Listen To This: Fake it Til You Make It, from Startup
Listen To This: Fake it Til You Make It, from Startup
Listen To This: Fake it Til You Make It, from Startup

Which is better: doing one singular thing really, really well, or branching out and applying your talents to new territory? It’s a question I have been asking myself a lot over the past couple of years, and it’s at the center of this week’s episode of the Startup podcast. When I started my own business back in 2012, I was faced with this very question. How did I handle it? The way a lot of startups do; I told everyone that I could do (rather, would do) anything and everything. And as a solo shop, it rang true. If I could bill for it, I would figure out how to do it. Now, however, as a member of a larger team, a company that cannot live paycheck-to-paycheck, “yes” just can’t always be the answer.

So how do you navigate the waters of choosing singular excellence or growth, monomaniacal focus or staying ahead of the curve, or of simply choosing one path vs. another? Spoiler alert: there’s no right answer. But here are a three ways to find out:

LEAN Methodology

Here at SME Digital, we’re big ambassadors for Startup Podcast LogoLean Marketing. We speak about it, train businesses how to implement it, and use it pretty much daily. Simply put, we’re all in on Lean. The structure allows us to build quickly, learn quickly, measure quickly, and iterate quickly. Everything quickly. The goal? Spend the least amount of resources possible (money, time, manpower, and focus) to achieve the highest learnings. On paper, it looks so simple:

  • Define your Conditions of Satisfaction
  • Define your Minimum Viable Product
  • Define your LMBs (what do you want to Learn, what do you Measure to show you’ve learned it, what can you Build in under two hours)
  • Check Risk Assessments
  • Create your Rapid Prototype
  • Get Audience Feedback
  • Repeat

But in reality, well, it is so simple. If eliminating waste, weeding out the non-valuable steps, and actually doing stuff interests you, Lean should be on your to-learn, to-test, and to-do list.

When faced with the above-question: Do I go deep or go broad, resolve or evolve, keep drilling or test the waters, Lean can be a huge help. Stop pondering and start working. I certainly don’t know if expansion or new ventures are right for your business, but I do know a good first step: go Lean.

Bonus: We have a really good resource on Lean Marketing. If you’d like a quick resource and worksheet to step you through the Lean process, check out our free download here.

Rapid Prototyping

Rapid Prototyping is part of Lean, an important part, but even on its own it’s a great path forward when you are interested in testing a new idea. Caught the itch to build a new product? Don’t. Not yet. Instead of spending time, energy, and money creating what you think (and maybe just hope) the market needs, spend two hours of your time building something that will help you find out. The two-hour limit; that’s the Rapid part. The thing you release for feedback; there’s your Prototype.

You might be hesitant to release your first draft, but the truth is that quick, cheap, and dirty is the fast-track to valuable, actionable insights.

What are the rules for Rapid Prototyping? Glad you asked:

  • Find the quickest path to experience
  • Doing is the best kind of thinking
  • Use materials that move at the speed of thought

In other words, cut the fluff, structured brainstorming, and pretty note-taking and get your hands dirty with the rawest of materials. Throw structure and turn-taking out of the window and allow that window to be covered in sticky notes.

Rapid Prototyping is not only a quick and cheap way to have something to ship, it is also quite fun and very satisfying.

Find two hours, stick to the rules, and don’t skip getting feedback from your audience. Ask for feedback. Get feedback. Breathe. Then, do it all over again.

Faking It

As I mentioned before, we work Lean here at SME Digital, which means we have a lot of experience with Rapid Prototyping. It works wonders for us. But what if you aren’t ready to Rapid Prototype your idea? What if you need a different path to audience feedback? Consider simply faking it (learn more at 17:25 in the podcast).

Personally, I don’t have a lot of experience with planned, intentional fakery, which is why this episode caught my attention. It’s a beautiful idea. Faking it is very similar to Rapid Prototyping, but it feels even less committed. Instead of building a button that is ugly, but at least works, faking it would say just build a pretty button. No functionality needed; just the button. Then ask for feedback.

The way Alex (the host) describes it: “Building a prototype like this is a little like building a fake house. The kitchen is all set up, you can walk through it, see how it feels, but the water doesn’t actually run, the refrigerator is just a prop, and the stove won’t produce a flame. It won’t function as a kitchen, but it will help you figure out is this the kind of kitchen I want in this house I’m building?”

Very cool. Faking it makes a lot of sense in terms of collecting feedback on design or proposed functionality. Where Rapid Prototyping would build the Minimum Viable Product, Faking it would build the Minimum Potential Product. Instead of click the ugly button and react to what happens, it’s more in line with pretend you could click the pretty button and react to what you think will happen.

I’m going to try Faking It on an upcoming project and see how it feels when bumped against the kinds of prototypes that I’m used to building. For me, it’s a new alternative, and I’m excited to see how it works in practice. My guess? If Google Labs is doing it (which they are), then there’s a lot of value in the experience.

Making The Choice

Which one of these methods is best for you? I have no idea. And you might not, either. In fact, you might find yourself trying bits of one and bits of another, just to see what works. In that case, you are free to prototype your process for prototyping. We do that internally at SME Digital, as well. Possibly because we just really like up-leveling and iterating; possibly because there is such value in pivoting, questioning, and occasionally burning everything to the ground.

Regardless of which path you choose, however, always keep your eye on the prize: minimum effort for maximum payoff. Not the other way around. Your audience wants to speak, they want to give their feedback, they want their needs heard and met. Your job is to facilitate those wants and needs.

If you build it, they will come. Nope.

But if you build it, they will react. And in that way, your Field of Dreams becomes a Field of Reality.

What has your experience been with Lean Marketing, Rapid Prototyping, or Faking It? Do you have a different, preferred method for testing and iterating? I’d love to hear about it!

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About the Author

Matt Hollowell
Matt is a lifelong student of design, marketing, publishing, and content creation. His passion sits at the intersection of content and design; in fact, you can often find him there with a cup of coffee in one hand and a notepad in the other. As SME's Creative Director, he supports both the brand and clients, which helps to satisfy his lifelong love of never knowing what's coming next. When not at his desk, you'll find Matt serenading his two amazing daughters, reading gritty British poetry, or obsessively listening to podcasts. Send him your podcast reccs here: @mhollowell.

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