Keys to Your Startup’s Success — Stop Building So Much, Start Shipping
Building a product is easy. Whenever a person has an idea today, whether or not they can build it, is not a question. Anything can be built. And building a product is fun.
But, shipping a product. That’s a different story. Shipping can be not so fun. Why?
Once we ship, the product is out there. Our product that we put our heart and soul into is now pushed in front of possible critics and judges. We start to feel anxiety.
- Is the product done?
- Did we test enough to make sure that there are no large bugs?
These questions start to flood our minds.
Shipping can be a scary time. Anyone who has worked on a project can attest to the feelings above. But the truth is this…
…until you’ve shipped, everything you’ve built is potential waste.
Why do I say that?
The book Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit explains why in one sentence.
Until the software is actually in production, you don’t really know if it will solve the business problem. — Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit by Addison Wesley
The truth is, we don’t know if what we’ve built is what is needed until people start using it. We can try to formulate the best estimation, but we don’t know until it’s out there. Let’s look at an example of how this happened to a Startup in the late 90's.
Story Time: Webvan
Have you ever heard of Webvan?
The concept of Webvan was great. Deliver groceries to a user within a 30-minute window specified by the customer. What did they do?
From the Four Steps to the Epiphany:
“In Webvan’s case, Engineering moved along two fronts: building the automated warehouses and designing the web site.
The automated warehouses were a technological marvel, far beyond anything existing grocery chains had. Automated conveyors and carousels transported food items off of the warehouse shelves to workers who packed them for delivery.
Webvan also designed its own inventory management, warehouse management, route management, and materials handling systems and software to manage the entire customer ordering and delivery flow process. This software communicated with the Webvan web site and issued instructions to the various mechanized areas of the distribution center to fulfill orders.
Once a delivery was scheduled, a route-planning feature of the system determined the most efficient route to deliver goods to the customer’s home.” — The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steven Blank
At first glance, nothing seems wrong with this. It seems like great development skills and pumping out of technology. So what’s the problem?
This was all done before their hard launch. The only people to have used the product were alpha/beta testers. Why is that so wrong?
“The first customer ship date does not mean that the company understands its customers or how to market or sell to them.”
They didn’t know what the customer needed or wanted because they had no product in production.
What happened to this company?
The company lost over $800 million and shut down in June 2001, filing bankruptcy and laying off 2,000 employees. — source from sfgate.com
So how can you avoid Webvan’s mistake?
Ship your product ASAP
When you ship, you see how actual customers are interacting with your product.
- You learn what they like, what they dislike.
- You get requests from them for changes or additions.
- You grasp what they want. Then you make those changes.
- The product then is built on learned facts as opposed to theories.
The belief that you can create an entire product without tons of feedback is a dangerous one.
Say you’re tasked to build cupboards for a company. You get to work. You build 1000 beautiful cupboards made out of black ebony wood. They’re masterpieces. You then show them to the company. They say…
- The black clashes with the style of our offices, they need to be a shade of brown instead
- Ebony is too heavy a wood, we’ll be moving these cupboards around every week and they’re too heavy for that.
Now your beautiful products, are waste. Trash. And you have to start from scratch. That’s assuming you still have the resources to build these new cupboards.
Wouldn’t it be wiser to build one cupboard, show it to the customer? Get their feedback. Build another revision. And another. And another. Until the customer says, that’s perfect. Then build 1000 customer approved cupboards.
Of course, the second method is the course of wisdom.
So why not do that with your startup?
Ship the product. Get feedback. Iterate. Release again.
Remember, all feedback is GREAT feedback.
- If people say, “I don’t like the way your product does this.” Now you know what to change.
- If people say, “I wish your product did this.” Now you know what to add.
So don’t be afraid to ship. And Ship Early. When you’re beginning you might have some bugs. You might get negative feedback. But no one will remember those things once your product satisfies the needs of your customer.
So don’t hesitate. Build the simplest form of your idea, and then release it. Get feedback, iterate, then release again.
- Instagram shipped without social features.
- Groupon shipped when it was a ghetto WordPress site with a few deals.
- Zappos shipped before it even had an inventory of shoes.
What about people who waited years before they shipped and went viral on launch?
It is true, some have developed a product and didn’t release until after years of development. And they succeeded.
But does that mean you should imitate this model? No. Why not?
First, understand you don’t know the whole story. Many of the stories you hear of a launch and immediate massive success are only part of the story. Often you discover that they launched earlier, but launched again later. Or their launch was a revamp of a previously tested product.
But even if they did launch and go viral immediately, does that mean you should follow their model?
Well, think of it like this.
Say your goal is to make $1 million. You’re presented with two stories to imitate.
- One person every day buys a lottery ticket. After 5 years, his ticket was the big one. He makes $1 million.
- Another person works very hard every day. Saved 50% of every dollar they made. After 5 years they had $1 million.
Which would you choose? Isn’t it the second one?
The first story is possible. Buying a lottery ticket every day. That certainly increases your chances of getting the right ticket.
But the chances of getting $1 million using the second method are much higher. Wouldn’t you agree?
So when you’re in your startup, don’t keep your product hidden long. Ship it. Get customers using it as soon as possible. The chances of succeeding using this method are far greater.