We think we know our customers, we think we know our market; we think we can predict the future, we can’t and we shouldn’t invest lots of money without building in the ability to test our assumptions with data rather than opinions and theories.

Airbnb (the home rental startup that is estimated to be worth $10 billion) initially tested their assumption that people would rent space in a home or apartment by buying three air mattresses and posting them for rent on the web! The founder of Zipcar (the car sharing service) tested her assumption that people would be willing to share cars by sharing one car parked outside her home in the Boston area. People had to come onto her porch to get the key and the usage was all based on the honor system – you filled out a mileage log in the glove box!

Awesome stories especially when you know how they turned out! How does this apply to your business? I want you to start thinking about your minimum viable product (MVP) with your next initiative, especially a project that involves launching something new to your customers or deploying new software. What is the version of the idea that will cost you the least while providing you the greatest opportunity to learn and validate your assumptions? As Jim Collins would say, fire bullets (small investments) until you’ve proven it out with data, and then shoot cannon balls (make your big bet).

For web-to-print, lots of people assume, customers don’t want to order this way or customers want to talk to me about every order. Guess what, that’s an assumption and it should be tested by deploying a solution and see what happens. Don’t go crazy and spend a lot money and time, use a cloud service to test the customer reaction or better yet just set up a mock demonstration site and test it out with customers before you even buy it! Take that hat off your head that keeps telling you, I’ve been doing this for decades, I know my customers, I know the market and look at the whole thing as a beginner – we are all beginners because the buyer is using technology to evolve faster than ever before. If you need to hear this from someone far more powerful and with data far more convincing, take twenty minutes to page through Mary Meeker’s State of the Internet Trends 2014 that came out yesterday.