Boris Smus

interaction engineering

The Right It (audio)

Cass suggested I check out The Right It by Alberto Savoia. This book is an ode to an idea: do as much as you can to vet an idea before committing a lot of time and energy on it. In other words, become as confident as possible in product-market fit before spending a lot of resources building even the first version. I strongly agree with the sentiment of the book, and have seen product and research teams fail for this exact reason. That said, it’s quite easy to condense into a substantially smaller format, and I might recommend that (if available) rather than reading the entire book.

Most new ventures fail. Savoia encourages founders to be brutally honest with themselves, make their hypotheses explicit and quantified, and then find clever ways to quickly and cheaply validate them. The steps are as follows:

  1. Come up with an idea (eg. sell old sushi at a discount).
  2. Develop a Market Engagement Hypothesis (eg. A lot of people who want to eat healthy and who like sushi can’t afford to eat it regularly, because sushi tends to be quite expensive. If we can find a way to make sushi as affordable as other fast food, a lot of fast-food patrons will choose sushi over less healthy alternatives.)
  3. Quantify (2) with an X% of Y will do Z. (eg. At least 20% of packaged-sushi eaters will try Second-Day Sushi if it’s half the price of regular packaged sushi.)
  4. Instantiate (3) with a specific, easily testable idea that gets people to put down money (eg. At least 20% of students buying packaged sushi at Coupa Café today at lunch will choose Second-Day Sushi if it’s half the price of regular packaged sushi.)
  5. Actually run the experiment in (4) using a variety of techniques.
  6. Collect your own data from the experiment in (5).
  7. Compare the data with your hypothesis. If the results are close to the hypothesis, you are on the right track. If they are way off, might be time to throw in the towel.
  8. If things look promising, do a few more runs of (4) - (7).
  9. Ultimately make the decision whether to build it, drop it, or make changes to your plan based on what you learned.

Savoia describes a bunch of techniques that may be interesting to apply and riff on:

  • Fake door technique: placing a facade of a product and seeing how people engage in it. Will they engage? (eg. A landing page for a website that asks for an email address)
  • Pinnochio technique: pretending that a dummy object is actually real (eg. The Palm founder who pretended a block of wood was a PDA)
  • Infiltrator technique: negotiate with a store to show your prototype on their shelves for a limited time.

I’ve seen focus groups and traditional user research fail in the exact way that Savoia describes: lack of skin in the game on the part of research participants.