Bob Cavezza's Blog

Your First product will always be terrible and probably won’t work.  In fact, it’s very well possible that it will make your target’s situation worse than if they hadn’t tried any solution for their problem.  This happens in all innovative industries.  One instance that stands out is in the experiments of handling drug addiction in the late 1800’s.

Dr. William Stewart Halsted, the first surgeon at John Hopkins University, developed cocaine as an anesthesia.  After a few years of using the anesthesia in surgery, Dr. Halsted became addicted to the drug himself.  When he was checked into a rehab, drug addiction was experimental at the time.  In order to “cure” Mr. Halsted’s addiction, doctors at the rehab center slowly reduced his dosages of cocaine and started allowing him to take morphine.  The idea was to get Dr. Halsted addicted to morphine, which was considered a much less dangerous drug than cocaine at the time.  Instead of curing his addiction, this method resulted in Dr. Halsted being addicted to both cocaine and morphine.

It’s unlikely that your startup’s first product will get users addicted to drugs, but it may make their situation worse in some capacity.  This is never a goal when developing a product, but it happens.  In fact, when I was coding the first version of EasyUnsubscriber.com, an early prototype marked every email in Eric Ries’ inbox as read.  I felt terrible at the time, but miscues occur when you’re trying to innovate.

Horrible flops happen, and experiments go wrong.  Don’t think you are a failure when an experiment makes your user’s worse off.  It happens, and it’s part of the process.  Make sure you learn what went wrong and develop an improved version soon after your first launch.

Story of of Dr. William Stewart Halsted is from Genius on the Edge:  The Bizarre Double Life of Dr. William Stewart Halsted  

§50 · December 31, 2011 · Startup Wisdom · · [Print]

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