This past weekend I attended the Global Startup Battle at Boulder Startup Weekend.
I attended the weekend to see how the mentors (a team of heavy hitters from different industries) would guide the teams to validate their ideas and identify viable business models.
Perhaps I should have had an inkling that that wasn’t their focus when I signed up: attendees were asked to self-identify as “developer”, “designer” or “other”. The focus certainly seemed to be on producing something technical over the 54 hour program.
Sure enough, the judging criteria included “did you build a functioning prototype”. When I asked the facilitator if he’d rather we focus on development or building the business, he said “it’s better to show you built something than talk about numbers we know you made up anyway”.
Today I’m on a plane en route to the Lean Startup Conference in San Francisco. There, I’ll be speaking and listening to others talk about the importance of validating customer problems and interest before writing a single line of code. As author Ash Maurya has so eloquently stated, “Life is too short to build something no one wants”.
The two approaches seem to be directly in opposition, but perhaps there is a happy medium.
Spending two years building something before finding out if there is a market for it is inefficient. But too much ideation and talking with no action is no better. Ideas are cheap and execution is critical.
So what is the balance? Well, that’s what I’m trying to figure out. My recommended approach right now is time-boxing activities (as Startup Weekend does) to instill a sense of urgency. In the early stages of creation, you can’t get too caught up in making things perfect. A great business is going to arise from a combination of business and technical execution, and both market and technical risk need to be mitigated along the way.