Reality Check: How Failure Can Lead to Long Term Success

I had the great fortune of failing on my first project. Yes, you read that correctly and it was not a typo. I know it doesn’t seem like the type of thing one would be proud of, but I gained something from that experience that I continue to look for in other projects.

I was assigned to help develop a crowdsourced translation tool to be used in rural India. At the time Wikipedia had already developed a solution, but we found it was not built for ease of use, particularly not for an audience who barely knew how to use a computer. Nor would it allow for the keyboard customizations and transliteration options we needed for our target language. We researched several other out of the box solutions, but options for simple crowdsourcing ¬†translation platforms (geared towards rural, and in some cases dying languages) just weren’t there.

People can’t relate to someone who only talks about their successes.

Jeremy Shoemaker

So we started building a custom platform using the Google transliteration keyboards (because wherever possible we tie in ready to use components. In less than 4 weeks, we had a short workflow, a few pages of sample content, and a very testable prototype. We were so excited (and proud) to take our new concept app to the field to be tested.

What we discovered was that Google transliteration only works successfully when you have a good consistent internet connection, which they don’t in the most rural villages of Bihar, India. Our whole concept boiled down to the most critical component failing and left initially excited users confused or frustrated.

If you’re not embarrassed by your first product release, you’ve released too late.

Reid Hoffman

So we started over, with a better understanding of reality. Lessons learned: ‘Fail Fast’ isn’t just about cutting your losses; it also offers perspective and insights from real user experiences. Know your audience. Research your options. Test early and frequently. What we built in the end was more engaging, a stronger product and was embraced by the ¬†community because we involved them in the design and development process. This is my desire for all my projects.

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