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Fake It Till You Make It!

Doesn’t this meal look awesome?

And so it should, as according to TripAdvisor, it was created at one of London’s most exclusive and in-demand restaurants called ‘The Shed in Dulwich’.

There was however, a rather big ‘catch’ with this particular dish.

And that catch was that the dish was created by mixing bleach and shaving foam.

Furthermore, the ‘The Shed in Dulwich’, was the ultimate facade, as despite having hundreds of 5-star reviews, the restaurant was completely fictitious.

(You can read more about how Oobah Butler tricked a nation here ). Aside from being a good braai topic though, there is a lesson for business leaders here too. You really should fake it until you make it!

Yep. I’m really saying this. More precisely I’m suggesting you really consider ‘faking it, to help you make it’. By creating fake ‘facades’ to test on customers, you can 10x the probability you’ll develop products and services that find a market-fit, many times faster and many times cheaper. Whether your business makes software or hardware, products or services, with some creative thinking and a few basic tools there are multiple ways to use ‘facades’ to test your ideas, well before the first line of code is written or the first mould is created for the production line. Jake Knapp, highlights the benefit of creating cheap ‘facades’ perfectly in his best selling business book “Sprint“, with two hand-drawn diagrams.

The graph on the left shows what 99% of organisations do 99% of the time. They basically build stuff, wasting significant resources in development, before they expose the product to their customers.

The alternative approach is to think of smart ways to create just enough ‘realness’ to your idea to test on potential clients in days, sometimes hours.

There is, of course, a whole set of secondary benefits from applying the ‘facade’ approach. The compounding impact of learning faster so you can iterate, pivot or fail faster can be mind-blowing, especially if ‘facading’* is not treated as a one of exercise.

You’ll find a concise 5-day design process, to help you create your own facades, in “Sprint

But you don’t have to read the book to start designing your own experiments.

Your own creativity is more important than learning yet another project framework.

Take this example from Zappos

They are a multi-billion-dollar online shoe and clothing retailer that was purchased by Amazon for $1.2bill back in 2009 (source).

But back in 1999, the founder Nick Swinmurn had to find a way to test whether anyone would buy shoes over the internet.

Remember at that time, Google Venture Sprints were not a thing yet and neither for that matter was online e-commerce.

None the less, Nick Swinmurn was able to create a facade that Zappos was already a viable business, in a similar fashion to how Oobah Butler created the impression that The Shed was a real restaurant.

Nick wasn’t however interested in tricking TripAdvisor. He was creating a facade to test whether any Americans would have enough ‘trust’ and ‘interest’ to buy shoes online.

With no offices, no distribution, no payment mechanism, no warehousing and no staff he created the illusion that he had a ‘real’ product.

By taking photos of trainers, from the closest high-street shop, and emailing these photos to a few thousand addresses, he quickly learnt that a large enough percentage of recipients would buy shoes from him.

To fulfil the orders, he’d walk to the shops, to buy the shoes at full retail prices, before walking to the post office to post them.

Not a cost-efficient or scaleable approach for sure, but remember that’s not the goal of rapid experimentation.

The goal is to learn as much as you can, as quickly as you can, so you 10x the probability of regularly deploying products and services that your clients will quite literally love.

So, will you try faking it, to help you make it?

I certainly hope so.

But if you are not convinced about the benefits of using facades, to drive rapid experimentation cycles, consider this.

Image you were presented with the opportunity to invest in just one of two companies that were identical in every way but one.

You can choose Company Alpha, that builds out prototypes and mvp’s, relying predominantly on its own experiences, assumptions and the odd market survey.

Or you could invest in Company Beta, that as from today has decided to start spending more time building ‘facades’, to help quickly design products and services, based on real client interactions.

Which one would you choose…?

Happy facading*,


*facading is probably a made-up word, but somehow it seemed to fit.


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