Good, Fast and Cheap: Startups Can Only Pick Two of These

    by David Cohn
    October 12, 2009

    Whenever people ask me about the process of building a website, here’s how I explain their choices: “There is good, fast and cheap — you get to pick two.”

    Spot.Us has quietly started development again. I’ll be putting up sketches of a much needed re-design on the Spot.Us blog soon, but you can see a sneak peek at the bottom of this post, courtesy of Lauren Rabaino. Looking back at what has almost been a full year of work, this is the part of building something from the ground up that plays to one of my strengths. It comes down to project management, weighing expectations with reality, and being able to make tough choices. In this post I will share a fundamental lesson you should keep in mind before building any website from scratch. Perhaps it’s also a “life lesson” that can be applied to engaging in any large scale project. 

     Back reading: other thoughts of mine related to building large scale projects or start-ups:


    Today’s lesson: There is Good, Fast and Cheap — You Get to Pick Two.

    Perhaps this “good, fast, and cheap” philosophy goes for all things in life. First, let’s define the options.

    • Good: Of high quality. Something that will last and perform as expected.
    • Fast: Something produced quickly. Below par.
    • Cheap: Something produced at low cost. Below par.

    When building a start-up you get to choose two. Sometimes the choice is made for you (i.e. If you are bootstrapping).

    The combinations.

    1. Good and fast: Means the project is not cheap.
    2. Fast and cheap: Means the project is not necessarily good.
    3. Cheap and good: Means that it was not fast.

    Do these rules apply 100 percent of the time? Of course not. Nothing is 100 percent. But if I were a betting man, I’d predict the following outcomes for each scenario:

    1. Good and fast: If you went for good and fast it most likely means you hired top notch folks. This is a boon to any website project starting out — but it also means you need to watch your cash flow because it won’t be cheap. Unless you are rolling in cash, the cost should be a concern. Still, going this route can save you money in the long run. If you are able to get something to market before you cut off development, you’ll be able to lean on what you’ve produced and it will work reliably. In contrast, I know plenty of projects that went with option number two…
    2. Fast and cheap: If it works out then you’ve won the lottery. Again, I’m not saying quality is impossible here. But I personally know projects that went the fast and cheap route and in the long run it hurt them. What they ended up bringing to market failed. Most users are not as forgiving as they are to Twitter. If your site breaks, they won’t come back. It often takes an organization twice as much money and time to build a stable website if the initial site was built fast and cheap. If you are not a tech-minded person, you might wonder why everyone doesn’t outsource or go with the cheapest labor out there (and there are cheap developers on the market). Think of this scenario: you could pay an Amish wood craftsman to build an heirloom cabinet that will last generations, or you can get something from Ikea that will last two to five years and require some assembly and maintenance on your part —but will cost a tenth of the price. There is no right or wrong answer. It often depends on where you are in life. When I was in college it was Ikea all the way, baby! In either case the trade-offs are apparent. That’s the difference between options number one and number two.
    3. Good and cheap: The typical scenario here is that you have a great web developer (an Amish craftsman of code) who is ready to donate some of his/her time to your project. This is great. It means you can get quality at a cheap price. But this also usually means the development comes at a pace dictated by the volunteer, not you. Set all the deadlines you want in your mind — the reality is that you’re at their mercy.

      Again, this isn’t a bad thing. It’s just a trade-off. The good news is that when something does finally get put out, you’ll have quality and it won;t have broken the piggy bank. If you aren’t in a rush this can even be ideal (for example, maybe it’s something you are working on as a volunteer as well).

    Final Thoughts

    As always, these lessons aren’t prescriptive — they’re descriptive. I don’t think there is a right/wrong option to take. But it is important to know the trade-offs that you or your project manager are making. Journalism is becoming more entrepreneurial. “Entrepreneurial” itself is a buzzword that should be defined, but it either means journalists as innovators (entrepreneur as a person who is pushing boundaries), or journalists as self-employed (entrepreneur as small business owner). In either case, this lesson, which I call “pick two,” applies.

    Now, as promised, below is a sneak-peak at a rough redesign of Spot.Us. (It’s very rough — see the Spot.Us blog for details).


    Tagged: crowdfunding entrepreneurship redesign spot.us startup

    One response to “Good, Fast and Cheap: Startups Can Only Pick Two of These”

    1. JD Wilcox says:

      This is so true and that is why I have been holding out on my first web site. I have been trying to get aquainted with what I like about oyhers either personal sites or even other commercial sites so that when I emplement my site, it will not be a dud… I believe that first outlook or major foot in the door, sort of speak. Is a very good impression of what to expect later… I had a design allready for my homepage that I spent alot of time digitaly mastering my photo’s and when I went back it was all gone. I did not set it up yet because I was waiting to finish my homepage outline concept. Then I was going to go back and start linking each picture with different links and other random pages but I keep having to deal with curupt half a$* equipment that goes dead on me and start all over again… for instance the site would have bee going allready but I can not find a stupid usb adapter for my canon rebel xl to get my 1,000’s of pix out and edited for the site… I hate having to re use old pix that have allready been released… Support is also a huge factor. Know this though soon and very soon. It is going to hit out on the world wide web for all those who have been patiently waiting trying to figure out what codes and tools and my ability to implement them in a way that will get hit’s like the 4th of july… My first site is going to be a benchmark of something that will continue with success for years to come… I can rebuild it… make it stronger… faster… more intrigueing than it has ever neen invisioned before with twists and quirks and oddities along with video and digital entertainmentment fields from every walk and aspect of the everyday to underground and foriegn ways of life… “We the people…” will prevail with news for the people by the people… for rich or for poor… with intellectual or even comical getto like satire to bring a giggle or a tear from any unssuspecting travelor of our mixxed programmable media nation… That is the reason America is and always will be the strongest news and entertainment capitol of the world… like 1,2,3 the whisper heard ’round the world as “We” drop shockingly true fiction that has not been felt or heard since Hiroshema… I know I need to go back and get my spell check browser running for open source professional editing business critics… but for now it is like where is waldo for typo and coma and punctuative errors… some is punn intendended however for those who read deeper into things than is actually there… hahaha

      “Welcome to my World…” as written by “WE the PEOPLe!”

      [email protected]

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