What is the right time to launch a product in the market?

In past months, quite a few people have asked me what the right time to launch their new product was. My answer has always been — as quickly as possible.

A start-up’s only job is to find that scalable, repeatable business model. The important thing is to get a product out there in front of the customer as quickly as possible and get feedback on what needs to be improved. If you are happy with the feature-set of the first version you deliver to your customers, then you have shipped too late!

I would like to present the basic principles of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) using an example — the new version of Usercycle. I am not affiliated to this startup in any way and am just giving my unbiased opinion based on my experiences as a customer.

For those unfamiliar with this tool, it started out in 2010 as ‘a better way to track and engage your customers’. However, very recently, they decided to focus on just the challenge of customer retention that young companies face. In their own words:

Every product struggles with churn. To emerge as a success, you need to understand user/feature interactions, eliminate chokepoints, and adopt best-of-breed tools and tactics. And you need the right scoreboards.

Here are a few things they did well since starting work on their ‘new’ product.

  • They shipped early and often & continue to do so

They did not have a reset password link when they launched. I ended up creating multiple accounts because I could not remember the password I had set for the first account. I reached out to them about it and just three days later, Ben mailed me telling me he had the feature in.

They did not have a “Reset password” feature
  • Built a personal relationship with their customers

One of the co-founders took the time to look at my Linkedin profile and reached out to me by e-mail. He was looking for product feedback and my specific needs as a customer.

A personalized mail from one of the co-founders
  • Primed customers for the future payments (if they chose to do so)

Their product is currently free (no-doubt to help with user acquisition). At the same time, they are honest about the possibility of charging customers for certain ‘premium’ features in the future. The best part — they do not know what those might be! After all, features should be prioritized based on customer demand and not the whims & fancies of the founders.

Made sure customers understood that Usercycle is a business as well and is looking at charging for atleast some of their services in the future
  • Asked users for feedback on new features/ideas to help prioritize them

They solicited direct feedback on any new feature/idea from their customer base. This way, they could make sure they were building something the customers wanted and not every feature under the sun the dev/UX team could think of.

They used their blog & newsletters to seek feedback on new features/ideas
  • Hand-cranked the new feature/idea for the first (many) customers to understand customer needs and complexity

One of the key mistakes a lot of startups make is assuming that they understand the nature of their customer’s problem. With just a little bit of digging, they quickly find out that each of their customers may have a different way of tackling the same need. By hand-holding the initial customers, you get to understand individual needs and also identify the lowest common demoninator of their problem which you can tackle.

The same feature is promoted & available for their customers on their dashboard — albeit through manual intervention

Summary

Ship your product early. Iterate often. Involve your customers.


Renji John works in the areas of business & digital strategy, customer loyalty, data analytics & business intelligence within the services and retail industries. He holds an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering and an MBA from INSEAD. Prior to founding CashOrCard POS (formerly Buzzoek), he worked at Vodafone (Netherlands) as a Program Manager in their Commercial Operations business unit. He is an active participant in the startup scene in Amsterdam and a mentor at Startupbootcamp (recently voted the best startup accelerator in Europe) & InnoLeaps (a corporate accelerator).