A standard phase in the life of a new startup business is the “pilot stage”. This is the stage where you’ve gone out there and schmoosed someone such that they take a punt on your new business and your new product.

A very common gotcha that gets founders when they are doing a pilot is that they forget that the pilot is supposed to be experimental. I did some digging around the etymology of why we call “pilots” “pilots”, and it supposedly comes from the fact the term was first used in reference to testing new aircraft designs – i.e. a test pilot would strap themselves into something somewhat sketchy and, hopefully you get a good outcome.

The gotcha that gets is that founders when running pilots are always low on money – to keep the analogy going, they are low on “fuel”. But whatever island you are landing on is not the destination.

You are going to need to take off again and fly somewhere else after the pilot and so the gotcha that gets is that founders often find that they don’t have any money with which to make the changes to the product that the pilot uncovers.

This can cause an outright failure – you spend all the money, the pilot proves that you have poor product-market fit, but even if you know what needs fixing to get good product-market fit, you have no money left with which to do that.

The solution here is to plan the pilot as a pilot and know that you need to keep some spend in reserve to change the product for the next exercise, i.e. remember that the pilot is an experiment and you will need to act on the data that comes out from that exercise.