Like almost anyone who spends any amount of time online, I recently had an idea for a web site (more on that at a later date). Having worked in marketing (of one form or another) for nearly all of my employed adulthood, and falling back on my college business courses, my first thought is to make a plan. A well-crafted strategy can be indispensable to endeavors in all sorts of industries. On the other hand, energy spent planning is energy diverted from building, as the chaps at 37 Signals wouldsay (though they’d say it more eloquently, I’m sure).
Get something real up and running quickly
Running software is the best way to build momentum, rally your team, and flush out ideas that don’t work. It should be your number one priority from day one.
It’s ok to do less, skip details, and take shortcuts in your process if it’ll lead to running software faster. Once you’re there, you’ll be rewarded with a significantly more accurate perspective on how to proceed. Stories, wireframes, even html mockups, are just approximations. Running software is real.
Sounds like sage advice, and from people who put their own advice into effect on a daily basis. As someone who has worked for companies from large, multi-national corporations to four-person non-profits that have all suffered in one way or another from moving too slowly, it sure sounds like an attractive philosophy.
But can you take the iterative approach with a business strategy? What if you don’t have an established framework (such as an already-successful web design and development business, as in the case of 37 Signals) from which to launch your idea? If your idea is something you can launch by yourself or with an existing business partner, it seems a no-brainer: just do it!
Many successful web practitioners have been eschewing venture capital and other types of funding in favor of staying lean and focusing on profits, which has seemed to pay off over the last few periods of economic downturn — if you don’t have someone holding a share of your company, then no one can bail on you when times get tough. On the other hand, what if your project’s success hinges in some part on pulling in business or media partners. Can you gain those companies’ support if you don’t have a physical business plan to show them?
This post has more questions than answers, because I want to hear from you: which is better, speed or preparation? Are those the only two choices?