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Something at once

“Startups, by their nature, are entrepreneurial - testing new things, launching new products, and disrupting themselves. That's why you join a startup in the first place - to create, to stretch beyond your current capabilities, and to make an outsized impact.” 

- What a great summary of why we do what we do in the world of startups! It comes from Jennifer Hyman, CEO and co-founder of Rent The Runway, a fashion and technology company, and it applies so well to any new business, in any sector. I want to isolate one word of Jennifer’s quote however: testing. We test ourselves for sure, but we must also test everything we do.

So many choices, so little time

Right at the beginning of a business there are so many choices to make, and it’s sometimes enough to drive you crazy! Do we go in this direction, or that direction? Left or right, up or down? How will we attract investors, and how will we ensure that they are the right investors? The process of logical step-by-step testing helps with all of this. Let me explain:

Sorting the good stuff from the best stuff

You’re staring at a wall full of jottings, notes, ideas from brainstorming sessions. There’s a lot of good stuff there, but how do you decide which is the best stuff? You could throw darts at the wall and pick something at random, but that’s clearly no way to run a startup. So my answer is that you must always test, which means comparing one thing to another – to see which item ‘plays’ best, versus something similar. The idea of testing becomes very clear when we look at how a website ‘plays’ for example, because there we can offer binary options to our audience and see which attracts the most attention.
Let’s say we create two Landing Pages for a product whose target audience is – we think – urban men aged 30 to 35. Page A is a flowery design and features curving hand-scripted letters. Page B is dark and metallic-looking, with heavy, embossed text. OK, that’s a rather exaggerated example, because you can guess which page most of the guys will opt to land on! More subtle questions of color, typeface and so on can’t be guessed about though, or shouldn’t be guessed about, because everything a startup does must be targeted and precise. As I say to all my clients -  you are niche, and so is your audience. Making guesses about your audience is never a good idea, especially when solid facts are available through the simple act of comparing different options.

Precision testing

It therefore follows that everything you do should be as precise as possible, and the best way of becoming precise is to test. Think of any manufacturing company – let’s say in the automotive industry – where the process of bringing a vehicle to market is a very long one, of testing, and testing… and testing. Every component is tested and compared with another of the same type, and constantly evaluated. The shape, design and even the feel of the car are tested, altered, tested again. And then again. But each time a change is made, here’s the important thing: the change is tested in isolation.

What makes a supercar super?

Say our car manufacturer puts a new engine into the prototype, along with a new gearbox and new suspension, plus a new braking system. The test driver takes the car out for a spin on the test track and reports back, “Wow, that’s much better!” (Or even, “That’s much worse!”). The problem then would be to get an understanding of what made the difference. Was it the engine, or the gearbox, or...? In those circumstances how would the engineers ever know what the ‘X-factor’ was that they’d just added to their new offering? So automotive engineers test and test again, but they only test one new thing at a time. - And that’s what all startups must do, because time is too short and too expensive to try and scattergun your target audience. You want niche? (And believe me, you really do want niche!) – then you have to target your audience with precision. One of the most powerful tools you have to achieve that is through testing, but always change only one thing at a time.

Everything at once?

I started with a cool quote borrowed from an American entrepreneur. Let me bookend this with a witty and very true quote from an American President, Calvin Coolidge: “We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once.”
A great statement for all startups, don’t you think?


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