Pulled Kludge Sandwich
One of the most important concepts I live by was best summarized by Seymour Papert decades ago whereby he wrote : ‘You can’t think about thinking, unless you think about thinking about something.’
For me, in the particular, this simply means our mental models need to be well-defined, and moreover, our goals must be named as perfect as possible.
Ever since the dotcom bubble burst, Lean and Agile have hijacked the tech-development landscape. There’s a lot to these methodologies, though I’m pretty choosy on the ideas I take from them. I’m quite bullish on small-batch iteration, on the other hand, I think customer-feedback driven development is a loser.
One idea from Lean, perhaps the greatest idea, is that upstarts ought build minimum viable products (MVPs). In a nutshell, it asserts that over-engineering from the get-go creates waste, if your customers don’t want what you’ve built. So, just build a minimal working copy the first time around, to see what happens.
However, for founders who are just starting up something new, I think there’s a better mental model to follow. And one that keeps the most important issue front and center from the get-go.
The biggest roll of the dice for any upstart is ‘will my product get traction.’ I say roll of the dice, because unlike shipping, product/market fit is statistically out of one’s control.
For first-timers, only 20% of shipped products will find product/market fit on average, and for those who fail and repeat the efforts with another product down the road, the success rate only increases 2%. (Sadly, even for those who find success the first time out, their odds only decrease to 34% for their next venture. Cruel world, indeed!)
It’s a crap-shoot, really. But the success of the venture completely relies on the product finding a runaway fit. Unfortunately, an MVP only gets you to the betting tables; for some reason, nothing about product/market fit is baked into the mantra itself.
(To be clear, ‘viable’ — or doable, simply refers to the development-end of things; as in ‘Minimum Doable Product.’)
A better founder’s battle drum
Since MVP doesn’t do a good job at keeping the most crucial idea front-and-center for founders, a new Papertian meme may serve us well: Pulled Kludge Sandwich (PKS). Here’s what this all alludes to.
Paul Graham was wise to surmise that an early founding team ought to do things that won’t scale. A self-acknowledged hacker, by admission, Graham says we shouldn’t over-engineer, but rather, do our darnedest to not scale. MVP borrows heavily from this idea, and so does PKS. To have a system of loosely coupled kludges, is wise, for one’s alpha release. This empowers us to move fast, it makes it easy to throw parts away — or revamping where things need it most.
Now, having a kludge sandwich out in the world, isn’t the whole story. Is your product being pulled at?
When founders speak of finding product/market fit, there’s many similes that are used. They say: ‘it’s like you just stepped on a landmine’; or ’you know it when you see it’ (as Marc Andreesen puts it).
Another way of saying it, and one I like, is as follows: when you feel like customers are pulling your product away from you, instead of you pushing it, then voilà, you’ve found product/market fit.
PKS: a bindle for upstarts
MVP has certainly made a dent in the minds of every upstart founder. And it’s mostly good. However, to bring what’s of zenith importance to the fore, it helps to put more emphasis on product/market fit. Why not fold it into the DNA of a founder’s vocabulary right from the start?
By framing the concept of product/market fit into one’s development, it may give founders a tad more luck at the customer retention betting tables. At very least, PKS tunes one’s mind to a different way of thinking about it all, something that will go a long way for those who need to survive the long and arduous road of startupdom.