When I took a beginner’s tennis class for my P.E. requirement in high school, the instructor basically broke the course down like this:
There are two ways to learn how to play tennis. The first is to go the Justine Henin-Hardenne method – chuck as many balls as possible to you when you’re still four years old and just let you go at them. After about a couple of thousand of them, you’ll eventually adjust to the right form.
We can try that, but we won’t get very far in one semester. The other method is rooted in accuracy – if I only throw a hundred balls at you, but you hit each of those hundred in exactly the right way, then you’d learn the correct form much quicker.
Bijan Sabet’s post on the short-lived fates of many products at larger tech companies reminded me of that tennis lesson. Large companies are learning to play tennis the Justine Henin-Hardenne way – by hitting thousands of balls and hoping that one will eventually land in the right place. This has become Google’s philosophy lately; sow as many seeds as possible and hope that at least one will eventually grow into a usable product.
Startups, however, don’t the luxury of time, effort, and cash required to hit a thousand ball. If their first serve fails to be a hit, startups then have to quickly reassess and try again with some thoughtful adjustments. Startups learn to play tennis by focusing on a single vision: hitting the tennis ball with perfect form, every time. Even within the popular “fail fast” mantra of the Valley, there is the same emphasis on accuracy – you only have time to hit handful of balls before your funding runs out, and one of them better be a winner.