The most popular thing in the Dogpatch basement these days seems to be creating fake websites. Loosely derived from the concept of A/B testing, realistic looking landing pages with dead buttons seem to be the new goal. People seem to wonder: why spend time developing a functioning website that can attract real users when you can download a free trial of Photoshop, spend a few hours mocking up a landing page, and test for click rates?
This whole craze began after a recent talk from Jason Freedman. He told the group about how, in a period of a few days, he scrapped eight iterations of what ultimately turned out to be 42Floors before finally settling on their current iteration. In a matter of a few hours he would mock up a landing page (complete with dead buttons), attract some potential users, and calculate the bounce rate (the percentage of site users who leave the site before clicking to advance past the landing page). In a period of three hours, he would go from thinking he had the next great idea to determining that he had nothing.
By definition, A/B testing is a way to test possible changes in web page design against the current design and determine which one produces the most positive results. A/B testing is designed to take the guesswork out of website improvement and optimization, not to determine if a new great idea is a boom or bust before a real, functioning site is ever built.
Starting a startup is all about, well, starting. There are millions of people out there who think that they have a million dollar idea. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but people who can come together and execute great ideas are the people who can really make change happen. Entrepreneurs can’t be afraid to take risks, and they can’t be afraid of failure. Most importantly, they have to give themselves a chance to succeed. All a fake website gives a person is a way to avoid the possibility of having to admit failure; it’s hard to fail when you never try.
People may learn about a target market when they are busy building fake websites and charting bounce rates. And this target market may change when they don’t see what they want, meaning they haven’t really learned anything useful. If you really want to disrupt the market and catalyze change, you must believe in your idea and dedicate yourself to implementing your innovative vision. If you make the brave decision to “take the plunge” and begin to execute your vision, you may fail. Statistically speaking, you probably will fail. But in the process, you will afford yourself the opportunity to learn a great deal about developing a product. This is the kind of invaluable, hands-on knowledge that you can only learn by doing, and these are the kinds of lessons that will allow you to execute even better if you decide it’s time to pivot.
A fake website may be a way to test how a small group of people respond to a general idea, but it is highly unlikely that a person can accurately portray their vision on a mocked up landing page with fake buttons. Maybe people won’t like the idea at first (and only) glance because they think it will be difficult to use, but you have an innovative way to make it incredibly user-friendly that’s not being portrayed well. Or maybe the product won’t be of interest because a user has never heard of it, and because none of their friends are using it. On the flip side, maybe someone is intrigued because they believe this product will solve one of their biggest needs, but it turns out solving this specific need is not what you intended and perhaps not even feasible. These and many more questions can’t be answered until you make the effort to execute your vision.
The decision of a person to click or not click a dead button on a fake site after a gut reaction should not be the determining factor in beginning the process of development. An entrepreneur should learn about their target market, and then begin to start the startup. There are plenty of great ideas with no one with the abilities to execute them and bring a product to market. If you think you’ve got the next great idea, believe in your vision, build a team, and start executing. You may fail, but make a point of absorbing all of the lessons that are best learned by doing. But you may also succeed. I don’t know what will happen if you take the plunge and work to execute your vision, but I do know that you won’t succeed if you never start.