Often, startup founders are trapped in their own perfectionism: they endlessly improve the product, delay the launch and, as a result, burn out. In this article, I’ll tell you how to determine when your product is ready for release and when to launch it not too late.
According to CB Insights, almost half of startups fail because the market didn’t need them. Sure, if you work too long, you are “in a vacuum” and don’t know the actual market demand, but it can be quite different from your forecasts.
It all sounds intuitive, but in practice, the procedure for bringing a product into the market acquired a lot of myths. Here are the most popular misconceptions I’ve heard.
Myth No. 1. “You cannot put an unfinished product on the market.”
No, it’s not like that. Firstly, the concept of an “unfinished product” is very conditional and there is no factor that determines that the project is ready to start. Each founder sets his own starting points. For example, a product can be considered finished if it has the same features as the competitors’ products.
You just need to look at where the startup founders, who later became unicorns, started. Remember what the first working version of Spotify looked like, although now the service not only looks different but also has many new features.
The same thing happened with Airbnb. Now it is one of the most popular services for short-term rentals in the world, but it started with a one-page website only for design conference participants, albeit with similar functionality.
Myth No.2. “I have to make a product better than my competition.”
That’s not true. You need to do it no worse than your competitors and nothing more. You don’t even have to release a product with all the planned features. According to the Standish Group’s Chaos statistics, 60% of the features are not used at all.
I’ve seen a startup that has been doing for six years, but the competitors turned out to be many times more interesting. They tried to change it, but closed because the investor ran out of money. If the startup had started earlier, the same financial costs could have gone to a complete change of its model. And this thing is absolutely typical for the market.
For example, that was the case with Instagram. It was originally a service for check-ins to share the location with friends, but in this form, users didn’t appreciate the idea.
YouTube changed its model in the same way. At the start, it was a dating service that allows uploading a presentation video. After the launch, the developers noticed that users prefer to upload not their monologues, but abstract videos, and the model has changed.
Myth No. 3. “If I work on a product for a long time, the target audience will like it.”
Of all the myths, this is the most dangerous. If you don’t have information from the market, you are “in a vacuum” and don’t know if people will pay for your product. In meetings, you can come to the wrong conclusion.
When I launched POSTOPLAN, my post scheduling project, we came up with a monetization system: clients shall pay for each account. In the end, after about six months, we found a lot of refunds, because people didn’t understand that they were paying for each of their accounts separately, and not all at once.
When a lot of such cases accumulated, we thought, since everyone is mistaken, it turns out that this payment scheme is incomprehensible. We’ve changed the monetization method and in the same month, we had a growth of about 40% compared to the previous month. In fact, we’ve “reinvented” the monetization system, but the features remain unchanged.
When to release the product?
If you don’t want to bury yourself in continuous improvement, many startups focus on MVP (minimum viable product) compliance requirements. This is the principle according to which it is necessary to release a product on the market with minimum functionality, convenience, and other parameters. In other words, it should be a working prototype with small functions.
From my own experience, you can update and improve your product up to one year. With the available technologies and libraries, even if you don’t work full-time, you can make at least a beta version and show it to a limited audience. And, depending on the test results, change the features and capabilities before the pivot.
Service testing: How to test a product
In fact, this problem is universal for all online products: services, games, and applications. The fear of showing the product to a wide audience and the fear of being rejected are justifiable. But you don’t have to show the service to everyone at once, you can begin with testing. Without resources, readiness can be checked in two ways:
1. Ask your friends and acquaintances to try your product. This option is very common, but it is important not just to show the product to others. Even friends and acquaintances should somehow resemble your target audience; otherwise, you risk missing the actual needs of your potential users.
2. To provide your product to the target audience for testing and pay them for it. For example, when you launch one of the projects, hire a target audience and pay them small fee so that they describe the cons and pros of your service in detail. Then, you can use the concurring opinions of different testers on advantages and disadvantages as a guideline to improve our product.
A long-term launch in isolation from the audience actually means the death of the product, no matter how good it is. The best way is to show the product to a limited audience as part of the testing phase and modify it in the process. The fear of entering the “big scary-looking” market is understandable, but you can and have to do it at a certain stage.
At the moment when your product is ready to be presented to the majority of the target audience, you can start talking about yourself on social media. But here there is another risk: the CEO’s time is too expensive, and it is not always possible for startups to hire specialists for each area of work at the start. This is where workflow optimization strategies come into play with additional tools, for example, social media cross-posting services, like Postoplan.