As my business partner and I concluded our new business presentation in a small room in the business building, we stared into the faces of about eight judges. No one looked very impressed.
"So you're telling us you got it right the first time?" one of them asked condescendingly.
We kind of thought that was the point, but given the tone of his voice, we now knew it wasn't.
"Well... yeah," we replied sheepishly.
"No, no, no. Listen, this is the business model competition," he explained impatiently. "We want you to tell us how you tested your ideas and pivoted. We want to hear about what was wrong with your first idea, how you figured out that it was incorrect, and how you changed it. Then, we want to hear about how your second idea was wrong, how you found out, and what you did to change it. And your third, and fourth, and fifth, and fifteenth ideas."
Hm. We didn't really do any of that, I thought.
"...But what if we didn't pivot?" I asked.
As soon as I said it, the room shifted with silent exasperation, and I could tell I had just spoken heresy.
Irritated, the judge replied, "Oh please, of course you did. No one gets it right the first time."
As we walked out of the room and another team slid into place for the next presentation, the rest of the judges nodded in knowing agreeance and I began to think they knew something we didn't.
Getting it Right the First Time
Through years of classes and competitions, I was slowly converted to their philosophy, and for a long time believed that "getting it right" the first time was a mere stroke of rare luck. That people like Mark Zuckerberg, who created the first version of Facebook in about a week and had 75% of Harvard students using it within a month, were untouchable outliers. Results like that were reserved for either the unusually talented or the unusually lucky, or probably an even more unusual combination of the two.
But I've not come to realize that... they're wrong. People do get it right the first time. Lots of them. In fact, it may be more the rule than the exception when it comes to successful innovation.
Let me give you the facts.
The model the business competition judges were pushing is the build-test-measure cycle. Basically, you make a product, then test it out with users, they tell you everything that's wrong with it, you go make the changes, and repeat until you've found the right answer.
However, 50-80% of successful innovations are created by users initially for their own use. (You can read all about the research here: http://evhippel.mit.edu/papers/section-1/.) The creators don't do any market testing at all.
Typically, a product is only commercialized after the user has finished its design and been using it himself. When these products hit the market, they're already the right answer.
A few examples to help you through this:
The same goes for all the examples above and thousands more.
The founders of those companies actually did get it right the first time. They just built version one of their product, launched it, and it blew up. Like big time blew up. We're using B's here, not M's.
They way the founders did that was, basically, by making products they wanted to use. That way, they didn't need to test anything with the market. They were the market. They knew exactly what their products should be. (I wrote an entire book on the subject, btw, if you want to know more about this.)
So the question now is this: would you rather spend 9 months getting it wrong twelve times, or just get it right the first time? Because getting it right the first time is not only possible, if you follow the user method - it's likely.