Why You Need to Fail Fast

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Ep. #626 - Why You Need to Fail Fast

In this episode of Startup Hustle, tune in to Part 22 of “How to Start a Tech Company” as Matt DeCoursey and Matt Watson discuss why you need to fail fast.

Covered In This Episode

We all know that it is quite common for startups to fail, whether it is getting their first go-to-market strategies wrong or giving unconvincing pitches. But is it really all that bad to fail? How can founders turn failure into a win? Is it better to fail fast or fail slow?

Matt and Matt explore failures in Part 22 of the “How to Start a Tech Company” series. Based on their experiences and observations, they share that having a fail-fast philosophy is vital. The Matts discuss why you need to fail fast to move on and do more productive projects.

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Missed the previous episode? Click here to listen to the 21st episode of the “How to Start a Tech Company” series. Or join the Matts in the 23rd episode here.

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  • Welcome to Part 22 (0:07)
  • What does it mean to fail fast? (1:13)
  • Stop working on things that don’t work (2:42)
  • Defining failure (3:49)
  • Go-to-market strategies (7:19)
  • How many times have you failed? (8:21)
  • The importance of hiring the right people (9:54)
  • Failure is as important as success (11:51)
  • Knowing when to quit and trusting your gut (14:22)
  • Wrapping up (16:18)

Key Quotes

There are so many things that a new business, or any business, is trying to learn how to be good at. And that’s often just a science experiment. And the faster you fail, the closer you are to a solution that doesn’t fail.

Matt DeCoursey

It’s opportunity cost. Like, I’m spending all my time working on something that doesn’t work when I should stop and work on something that will work. Like, I’m preventing myself from working on something else that actually will succeed.

Matt Watson

Failure is important when it comes to success. Because through failure, you’re gonna get to know yourself better. You’re gonna learn from your mistakes. You’re gonna figure out where you need to grow. Failure, in a humbling way, forces you to rethink, reconsider, and find new ways and strategies to win and reset your license.

Matt DeCoursey

Let them trip and fall. Let them touch the hot thing. Because until he does, he’s not gonna know not to do it again. Like, that the only way he learns is to fail.

Matt Watson

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Rough Transcript

Following is an auto-generated text transcript of this episode. Apologies for any errors!

Matt DeCoursey 0:00
And we’re back. Back for another episode of Startup Hustle, Matt DeCoursey, here, with Matt Watson. Hi, Matt.

Matt Watson 0:05
What’s going on, man?

Matt DeCoursey 0:07
Oh, just, you know, dealing with the fact that I fail a lot. And I want to talk about that. And I also want to wrap up all of this discussion of failure that we’ve had during our 52-part series. You know, we’ve talked about that a lot, and I think we would be remiss if we didn’t prepare people for what the term fail fast meant and why that might be important. Now, before we get started on that, a quick reminder that today’s episode of Startup Hustle is brought to you by FullScale.io, helping you build a software team quickly and affordably. So you know, man, here we are, we’re at episode 22 of 52. And, you know, we’ve talked about a lot of different stuff and a lot of different things. This episode is going to be pretty short. Because, well, fail fast is a buzz term and a buzzword that’s out there. And we’ve also talked about it. It’s time to start preparing Lambos and our rocket ship for the moon after this episode. So anyway, let’s get started, man. So you know, like, you’ve heard the term fail fast, right?

Matt Watson 1:13
Absolutely. Yeah. What does it mean? You know, I think if we get stepped back and taken another analogy for this, I was thinking about this before we started recording, and it’s like, sort of like being in a failed marriage, it’s like, at some point in time, you just want to get the shit over with and go do something else. Because this just ain’t working. Like why are we going to keep fighting every day, right? And at some sense, your startup gets into that stage, or like, we’re just not getting anywhere and this thing working, and maybe we should just fail and do something else. And I think startups getting that same, same place sometimes.

Matt DeCoursey 1:50
Yeah, on a smaller level, when it comes to fail fast. You know, there’s so many things that a new business or any business is trying to learn how to be good at. And that’s often just a science experiment. And the faster you fail, the closer you are to a solution that doesn’t fail. And I think that that’s where you hear like a lot of VCs and investors say, Hey, if you’re gonna fail, fail fast, so you are just that much closer, meaning don’t take forever, to fuck it up.

Matt Watson 2:22
Well, then it may not be fail as in like complete failure. It could also be pivot, right? Like, we tried this thing we tried for 90 days, we talked a lot of customers, nobody wants to buy what we’re trying to sell. So we need to build something else, or we just need to throw this whole baby out with the bathwater, and do something else.

Matt DeCoursey 2:42
Yeah, and you know, the, when it comes to examples of failure, and resilience, and all that, you know, it’s pretty commonly known that Edison tried 1000s of different iterations of the light bulb before finding one that burned and the thing was is like, the faster he failed at all those, the sooner he arrives at the one that does it. And you don’t know that you don’t know that you don’t know what works until you know, it works.

Matt Watson 3:06
To some degree, it’s opportunity cost, right? Like, I’m spending all my time working on something that doesn’t, that doesn’t work, when I should stop and go work on something that will work, right? Like I’m, I’m preventing myself from working on something else that actually will succeed. And honestly, the biggest problem with startups is, is people when you’re like, Oh, I quit my job. And now I’m doing the startup thing full time. And we don’t make it doesn’t make any money. And like, we’re just burning cash. And it’s like, you just can’t keep burning cash, or not having a job like week after week, at some point in time, like it’s the bleeding has got to stop, right? And you got to just like, stop living the dream and just call it over and move on.

Matt DeCoursey 3:49
Yeah, and I was recently mad as you’re aware, I’m kind of fascinated with studying, like, what makes a genius and like, what, as a genius and like, Are you a genius? Are you crazy, or some of that? And I was recently reading a book about that. And one of the things that they were talking about that the geniuses in history aren’t afraid to move fast and break things. Yeah. And, you know, that’s part of that kind of assembler fail fast mentality. Now, if you’re, you know, we’re in this as startups in business and entrepreneurship, we’re in this constant arms race with competition. And that’s another reason like, the more of that timeline you burn up if someone else is on is onto a solution. If you’re still failing, and doing it slowly, they’re stretching the distance between them. And yeah, so So Matt, when you think about like, how do you define failing?

Matt Watson 4:42
Well, it could be the business model failed or you couldn’t get product market fit or you didn’t hire the right talent, like there are a whole lot of reasons that your startup can fail, right? But usually it comes down to product market fit. It’s like we built this thing, but nobody wants to buy it, or nobody will pay for it or they won’t pay enough for it. it or just doesn’t solve a problem that anybody cares about. And my favorite of these, these businesses, they’re like, consumer based things, right? Like, oh, we created a website or mobile app, and we just expect, like a million people or golf sudden gonna know what exist, and we’re gonna make millions of dollars in advertising, right? But like, nobody knows, nobody knows that you exist. And at some point in time, it’s just like, you guys gotta realize that nobody cares that you built this app. And so what are you going to do? Are you just, okay, it’s in the app store. Now? What? Right, like, at what point? Are you going to just accept that you built an app? And nobody knows about it? And just decided and work? Right, like there’s is this failed business models, usually?

Matt DeCoursey 5:41
Yeah, I don’t think I mean, failure is not defeat, you know, like, and you look at so many different things. Like, you know, later on tonight, I’m going to the Kansas City Royals baseball game, and then they certainly do, but that wasn’t my intended example. But in baseball, yeah, a Hall of Fame header is only right, three out of 10 times, meaning they technically fail 70% of the time, and they’re still elite amongst the best. And sometimes those failures occur in the weirdest ways. Like, you might, they might hit the ball right on the screws, like 100 miles an hour, and it just goes right at someone, and then they get a hit on a ball that they barely hit, and just kind of rolls up the third baseline, and they happen to beat it out. Now, you know, whatever works, works, but so when I say that, when I think of failing, I think of anything that just doesn’t get the the intended result for whatever reason, um, you know, like, I think that’s like the most granular level. And when I think about things when it comes to failing fast, and where it’s important to fail fast in the startup, well, I think some of its marketing, and customer acquisition, like what works and what doesn’t, the sooner you figure that out, the sooner you get to streamline or, or hyper focus your resources, effort and energy towards things that work. And you know, like, I’ve always said, with marketing, there’s three key words Test test test, yeah, you know, and just see what works. It doesn’t I don’t mean, A, B, C, D testing. I mean, like, try this, try this, try this. Which one’s working the best, okay, now, let’s try two of them, you know, and and get down to okay, this is one that really works. Let’s turn up the gas.

Matt Watson 7:19
Well, and I think you’re absolutely right, and you’re hitting on a key subject here, which is really go to market strategies, right. So when you when you got a new product, you’re trying to get it to market, there’s lots of go to market strategies, you know, direct sales, or partnerships, or going to trade shows, or online advertising, all these different things. And you got to kind of try and experiment with all of them, right? Because if you bet all of your time and energy on one of them, and you just keep trying that one thing, and it never works, like you’re killing yourself, because you didn’t also spend time trying the other things, right. So there’s always the balance of you spend too much time on one thing, or you spend just a little bit of time on 20 things, you don’t give any of them time to be successful, either. So it’s but the point is, you’ve got to put enough effort into something you get to the point where like, well, is this gonna work or not. And if it’s not going to work, we need to quickly cut our losses and try and try something else that maybe we’ll you know, and then go to market,

Matt DeCoursey 8:10
you might you might find three things that tactically do work, which one works best?

Matt Watson 8:16
Yes. And then put all your effort into that one, to maximize it.

Matt DeCoursey 8:21
Right, right. Now, you know, when? Well, man, how many times have you failed?

Matt Watson 8:27
Um, I mean, I think I’ve just had varying degrees of success, you know, I mean, you, you hit a home run, you hit a single one of them was a bunt, and some somehow or another, like roll just inside the line. And then a guy tripped and didn’t pick up the ball on time, and I was safe at first. Like, you get just varying degrees of success to so

Matt DeCoursey 8:51
if I when I say that quite a question that general I’ll ask myself, how many times if you failed, Matt, I can’t count that high. Because it’s like, like, it’s so what are we talking about? Like failed businesses? Not very many, not that none. You know, but when it comes to, you know, other things. I mean, I think that we fail every day, we tried to do things and just, I mean, sometimes it’s simple. All right, here’s another thing. I think you need to fail fast at finding the people that you’re going to be successful with in the future. Right. And we’ve talked about this a lot. Startups typically have small lean teams, if you have three people and one of them to turn 33% of your company sucks. And you got to be able to especially early you got to be able to maybe realize you don’t have the right people, you made the wrong decision or something isn’t working and not try to live with that for the next three years. Because your resources are limited. Your time is limited and your focus is limited. And you know it’s can be that simple. Like wow.

Matt Watson 9:54
Well, so we talked about fail fast. I mean, I think we’re hit Hang on, there’s a lot of different parts of that. Right? So I mean, it’s it’s did we build the right product? Are we targeting the right customers? is the go to market strategy? Did we hire the right people? Did we build our technology the wrong way? Right? Like, there’s all these different facets to it. And it’s not necessarily the whole business is a failure. It’s just like, hey, we hired the wrong salesperson. The last three weeks, he hasn’t accomplished anything, it doesn’t feel like he’s that he doesn’t get it. Do we spend the next six months and he just doesn’t accomplish shit? Or we fire him and go hire somebody else now, because we just don’t feel like it’s gonna work. Right? And it’s like, how fast? Do you accept that failure and move on, which can be the success or failure of the entire company as well?

Matt DeCoursey 10:41
Yeah, now speaking of hiring successful successfully, if you have a technology company or considering starting one, I want to remind you that today’s episode of Startup Hustle is brought to you by FullScale.io, we’re going to help you take the mystery out of hiring developers. And if you’re starting a tech company, Matt, how important is it to get good people to build your tech?

Matt Watson 11:05
It’s really important. I mean, at the end of the day, in all businesses, it comes down to human resources and talent, right? Businesses are nothing without talent. And we talk about failure and learning from your failures. I mean, at Full Scale, we’ve hired how many like 200 300 people’s right and along the way, 20 well include the previous, you know, people that no longer with us, right, add those to the list, like we’ve hired, you know, a lot of people. And to the point, like, maybe the first, you know, 50 people, maybe we failed 10% of the time, right? We learned like, okay, when we hire people, we need to look for this and look for that, like, how do we get better at it, right, like, you talked earlier about and everything we do, we’re looking at how to improve it. And some of that is looking at where we failed, like we felt this guy and this didn’t work well, why didn’t it work? How do we get better? Right?

Matt DeCoursey 11:51
Yeah, and, you know, failure is important when it comes to success. Because there’s a few things, you know, I mean, through failure, you’re gonna get to know yourself better. You’re gonna learn from your mistakes, you’re gonna figure out where you need to grow. That’s my point and failure like it forces you to well, it’s humbling in a way that forces you to like, rethink, and reconsider and find new ways and strategies to win and reset your license. And I think one of the things too, with failure is, you know, Matt, you ever get that idea? You’re like, God, I really think this might work. I really think this might work. And it’s just sitting there, it’s getting louder in your head and louder in your head. Sometimes you just need to satisfy that. And know like, okay, oh, god that crushed it. Or you realize, oh, shit, okay, that maybe that wasn’t as great. But sometimes, I think that’s important to just kind of knowing that you’ve checked the boxes, or you’ve tried different things. Right. And, you know, it seemed like a good idea. But I gotta tell you right now, you know, over the years, I’ve tried a lot of different things. And you know, I’m one of those guys, I tried 10. And I want one to work. Because when you find one that works, you’re like, Dude, this is awesome. But you got to know when to let go. And that’s that catch and release scenario. And I did I seen too many people just ride the ship into the rocks. They’re like, way out and see. And they’re like, I see, I see that island, and that reef and those rocks coming in. Now they’re getting closer, like, Oh, it’s getting closer. Okay, let’s just keep going and keep going and keep going and keep going. Like, you know, Hollywood teaches you that the captain goes down with the ship. There’s no glory in that. No, like, that’s just, like, turn it, turn it do something different, you know, anything. And that, you know, that’s a big thing. So all right. And I mentioned so if we’re going to fail fast on this episode, normally, our episodes are quite long. But one, I’m tired of talking about failure with startups. But I did think that this was important, because you’re going to hear that if you’re not familiar with the fail fast mentality you’re in, you want to get into a startup or start a business or any of that you’re gonna run into it. So we felt like we needed to address that and talk about it now. You know, when it comes to failing fast, and why it’s important to winning, it’s like, I mean, it’s crucial to have the ability to know when you’ve reached the point of no return as well. Like, how do you know that? Like, what tells you what Todd has told you in the past, like, it’s time to quit sign to do something different?

Matt Watson 14:22
Well, and back in the early days of VinSolutions, we got to that point at one time, where it’s like, we had a partnership, and we thought the partnership was going to sell our product, and we’re just sitting around everyday waiting for our partner to sell our product. And at some point in time, you’re like, you know what, fuck this. We can’t put 100% of the future of our business relying on this partner. We got to take ownership of this and go sell our own product too. Right. Like at some point in time, like, you just you got to decide it was a failure, like the partnership was a failure. We’ve got to have a plan B, right? And it you got to use your spidey senses sometimes you just know Like, okay, we’ve tried this long enough.

Matt DeCoursey 15:02
I’ve had sorry, what’s the you know, I recently turned 46. I think you’re you’re getting older too. Aren’t you here, buddy?

Matt Watson 15:08
Let’s not talk about it.

Matt DeCoursey 15:09
Yeah, yeah. So as I’ve gotten older, I’ve really got I’ve leaned more on the trust your gut, yes. Like, the more I look back at it in life, like it’s never it hasn’t been wrong. I look back at like, some of the biggest regrets for decisions or stuff or whatever. And like, I was definitely fighting my own, like internal instinct. Like, there’s a reason that that exists. I don’t know how to describe why it exists or any of it. But as you gain more experience, I think that’s experience shouting back at you. It’s like, hey, you’ve done this before, like, don’t touch the hot stove again. It’s gonna burn you. Like, that’s why we learn. Like we both have small children, and we see them go through it. Now, here’s the thing. Sometimes you got to let them learn. Well, I was gonna say, sometimes you gotta let them learn. But if they keep touching the hot stove over and over again, you get a different set of stuff. Do

Matt Watson 16:01
I fight this with my wife all the time, because our youngest is like 13 months. I’m like, let them trip and fall. Let them touch the hot thing. Because until he does, he’s not gonna know not to do it again. Like, that’s the only way he learns is the fail, right? I mean, yeah. Still in the way it works.

Matt DeCoursey 16:16
Well, Matt, today’s episode was brought to you by FullScale.io. And I’m ready to move on. I’m ready to talk about I’m ready to move on. And we’re done failing. We know why it was important. We know why we did it. We talked about it some and we’re coming back with our next episode. We’re going to talk about building the team that’s gonna make it happen now. I’ll see you on the flip side of this episode.

Matt Watson 16:43
See you, buddy.