Start Small or Go All In? Two Approaches to Starting a Business

I enjoyed reading Born to Build this week. In fact, it made my shortlist of titles that I intend to re-read every year. But I want to raise a question that I hope will generate some healthy dialogue.

We hear a lot about MVP (Minimum Viable Product) when it comes to starting a business or launching a new channel within an existing company.

I agree that, in many cases, it is best to “start small” as Jim Clifton says in the quote above.

But I believe there are instances (and the number of them is growing) when the optimal strategy is to go all in, to start big right out of the gate.

I haven’t heard these exceptions raised very often so that is why I’m broaching the subject here.

An Important Clarification

First, let me clarify that I am not saying that people should wait to launch a business until it is perfect and all the kinks are worked out. That’s not what I mean by “going big” with a new business venture. I agree with Jim Clifton’s quote below.

Highly successful builders do not waste time and resources developing their product or service to perfection…

I don’t recommend delaying a launch until the service or product is completely bug-proof. To the contrary, my main premise is that there are times when a proof-of-concept approach creates more risk (risk of losing out on a bigger business opportunity) or provides inaccurate results that never give it a good chance at success.

Exception #1

There are at least two cases in which it is more profitable to go all in right out of the gate. First, when the product or service you are building is a new concept with tremendous untapped potential, especially in the digital space.

But here’s the catch – many people are convinced that the above statement is true for their idea (most probably believe that or they wouldn’t be building it). But I recommend that only those whom Clifton classifies as “Builder-Experts” attempt to start big.

If you are a true expert – an established and proven leader in your field – you might be onto an idea that will only work if you go all in. The only “proof-of-concept” required might be the skillful insights you’ve gained through years of experience “connecting the dots” as Clifton puts it.

An entire article could be written about the many ways in which you can prove out a concept without having to start small. Many risks can be quantified and the potential can be calculated based on sources like search data, the example of start-ups in parallel industries, the size of targetable audiences, and by plugging in known development costs and industry averages (engagement rates, conversion rates).

It’s possible that if you start small, a large competitor or corporate giant could catch wind of what you’re doing in your soft launch, see the potential, and build the full version faster and better, adding their own branding, beating you to the punch, and gaining the advantage of being first-to-market.

Not everyone falls under Exception #1 but it is true for some and I believe this scenario is worth some consideration and discussion.

Exception #2

Here’s another exception that is also directed at “Builder-Experts” in particular: If a proof-of-concept approach will not produce accurate results, you might want to consider starting big instead.

Here’s just one example in which this is true. Some business ideas (many, actually) require being in the first three organic search results in order to get enough attention from potential customers to test its viability.

Being in the top three organic search results is not easily done with a proof-of-concept approach. It requires a tremendous amount of work, effort, and resources to gain those placements. It can be done but rarely on a small budget with a limited investment of time.

Low-Hanging Fruit

We hear a lot about MVP and proof-of-concept but another related phrase is “low-hanging fruit.”

Have you heard this as much as I have in recent years? We’re always asked to go after the low-hanging fruit but I admire the rare individual, team, or business that decides to go all in instead. There’s something to be said for aiming high.

I’ve shared just a couple exceptions to the MVP approach but I’m sure there are more out there and I’d love to see a dialogue here or on LinkedIn about this. Please share your ideas and feedback.

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