Failure is an option: when to stay on course and when to pivot

Two women work at a whiteboard.

The difference between an idea and a business is validation.

Everyone has amazing ideas and usually we envision these ideas working out perfectly. To every problem there is a solution, and when you can provide the ideal solution, your business will ultimately change the world.

Unfortunately, many ideas end up being dreams that don’t come to fruition. Successful entrepreneurs are the ones who are able to take an idea and turn it into reality. The best way to do this is to test your idea. Instead of guessing how people might use your app, service or product, actually build something and get people to test it out. Let your potential customers be the advocate.

There are many failed startups which pursued an idea too far – building feature on top of feature without ever publicly testing it – only to find out that what they built wasn’t in demand.

Read: Writing a business plan guide

There are also many examples of startups that have successfully changed their original idea, pivoting into something completely different using customer feedback throughout the testing process. The ultimate outcome of testing is simply to get meaningful feedback and help you determine if your business is viable. So, fail fast to reach your goals faster.

Validating your idea: Build a Prototype → Test It → Collect Feedback


A prototype is an early demonstration of your idea. Prototypes don’t need to be highly refined. The famous Rubik’s Cube was originally made from paper clips and rubber bands, featuring a 2×2 configuration. It wasn’t until 2 years later (in 1974) that it ended up in its famous 3×3 configuration. Prototyping helps founders secure funding in the early stages of a startup.

If your idea is a product: Your prototype should be something people can hold and see. Create the closest thing you can to the product and give it to people to use. Observe their interactions with your product and collect feedback.

If it’s an online service or an app: Create wireframes of your software that people can interact with. Rather than explaining your idea to someone and asking them to imagine it, create a mock up experience that your target market can use, and observe them using it. One good tool to use is MockFlow, a free wireframing tool.

If you’re testing a professional service: Provide free trials of your service, followed by surveys and focus groups. You will receive feedback on your service and more importantly testimonials if you do a good job.

“As you make a prototype, assume you are right and everyone else is wrong. When you share your prototype, assume you are wrong and everyone else is right.” – Diego Rodríguez Telechea

Use: One-page business action plan template

Testing your idea

Always test on your target market! Family and friends are great, but they may give you feedback that is overly positive. Offer small rewards to strangers to test out your business solution or idea.

Ask your testers if they would use and pay for your idea, and how much—this helps you understand what your business is worth in the eyes of your target market.

There are many places you can find people to try your business. One suggestion is to ask the International Entrepreneurs in Australia (IEA) community if anyone is willing to test your product!

Collecting feedback

Before you start testing, plan your feedback collection. The point of feedback is to help you refine your business before going any further. This could save you large amounts of money and effort in the long run.


  • What do you want to really know from people using your prototype?
  • What’s your hypothesis?
  • Who do you need to collect feedback from?
  • What’s the best way to collect this information?
  • What will you do with the feedback?

Based on the questions you select, choose the most appropriate investigative method below. For example, if you want feedback on whether someone can successfully navigate your website, then consider direct observation or screen sharing as a way of watching the testers use your website. If you want broader feedback on what problems a large group of customers are experiencing in an area of their life, then consider using surveys.

Screen sharing

Remote user testing programs allow you to watch people while they test or use your product or service, and hear their thoughts while performing those tasks regardless of location. Platforms such as Google HangoutsValidatelySkype, and Marvel App are just some helpful tools that can facilitate this type of testing.


An online survey gathers data from the target audience and is an easy, cheap and flexible tool to test market data. Listed below are some free online surveys.


Focus groups

A focus group is a gathering of selected people who participate in a planned discussion or

testing that is intended to elicit consumer feedback about a product or service. It is meant to be interactive and receptive as group members can speak to one another, exchanging perspectives and experiences of the product or service.

Direct observation (ethnographic research)

Observing users interacting with a product can be a great way to understand the overall user experience of a product. First, decide what you expect to learn from an observational study. Second, you should be able to explain to participants what they will be doing and what they will be observed for. Third, recruit the right sample size of participants to make your results meaningful. Finally, explain to testers how the collected data will be used.

A woman and two men sit at a meeting table. A bearded man stands at the end of the table looking on.

When should you refine or pivot

Pivot as soon as you possibly can. The concept of ‘pivoting’, is that you quickly change your idea, service, or product to suit what your target market is telling you. This is the greatest benefit of testing and prototyping so that you can learn how to build a better business solution or product.

Revise your business model when you pivot. If you changed your product, does that fundamentally change your profit margins? Do your assumptions change? Do you still have a viable business?

Upon receiving feedback, improve your prototype and test again, until what you have is truly solving the target market’s problems. In addition to this, there are other good reasons to pivot or change:

  • When you find new goals you are aligned with that changes the nature of your idea.
  • Your prototype isn’t connecting with your audience and you can’t find a way to monetise it.
  • When you are not excited about the long-term direction you are heading in. If you don’t have the energy to pursue your idea further, this can be a good indication to stop and re-evaluate your idea.

Failure is an option

When we think of failure, we often think the worst. This is especially difficult in startup communities, where you may be constantly compared to other successful businesses. You may even see entrepreneurs speaking at big events and achieving funding goals, whilst your business is struggling to take off.

Don’t worry. We have all been there! Successful entrepreneurs are those who know how to make failure work for them, propelling them towards success. They know when to fail, when to let an idea stop, and when to pivot it towards something new.

Read: Improve employee innovation