at all, throughout a day. I think that's when you need to really think that, "Even if I throw money at this, will this be successful?" Probably not because no one wants it.

Let's say you have infinite resources, and you're extremely well funded. There is technically no timeline, because you could keep trying to make your idea work. But if you are on a budget and have a timeline and you have a really high burden rate, you could really validate or test something a lot in a week. Let's say you're trying to test a hypothesis about your product. You want to know if it's true or not, or if you have to stop what you're doing and change directions completely. I think you can do a lot in a week and by talking to at least five people.

The one thing you should really look for is the enthusiasm that they have for your product, genuine enthusiasm, and a time of the day when they're going to take out their phones, open the app, and actually use it. If you can't find the enthusiasm – assuming the people you're testing are actually in your target market and not your friends – that's a really big red flag to pay attention to. If you don't know when in their day they're actually going to use your service, or go through the user-feedback loop you want them to through, that is another important red flag that I would pay attention to.

As a new entrepreneur, you hear a lot that you should pay attention to your customers and pivot, but you shouldn't just pivot to pivot. The reason why you're pivoting is you're developing intuition about your customers, your product, and how those two things fit together in the market.

As a new entrepreneur, you understand that you need to test your hypotheses, and when things aren't validated the way you think they should be, to pivot. But what is the point of pivoting? Pivoting is really about developing your intuition. You're developing the intuition to understand what your customers want and how your product actually solves their needs, inside the larger market.

Pivot, but understand why, and get smarter with every pivot. Yes, you might pivot in a week or it might take some money and time spent talking to customers, but what you take away is a deep understanding that no other entrepreneur has. So that when you make your product you have something that your customers actually want. That's why that pivoting process is really, really valuable.

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