Fail Fast

Fail Fast


Transcript of Podcast with
By Dr. R. Andrew Hurley

So, I’m an assistant professor at Clemson University in the department of food, nutrition and packaging sciences. While giving all I can to build my research and teaching programs and working my ass off for the prospect of tenure, I founded two businesses – primarily so I have a failsafe if I don’t make that tenure. These are living/breathing organisms that need tremendous attention. I have a wife, two children, a home and extended family. All need time, all need attention, all share urgency and triaging of issues. So, I have lots of issues to manage and little time to prove out solutions

I’ve learned the value of the MVP, the minimum viable “P” – substitute this for whatever you want, “package”, “product”, “process” whatever, its a business term that is passed around like a funny meme. In business, you’ll hear minimum viable product all the time. But being from academia – the polar opposite of “business” — and introduced to this term in my early 30s, I’ve made this my life philosophy – In my case, it’s the minimum viable path – test ideas quickly, fail fast, move on. Just like when a kid learns to ride a bike, the more comfortable he gets with falling, the more confident he becomes in riding – and that’s all riding a bike really is, confidence in your own balance.

Just like everyone listening to this, we have no time. Most of us have negative time – obligating ourselves to too much and inevitably giving important tasks sub-par attention. Doesn’t matter – work/job/life – we’ll pick (sometimes random) tasks to give too much attention, and others too little. It’s this sinusoidal process in which we all live within…but we generally don’t embrace it. Problems can really become opportunities if we take a moment to think about leveraging them.

I was in Brazil not too long ago at a packaging conference, where I noticed an unusual trend – new companies were presenting their products, startups, and package redesigns — and all shared this radical new concept – 12-15 week market launches. I was blown away – once they had proof of concept, they were in market within a quarter.

I work with plenty of global CPGs (or FMCGs depending on who is listening) with 2 year timelines. A couple million in R&D and the inevitable 90%+ failure rate of consumer products after 36 months in market.

It hit me that this Brazilian creativity is literally the MVP – the least you need to get your product to market as fast as possible. Statistically speaking, it’s going to fail. So why not embrace this – fail fast, spend less, reduce your holdup in lost opportunity costs. If it is one of the few winners, you’ll have more useful data than you could ever imagine to put a multiplier on sales next year. If it fails, it will be fast – fast in that you invested the minimum time and resources needed to get to market. Were the designs perfect from these brazilian companies? Nope. But, they focused on communicating the value and clearly differentiating from the competition.

This thinking, though simple, this can be lost in the NAFTA/Euro lengthy stage-gate processes. What pain does this product solve and how it is different from the other opportunities? With 12-15 weeks – you have limited time to create, so, you keep it simple. It either works or it does not. If it works – you’ll have set risk aside to justify a major packaging and branding overhaul.

I’m certain many of you may be thinking that a 12-15 week launch sounds ridiculous – but if you lean less on risk mitigation and more on your suppliers for support – bringing key stakeholders into the room for that kickstart meeting and delegating out to vendors, this is a sound strategy. You’ll be less flexible of course, but suppliers often act differently when they feel like they are a partner. Sometimes design and consumer testing is needed – absolutely do quick turn-around, in-context biometric testing. We do this for companies everyday at Package InSight. Within a week, we can correlate attention and sales to design – helping you pick the right materials, design and messaging for your products with your target audience in mind.

Another method is education. Trial, error, and R&D are embraced in our culture – but there are proven methods, proven materials, and proven practices. A personal hero of mine, Dr. Michael Okoroafor, a tremendously successful packaging professional once told me,  “Why innovate when you can leverage your way to success.” Leverage core, fundamental knowledge. At Clemson and – I focus on this methodology of teaching – what do you need to know to make sound, proven, and quick decisions within the packaging and product development space?

In the end, we all have success as our primary target. It’s defined many different ways, but one way is to rethink the ways we do things on a continual basis, Rethinking ways of doing the same thing may literally be the definition of creativity. If we embrace the MVP, or embrace failing fast, we’ll get there faster, more efficiently, and with less pain. When you embrace this methodology, falls don’t hurt as much, and we can get back on the bike and keep going…

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