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Why the "Fail Fast" mantra will kill your business

The design community has fully adopted Design Thinking as a tool for conducting rapid and efficient product innovation. At the heart of this lies the chief mantra “Fail fast, fail cheap, and fail early”, which is commonly used throughout the larger worlds of innovation and entrepreneurship.

Unfortunately for businesses and entrepreneurs alike, embracing this mantra will more often than not result in impairing your brand value, losing your customers and worst of all, it might kill your business.

Why? Because the very nature of “Failing Fast” means wasting time and money by being both irresponsible and disrespectful, if embraced carelessly.

It is irresponsible.

What you are doing is wasting hard-earned money. We are not working with Monopoly paper notes, or house money at a casino that you get to put on lucky number seven and see if it comes up.

We are talking hard-earned money from investors, from crowdfunding or from the savings of your company. Spending their money on your frequent failing simply does not cut it as a viable and respectable way of doing business.

It is disrespectful.

When testing your prototypes – essentially that is what your product is at this stage – on paying customers, you take advantage of them. They have put their trust in your product/service and they expect to get their money’s worth. Again, hard earned money.

When “Failing Fast” with paying customers, you lose what could have become loyal customers for years to come. Instead, you end up with bad publicity on social review sites like Trustpilot, which will scare off future customers. You might think, “Well, no one looks there anyway. At least not in our industry”, but you would be wrong.

We live in a social knowledge society, which means that all of us search for data and reviews from others like ourselves prior to purchasing new stuff. That is why social marketing is so important for the survival of your business.


Against the beliefs of most whom are pro “Fail Fast”, the alternative IS NOT a long, slow development process with no customer interaction. What you need to do is to start with the business case. I am not saying that you should write a 60-page word document.

I say:

  • Define your strategy
  • Research the market
  • Validate that you can make money before starting. If you believe that there is a market for your product, then go for it. If not, then pivot, adjust and find one.
  • Build a prototype to show customers, your board of directors, investors, etc.
  • Build the MVP (minimum viable product). Starting with meeting basic user needs will get you successfully on market, fast. From there, you can learn from customers without having spent too much money working on a feature packed product that no one even wants.

To sum up in the words of Mark Suster:

“…if you don’t do a financial model you shouldn’t spend any time or money building a product. You want to talk about the ultimate “fail fast” – how about if you fail before you’ve spent any money building product because you validate there isn’t a big enough market or you can’t make money?”

Behind this simplicity, is a well-defined process, which will guide your project towards becoming a ‘high-speed project’, which in return will save you resources, time and money whilst leading your company towards growth. You can read more about our ‘high-speed projects’ philosophy here.

"The desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world." - John LeCarré

My experience is that when you embrace not only users, but a diverse segment of stakeholders in workshops early on and throughout to project finish, you embark on a learning journey and you gain knowledge.

Knowledge that will ensure a commercial success, knowledge that you can utilize in other projects, knowledge that can lead to new financial models and business ideas. Indispensable knowledge.

Ultimately, I too am pro Design Thinking, but the branding of “Fail Fast” has led to a misinterpretation that will harm your business. It is not about failing.

It is about learning: “Learn fast, learn cheap, and learn early”. This will save you time and money, it will save your business and it will result in happy, returning customers.

Wait! Before you go…

How do you work with innovation and user involvement?
We know that you all approach the process in different ways and we would love to hear your story. Please comment below.

To get more advice on innovation, product development and design follow me on LinkedIn.

Kasper Friis An innovator by profession, a consultant by experience. I've worked with engineering and product design, at the intersection of commercial ideas and human needs, for 6 years.

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