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Mom, are we there yet? How do you know when your product is ready to launch?

November 7, 2011

New Market Entrepreneurs live within the vise of the opposing forces representing speed to market vs. product readiness.  In recent years many a success-story has been shared on how one-man-band coders brought a ‘minimal viable product’ to market, made waves, and worked continuously to improve the offering as feedback flowed in.  This practice has found its way across a spectrum of tech offerings, in particular, web-based where executing updates can be frictionless and low cost.

Seth Godin, shares some valuable insights on the downside of this process here.

One of my favorite ideas in the new wave of programming is the notion of minimal viable product. The thought is that you should spec and build the smallest kernel of your core idea, put it in the world and see how people react to it, then improve from there.  Often, for software we use in public, this definition leads to failure.  Why? Two reasons:

1.  Many products depend on community, on adoption within a tribe, on buzz–these products aren’t viable when they first launch, precisely because they haven’t been adopted.  -read more

2.  There’s a burst of energy and attention and effort that accompanies a launch, even a minimally viable one. If there’s a delay in pick up from the community, though (see #1) it’s easy to move on to the next thing, the next launch, the next hoopla, as opposed to doing the insanely hard work of sticking with that thing you already launched.  -read more

Inherent in the process of minimal viable product, then, is a trusting, large permission base that will eagerly listen to you, try your new work and let you know what they think. And you don’t have the option of building that audience once the product is ready–that’s too late.

Update 11/9-  Here’s a recent story about how Google+ may have missed the mark for many of the same reasons mentioned above.

Why am I so sure that Google+ can’t be saved? Because there’s no way to correct Google’s central failure. Back when companies were clamoring to create brand pages on the network—or users were looking to create profiles with pseudonyms, another phenomenon that Google shut down—the company ought to have acceded to its users’ wishes and accommodated them. If Google wasn’t ready for brand pages in the summer, it shouldn’t have launched Google+ until it was. And this advice goes more generally—by failing to offer people a reason to keep coming back to the site every day, Google+ made a bad first impression. And in the social-networking business, a bad first impression spells death.

I know this sounds unfair: Facebook had years to add all the features it has now, so why should we demand that Google create a perfect substitute at launch time? But that’s just the thing—taking on a behemoth like Facebook is an unfair fight. Google seems to think about its social network in the same way it thinks of any other kind of software—as a “product” that it can design step-by-step, starting with a small number of innovative features and working up from there.

That launch-first, fix-it-later strategy has worked marvelously for Google in the past. Gmail didn’t match all of Microsoft Outlook’s features from the beginning—it didn’t even have a delete button—but the stuff it did have (lots of storage and fast search) was so compelling that people were willing to stick with it until it became the best email program in existence. In the same way, I switched to Chrome because it was faster than any other browser I’ve ever used—and I stuck with it even though it lacked add-ons or the ability to bookmark many tabs at once. (It has since added those features.)

But a social network isn’t a product; it’s a place. Like a bar or a club, a social network needs a critical mass of people to be successful—the more people it attracts, the more people it attracts.

 

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