When you are developing a website or developing an application, the question always comes… “Are we ready to launch?” And, boy, is it a loaded one.
Launch too early and you could lose your first wave of customers because you weren’t prepared. When you’re just starting out it can be hard to recover from a bad first impression.
Launch too late and you may never launch at all. You have to start generating revenue or seeing dividends or the project will become a drain on the entire organization. Not to mention, the more time it takes you to launch, the more time you’re giving your competition to beat you to market.
There always seems to be a list. The “if only these last few things were in place” list. The problem is, once you get through that list another list pops up in it’s place. There has to be a line drawn in the sand. There has to be a place where you know “everything else can come later”.
Where is that line?
If you’ve done it right, you knew a long time ago. You knew before you even broke ground. You planned it all out. You have a rough date in mind, a list of the specific items that need to be in place and a list of the things that you are willing to sacrifice in order to launch by that date.
However, if you’re like most start-ups, you never had the chance to do that. This “thing” started with an idea, then became a concept, then before you know it you’re caught up in a whirlwind of development meetings, equity discussions and lining up your sales pipeline… and you’ve never even had time to sit down and figure out what your minimum viable product is or what this thing looks like at “launch”.
Let’s face it. It will never be perfect. Even when you think it’s perfect, 10 other people won’t. There will always be more features that need added, more marketing campaigns that need tied down, more positions that need filled, more feedback that needs to be received. Something has to give.
You know what I say?
Launch Early and Count Your Losses.
Now this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule and there will always be exceptions, but I think I will always lean this direction. Yes, you want it to be right the first time and you want to make a great first impression, but you need to start thinking of applications like they’re living, breathing things. They evolve and they grow. They mature and they can change directions. You might launch early and lose a few customers, but there are always more customers. I have used products or done business with people before and felt like they were too small or their product was not mature enough for me to continue with and I’ve walked away. I’ve also seen some of those businesses come back in a year after changing some things and they’ve won me back forever.
Here are some points I’ll argue in favor of launching quicker.
1. Stay Focused on the Core
What is the mission of your application? Stay focused on it. Pretty soon you’ll be adding integration with this API and that format and none of your development is even being done on your core product anymore. Listen, you might think that MS Paint sucks because it doesn’t have support for Photoshop files. But, if MS Paint didn’t suck to begin with then we’d all be saying Photoshop sucks because it doesn’t work with MS Paint files. Make sure your core is solid before you launch. Bells and whistles can come later.
2. Don’t Please Everybody
I didn’t say don’t be upset if you can’t please everybody. I said don’t please everybody. As in, make it your goal to say “no” to requests that just don’t fit. If you’re trying to add in every request that comes in, you should go back and re-read the previous point.
3. Plan for Releases
I think that releasing a premature product and slapping the label “Beta” on it is something that was cool a decade ago, but I think that when Google’s GMail was in “Beta” for five years, the term sort of lost it’s impact. However, I think that the concept behind it holds true. If you try to launch everything all at once, you may never launch. You also risk spending a lot of time and money developing features that your users may, ultimately, not even care about.
I say launch your core first, then open up a discussion with your users to see what features they most want to see next. The next two points dive deeper into this.
4. Engage Your Customers in Product Development
More than anything, people love to be heard. So, how powerful is it when you can tell your customers “we heard you and we cared, so we did something about it”. Oh man… That’s gold. Launch and start collecting user feedback. This is how you’re going to build long-term, loyal users. Just be careful that the requests you follow through on are the ones that line up with your core and the direction you are taking the business (see #2).
5. Turn Missing Features into Future Marketing
Once you launch and have users, you may constantly have to be remarketing your product to those users to keep it in the front of their mind and on the tip of their tongue. There is no better way to do this than to continue improving and adding features to your system. I understand that you want to get “Feature X” into the product before launch. However, if you can’t do that, don’t lose sleep over it. Now you know you have a huge thing to write a press release about and make a big deal out of to your user base in a couple of months when it goes live.
These are just my personal thoughts based on things I’ve seen and experienced. I’d love to hear what everyone else thinks on the subject.
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