Schrödinger’s Cat: How to avoid startup failure through product validation

Alexander Weekes
3 min readDec 23, 2020

The thought experiment of Schrödinger’s Cat, is regularly used as an example to prove the validity of something’s existence. The Austrian physicist, Schrödinger, claimed that hypothetically if a cat were to be placed inside an opaque box alongside a poisonous gas that would ultimately kill it, the cat is neither alive nor dead until the box is opened and one can view it.

Although Schrödinger intended to use his cat scenario to explain quantum mechanics, we continue to apply this theory throughout life and work. Very often we assume an outcome before having facts and evidence to prove it one way or another. Until we have evidence — whether that is visuals or data — to back up our assumptions, we cannot know for certain what the outcome will be. The cat is neither alive nor dead.

So, how does this apply to the world of business?

Entrepreneurs are known to be visionaries. It’s what earned them their title in the first place — inventing, creating, always looking for the next best thing. Visionaries are necessary for society to progress: they keep things moving, they find new loopholes, they streamline old processes, they create new solutions.

However, one of the downfalls of being a visionary is this incessant need to continuously keep the ball rolling. When you’re building a product, it usually manifests itself in changing, or ‘improving’, the product before it’s been released to market.

Of course, everyone wants to build the best product possible. The coolest features, the most advanced properties — but if you do this from the get-go, you’re going to lose sight of one of the most important elements of building a product: providing a solution to one problem.

Far too often, startups fail because they’ve lost sight of the problem they first set out to solve — instead, believing it’s better to answer many problems. The reality of this is that you will dilute the ability to solve the key problem found in your initial market research. It’s critical that before you start to make improvements on your product, you give the market the chance to validate it.

This is where the theory of Schrödinger’s Cat comes in. At the point your idea is in your head, or when the product has only been seen by the startup team, it’s neither a good idea nor a bad idea — it’s both.

By allowing the market to decide on whether it’s valid or not, you are confirming its success one way or another, which means many entrepreneurs think it’s safer to remove the risk of it being bad by changing the product. However, when does this cycle end? You could theoretically, go on and on changing the idea, or ‘improving’ it without ever hitting the real market, in a bid to avoid this feeling of rejection if it isn’t adopted by the market immediately.

The fact is this fallacy misses the point. No idea is final, so negative feedback from the market does not mean the idea is bad, but rather providing an opportunity to iterate a product to fit that need. The negative feedback that entrepreneurs fear is actually the fuel that should drive their product/solution development.

Market feedback is the real deal, it’s invaluable, and it’s the only way you will ever really be ‘improving’ your product — not simply changing it. Avoiding this trap is vital to succeeding as an entrepreneur. Your product deserves to be released to the world, the market deserves to see it, don’t let the fear of negative feedback equate to failure.

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Alexander Weekes

Alex Weekes is a Digital Product Manager, Associate Lecturer, and Startup Consultant working with some of the world's most innovative startups and technologies.