Entrepreneurs

Should The First Version Of Your Startup Product Be Flawless?

“If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” — Reid Hoffman. If you doubt this statement, Google “Twitter first landing page” to see how this massive social media platform started.

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Indeed, when we dedicate our time and passion into something that we need to show to the world, we have a very strong instinct to make sure it’s presentable before allowing people to see it. After all, people are going to judge us based on what we present, so this instinct makes sense in almost all aspects of life.

Yet, perfectionism can kill a startup. The reason is simple – the first version of your product is based on hypotheses and most of the time, many of these guesses are wrong. Over time, the lessons you learn from the first failed attempts to solve the problem will allow you to build a product people need. A flawless first version doesn’t make a difference unless it solves a problem. The challenge is that it’s hard to create the right solution the first time.

All your energy early on should go towards validating your idea and figuring out what exactly the people whose problem you’re trying to solve need. If people need what you’re building, most of them would look past a bad design and some bugs. If you show them you are committed to listen to them and improve, they will stick and work with you to build their ideal solution. However, this doesn’t work the other way around – people won’t use something they don’t need just because it looks pretty and is well-built.

So, do you prefer to look good at first but ultimately fail, or do you prefer to ignore the ego, look bad and be embarrassed, but ultimately succeed?

The answer to this question is pretty straightforward. However, the topic is made a bit more complicated by the fact that some of Silicon Valley’s biggest winners don’t seem to follow this mantra. For example, Slack, one of the fastest-growing B2B startups in history, released a highly polished first public version, which some would argue was one of the main reasons for their insane growth rates early on.

The truth is that there is value in thoughtful design and good built quality. Your customers are far more likely to love your product and spread it through word of mouth if it is polished. This doesn’t invalidate our first point, but it means that in a perfect world you would do both: you’ll ensure that you’re building something that people need, and you’ll polish it before a public release.

The problem is that this requires a lot of resources. Slack had the benefit of millions in funding, which meant that the Slack team could afford to work behind closed doors for a long time, while at the same time having access to hundreds of closed alpha and beta users who would give them the invaluable feedback needed to make sure they are building a tool people actually need before it looks good.

Most early-stage startups don’t have access to the same luxury, so when you have to choose between making sure you’re building something people need (i.e. showing it to customers as fast as possible) and launching a flawless first version, it’s vital to choose the first option.

Yet, there might be a compromise that’s possible even for small startups: you can combine polish with effective testing by developing only the key feature(s) of your idea.

A famous explanation of the minimum viable product concept is that if the idea is a car, the MVP is a skateboard. By building a skateboard you can test your hypothesis that some people are willing to pay for a personal transportation device. At the same time, making a good-looking and sturdy skateboard is much more realistic for a small team with little time on their hands compared to building and perfecting a whole car.

Last but not least – running a closed alpha/beta is a great hack when you find yourself in this situation. A lot of customers love the exclusive early access and personal attention that comes with a closed beta, and at the same time, the knowledge that your product is not yet public makes people more understanding of its imperfections. This way you can gather invaluable customer feedback during the development process while buying time to polish your solution for your official public launch.

In summary:

  1. Most of the time, when choosing between launching fast and launching something polished, always choose to launch fast. You need customer feedback to make sure you’re building a startup product people want.
  2. If you want to launch something polished, you need to focus just on the core features of your idea. Utilizing a closed beta period is a good idea in this case since it would allow you to gather customer feedback to make sure you’re moving in the right direction while at the same time building behind “closed” doors.
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