Great idea, poorly designed

Rob Go of NextView Ventures makes a great point: saying “It’s been tried before” is a bad excuse to dismiss a product or startup.

Rob says:

“I’ve said those words before as well, both directly to entrepreneurs as well as in our internal conversations about companies. But I’m convinced that “it’s been tried before” is a terrible way to dismiss a startup idea. The reason is that this statement allows you to be way too intellectually lazy. It essentially says “… I’m just going to assume it won’t work because others before it failed.”

Rob says that there are two reasons for not dismissing companies like this: technology changes over time and most companies fail as a rule. I’ll add third reason to the list: Many ideas fail because of poor design.

There are countless great ideas out there that never see the light of day because they have never truly been realized in a product. Take, for example, 95% of the mobile apps you’ve ever downloaded. A promise of a good idea got you to download it, you may have even been excited to download it, but when you actually used it it was disappointing.

Design is hard. There are always constraints, trade-offs, and choosing which ones to hold to is extremely difficult especially in the startup environment where you just don’t have a lot of time. You’ve got investors and friends urging you to go faster, you’ve got customers who are asking for the world, and you’ve got your own pressure to be a success as fast as possible.

Sometimes great design just takes time. Sometimes it takes looking at an existing market and redesigning it right. The entire Apple product line is a testament to this. MP3 players existed before the iPod. Mobile phones existed before the iPhone. And many digital watches existed before the iWatch. Apple is never first into a market, they are always late. They come in with great design and get an immediate foothold.

Apple is just one example. Look at Slack and the communications apps. Look at Instagram and picture sharing apps. Look at WhatsApp and texting apps. Look at Sketch and the UI design apps. Look at Evernote and note-taking apps. Look at Dropbox and backup apps. Etc… All of these categories are littered with failed startups who created clunky, poorly designed user experiences while working on what turned out to be good ideas.

Apple is different of course because they have time on their side…they can R&D as long as they want to be sure that their product is amazing at launch. This is the greatest benefit of having so much money in the bank…they can release products on their own schedule. Startups do not have this luxury.

The big challenge for startups is time. Startups are under extreme pressure to make something work quickly. That’s why so much discussion about product development is about learning from customers and not wasting time marketing until you have product market fit…because until you do it means that your design is failing…even if you have a great idea.

Published: September 16th, 2014