The Sprint Secret That Launched Harry Potter

The Sprint Secret That Launched Harry Potter

Harry Potter owes its first publishing to an 8-year-old. Nigel Newton, CEO of bloomsbury publishing, didn’t read through the first manuscript of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone himself. He brought it home and gave it to his 8-year-old daughter, Alice, to read. She read the first chapter and came away glowing.

“Dad, this is so much better than anything else.”


It didn’t just stop there. Alice nagged her dad for months wanting to see what was next.

It seems so obvious to talk about it after the fact, but testing something out is the best way to gage how it will land in the market. Picking a children’s book? Give it to a child to read and see what they think.

This is why anyone starting an idea with their focus being to get rich has a harder time gaining traction with their product compared to someone who genuinely loves solving the problem they work on. Knowing what you’re doing will make the world a better place and solve an interesting problem makes you a better maker. You will be able to focus on the problem and how customers react.

Nigel obviously loves his work and reading. He’s raising a daughter who wants to read. He wasn’t only thinking about making money quick. That’s not how you make money quick (enlist your 8-year-old for help). But it is how you love the journey of testing out books to find the next endearing story (which Harry Potter definitely has become).
Don’t just focus on the Money

The secret is not to think about what customer would like, but to actually test it.

Don’t ask a customer what they think, but actually watch them use your product. This is amazingly easy to talk about, and amazingly hard to do. The arrogance that we know what is good or not good is a vice for all product makers. 

Validate your ideas. Watch a customer use some simple version of them. This is one way a sprint brings tremendous insight and generates excitement to help you and your team continue forward.

In the past year my partner and I have help other companies sprint to validate many ideas, as well as used sprints to validate several of our own ideas (which you can check out from Sprintwell Labs). Check out our guide to pitching sprints to get better at convincing others you work with to use sprints. 

When people ask me about sprints, I tell them the most important principle is having humility to learn. That’s why you should prototype and test. Watching 5 people use a prototype will teach you more in a few hours than months of building something will ever uncover. It just takes 5.

Validating first makes for great products and happy teams.

This is the first of a series we’ll be working on — #startedwithasprint. #startedwithasprint highlights ideas that used the principles of sprints to achieve success. Everything from Walt Disney to post-it notes.

Note: This connection was first called out on in Sprints, the book about design sprints by Jake Knapp.

Hi. I’m Ryan, partner at Sprintwell. We help teams go from friction to flow using sprints. Thanks for reading!


Up Next:

It only takes 5: getting feedback on a prototype for DriveIQ

It only takes 5: getting feedback on a prototype for DriveIQ