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Roses are Red, Startups are Dead -  A guide to the Startup Graveyard Technique

Roses are Red, Startups are Dead - A guide to the Startup Graveyard Technique

Let's have a Picnic in the Startup Graveyard..


This technique involves exploring "near miss" failures similar to your product idea to generate ideas about what to test and how to build a business model that could work in a second attempt.

Questions to Ask

  • What related products have been created in the past?
  • What did customers like/not like about previously created products?
  • What advice would founders of failed products similar to our idea (near misses) give us, if they were to go after the idea again?
  • Which features have to be included in the product?
  • How is this product different from similar products offered in the past?

The Goal

"Do research on what’s been tried and failed. Many near misses have two out of three values in a feature set combination correct (some just have too many features and it’s less a matter of changing features than deleting a few). If you are going to introduce something that’s “been tried before,” be clear in your own mind what’s different about it and why it will make a difference to your customer."

The goal of this technique is to identify a unique way to angle a product, so that you avoid a previously committed error. You will be introducing the idea at a later time, which will be to your benefit, but it's likely that previous failures will provide you with useful feedback.

With this technique, you are aiming to construct a fuller picture of what's been tried in the past to identify potential landmines. This helps navigate a similar space, but with the benefit of the previous founders' experience. It may help generate ideas on the product side, such as in terms of feature set. It may also help generate ideas about targeting to a different market segment, or any of the ten other pivots in Eric Reis' The Lean Startup.

Time Commitment and Resources

  • Armchair research: 1-2 days.
  • Customer development: Similar to customer discovery interviews.
  • Founder interviews: It depends on how difficult it is to find contact details for former founders. Use LinkedIn and tools like Clearbit to find them fast. Ask lots of questions as you can learn the most from speaking to founders who've played in the space. After that, it's similar to customer discovery interviews. Remember not all founders advice may be good as they may not have been committed and have tried multiple pivots, seek out ones that seem they really gave it a go becuase chances are there are many startups that have played in the space you want to play in.

Action Plan

  1. Perform some armchair research (such as Google) to identify previous attempts at entering a similar market with a similar product to your product/product idea. Depending on the idea type, you may also find it useful to ask your local librarian if they can help you find relevant case studies.
  2. Use social media platforms to seek out customers of these previous companies. Look for "Likes" of the product/company name on Facebook, or old tweets mentioning the company.
  3. Reach out and contact these previous customers and interview them. Do both problem and solution interviews. Find out what they liked and disliked about the previous company.
  4. Then try to find the founders or project/product leads if at a big company and interview them about their experiences.

Interpreting Results

This is a wonderful technique to generate a lot of ideas in an area you are already operating in. Particularly at the beginning of a startup journey, this technique can help zoom in on what to avoid and exactly what to test, to verify for yourself if a particular assumption is still true/false.

Potential Biases

  • Overconfidence: Could prevent you from using the technique. This is stupid. Do this technique.
  • Dismissing it too quickly: On the other side, exploring the reasons why others failed can make you doubt an idea too much if you can't find a unique angle to test the idea. Remember the only thing that makes or break a business solving a customer problem is the persistence of a founder to find that angle.

Video Example of Google Glass,
Reference: snippet of mentor session on 14 ways to validate ideas + f*ck up stories by Omar Najjar