Early Startups: Don’t Launch, Iterate

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Having made seemingly every rookie mistake in the startup book we can certainly attest to that. One of the mistakes that we certainly avoided was making a big splash to launch our product to the public. Most startup entrepreneurs are familiar with the graph below that depicts the various stages of a startup’s life cycle.

Early Startups: Dont Launch, Iterate image startup cycle 300x192Early Startups: Dont Launch, Iterate

I shudder to think what would have happened to us had we gone through the first stage “Techcrunch of Initiation” with our initial beta product. I suspect the result would have been a swift drop to 0 in the “Wearing off of novelty” phase. We may never have even seen the light at the end of the tunnel: the trough of sorrow! Self deprecation aside, one of the most important pieces of advice I can give to starting or wannabe entrepreneurs is this: Don’t launch your product to the press before you know you’re ready.

Iterate in obscurity. Make all your mistakes in private, when almost nobody is watching. Learn quickly but quietly. There’s nothing worse than being in the public eye and trying to pivot or navigate your startup to safer waters. How do you know when you’re ready. When you have user engagement. When you have a small set of dedicated users that absolutely love your product and are shouting from the rooftops about how great you are. Better yet, when you have a set of paying customers.

Once you reach that product stage, you should definitely go all out to gather as much press as you can. You’re confident at this point that if the rest of the population is anything like your small subset of dedicated users you have a winner on your hands.

To be sure, it takes a lot of patience, learning and slow progress at times. What you’re forgoing by taking the “iterate and don’t launch” approach is the energy boost you get psychologically when a flood of new users signs up for your service. Sometimes it may even seem like you’re polishing and improving a fantastic product, but nobody knows you exist. Continuing to work in this vacuum can be hard, but I personally believe that unless you’re a Product Visionary like a Steve Jobs and chances are you’re not, your first product is probably not going to be what takes you to the promised land. A little bit of obscurity and patience may be just what you need.

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