“Move fast and break things” might be the worst guiding business principle in a generation. It has caused many startup failures and wasted investor resources that could have been used in more strategic endeavors. It is equivalent to smoking: once you start, it feels good — but it is toxic, and once you start, it is very challenging to quit.
Roots in Fail Fast
The idea was made famous by Facebook, and their goal was to do just that: Move fast. Break things. But the idea had been around in Silicon Valley for a good 5–10 years before that in companies that believed in the notion of “fail fast.” Do something quickly, check the result, and if it is not aligned to your goal, then stop, reassess, and move in a different direction.
However, MF&BT sounds much more baller, more rebel, than fail fast. In the land of the geek, saying this epitomized what every geek in high school ever dreamed of: being a rebel. It was akin to a leather-jacket-on-a-Triumph cool. Breaking new ground and forging new territory, and there are no consequences.
What this idea doesn’t do is align to purpose and consequences. Moving quickly can be a good thing, but so can moving slowly. It is not the speed at issue, it is the goal.
Why Fail Fast Is Toxic
This idea supposes that there is a purpose or goal in mind and that the team should move quickly to reach that goal. While there may have been some intent and some control around this speed-based approach to the market, what is has led to is speed for the sake of speed, action without regard to consequences.
Many founders we interviewed for the book Beyond Product relayed that they employed this technique for their teams but found it caused a host of ancillary problems. Misalignment toward purpose or goal was one of the biggest issues. Product and engineering teams would build for the sake of building — but just because you can build or just because it is interesting doesn’t mean the customer will enjoy it. The other issue was pure waste of resources. Instead of having purpose and direction, these teams would spin down rabbit holes experimenting instead of focusing on the goal at hand.
As you can see from the image, when your goal is too far removed or not monitored and controlled, teams will find any path to get to the end, even as they lose their way.
There is a better way of looking at this: time to revenue.
Time to Revenue
Thinking about the time it will take a company to generate revenue for their idea sets them on a path to think about the various stages to get there.
- Stage 0: Based on funding, how much time do I have?
- Stage 1: What does my marketplace look like? Who is going to buy in that market?
- Stage 2: What is my minimal viable product? How fast can I deliver that?
- Stage 3: What does my first test with a customer reveal to me?
- Stage 4: Go-to-market strategy. What do I now need to do to create a relationship between my product and my buyer?
You can move fast and experiment within those stages, but don’t go past that stage until it is complete. For instance, don’t start out building for some future end customer before you know what that first MVP will look like. Don’t build the most amazing website before you know who will buy your product and what they want from you.
Focusing on “how long until I get revenue?” helps set the time horizon, allows great feedback at various stages, and gives teams freedom to move very quickly between each stage. The result is that you will have a better product for your customer — more quickly and cheaper — than most companies do with the reckless break things model.
Everybody has a little rebel in their heart, and most people love the idea of being a part of something that is radically different than the rest. The idea of breaking things is great. And some companies can pull it off because leadership is turning every step of the way and keeping teams honest. But without this adult supervision, the model turns sour quickly. And isn’t the whole point of rebellion lack of adult supervision?
This and other great ideas on founding, growing, and leading a great company are explored in the new #1 Hotlist Business Book Beyond Product and on the podcast on foundersplace.co, which also has great resources for leaders and executives looking for a way to grow their business.