Validation is backwards

If Startuplandia had a bible, you might guess it was The Lean Startup.

And credit to Eric Ries where credit is due – he’s managed to get the masses hooked on his book’s hopeful vocabulary: Validation, Pivots, and Minimum Viable Products, oh my.

Really, Eric’s reach is tremendous: I remember when a close friend of mine and Amy’s mentioned that their cousin – who had never shown interest in business or startups or even technology – chose Thanksgiving dinner with the family to reveal that he was “Validating a Minimum Viable Product for his tech startup.”

With that kind of reach, Lean Startup techniques must be pure business gold, right?

Well, look closely and critically at a few of the Lean Startup success stories you’ve read. How many could repeat that success a second time? How about a Lean startup hat trick?

Which will make you more $$$: doing the right thing, or avoiding the wrong thing?

A perfect implementation of Lean looks like this:

Do it, does it work? Do it, does it work? Do it, does it work?

On one hand, it’s possible that Lean methods could protect you from making a huge mistake, by making many smaller mistakes instead. You could avoid wasting a whole lot of time and money on a shitty, half-cocked business idea. And hey, that’s not all bad!

The book goes to great lengths to remind its readers that starting a business is a process full of “extreme uncertainty.” You don’t know if people want your idea, or who wants it, or how much they’ll pay, or what features it needs, or…

And you need a system for navigating that “extreme uncertainty.”

Unfortunately for you, dear bootstrapper, Validation is as much of a system as throwing spaghetti against a wall to see what sticks.

And here’s the truth that somebody with a Validation-shapped hammer doesn’t want you to hear: “extreme uncertainty” isn’t a requirement, or even a default, to starting a business.

Why Validation doesn’t work

Validation claims to be a data-driven process, but the results are neither predictably nor repeatably successful. Why not? Let’s take a closer look at what “Customer Interviews” really are.

Imagine going to see the lions on display in the zoo. Now imagine seeing the same species of lion in the wild on an African safari. Technically, you’re looking at the same animal both times. But they behave differently in the wild than they do in captivity.

You wouldn’t make a judgement call about what MOST lions do based on a lion in a zoo, because MOST lions aren’t in zoos.

In our awesome Bootstrapping Guide, Amy wrote:

“Before you launch, you’ll interview people who may be potential customers, but have not yet given you money, and are ergo not customers. They’ve got no skin in the game, no frame of reference to build on. But even after you launch – and you begin to interview your customers – the technique is flawed.

You rely on your interviewees being experts at research & development — you trust them to identify their own pains with unflinching honesty and accuracy. To remember, in essence, exactly what they do, all day, every day.

And to be willing to tell you about it.

And to be able to imagine a world unlike the world they inhabit, with a different workflow, different tools, different outlook, different life.

You rely on them to accurately identify the causes of the pains they do identify.

You rely on them to be wholly rational.

They must not care about your feelings at all — to not be, in fact, the kindly people they must be to accept your interview request — because they will be too friendly, too supportive, too optimistic, too nice… which of course results in worthless data.

You need them to be people who always do exactly what they say they will.”

With those odds stacked against you, can Validating your idea really increase your chances of success? Nope.

So if not Validation…then what?

The process that we created and teach in 30×500 is based on an observational research technique called Ethnography. Instead of relying on a structured series of guesses and checks (spaghetti against a wall), 30×500 teaches you a data-collection processes used by real researchers in various fields of science.

If Validation is like going to see lions in the zoo, our process is like seeing the animals in the wild, on Safari. Which is why we call our process Sales Safari.

Sales Safari gives you many of the answers you need for repeatable business success: understanding peoples’ behaviors, specifically why they do (or don’t do) things, and why they buy (or don’t buy) things.

Most importantly, the answers come from how people behave, even (especially) when you’re not in room asking questions.

It’s a bold claim, but almost every student who has applied the 30×500 process – without skipping or ignoring the research or follow-up – have created consistent, predictable success for themselves, just like we promised they could.

Predictable or not, success is relative. In some cases, predictable success can be as modest as “I already made back 2x the money I paid to take 30×500…” And even a modest win helps that person knows it’s possible to make even more money if they keep keep stacking bricks.

But since relaunching with a newly rebuilt 30×500 curriculum last year, we have more and more successes like this:

(p.s. you can read an in-depth case study on this student’s success, and how Rob attributes it to Sales Safari)

And like this from another student, 5 months after his launch:

(p.p.s. we have a case study coming on this student’s product – – very soon!)

So, the question you need to ask yourself is, how are you more likely to succeed?

With the Lean Startup’s promise of hopeful success and “non-failure” through guessing and checking…

Or with 30×500’s predictable, repeatable, and brick-stack-able success through Sales Safari?

If you’re done with guessing and want a look at what else goes into predictable success, sign up for our 7-part, totally-bullshit-free guide to starting a bootstrapped product business in 2014:

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