I remember reading the first few pages of Steve Blank’s book, Four Steps to Epiphany, and thinking two things:
- This is not exactly a page-turner
- This is a really smart way of thinking about startups
One of the main principles is to release an early prototype of your idea to potential users to get their feedback.
But, despite being all in on the Lean Startup movement, we didn’t do that.
Why Didn’t We Release an Early Prototype?
Our current idea, Yipit, would find all the deals happening in your city (sample sales, happy hours, retail discounts) and would send you an email with the best 7 based on your interests and your locations.
It would have taken us just a week to have launched an early prototype.
We could have measured success based on whether people opened and clicked on the emails. We could have manually created the emails with deals we found and used MailChimp to send them out. There was no need to build any tech infrastructure.
But, we came up with all sorts of excuses why we just couldn’t release an early version.
Six painful months later, we finally put out the product. It didn’t work which was okay. What was not okay was realizing that our excuses for not releasing earlier were all wrong.
The Excuses We Came Up With
The bright side is that, 6 months later, when we iterated Yipit into a daily deal aggregator, we learned to ignore the excuses and released a prototype in 3 days that took off right away.
Below are the excuses we had and how we realized they didn’t matter:
- It wasn’t good enough yet. We thought manually sending deals wasn’t good enough. We were guessing and didn’t really know. It turned out that six months later, the automated version full of features wasn’t good enough either. We could have learned why it wasn’t good enough 6 months earlier and spent that time actually trying to fix it. Instead, we just guessed why it wasn’t going to work and guessed wrong.
- We didn’t want to give a bad impression to those early test users. I can safely say that this doesn’t matter. Those early test users just don’t care. After we re-launched as a daily deal aggregator, we got exactly one email from a user saying they missed the sample sales. That’s it. In fact, many of those early users enjoyed seeing our product develop.
- It needed these extra features. We thought we had to have a web view, people had to specify where in the city they lived, it needed to have links to the source of where we found the deal. None of these were right. We were guessing. Had we launched in a week, we would have quickly realized these features weren’t going to make a difference.
- It was going to take us a few months to build the tech back-end. We shouldn’t have built it. We should have just used MailChimp to send the emails. For the next iteration of Yipit, we didn’t build the back-end. Users don’t know what your tech back-end looks like. Focus instead on getting the user experience right.
- It needed to scale to accomodate hundreds of thousands of users. No, it didn’t. We weren’t going to get hundreds of thousands of users. Not anytime soon. We should have just been worrying about getting our first 1,000 users.
- Someone will see what we’re doing and copy it. If our idea had any merit, then there would have been at least 10 other groups of people out there also actively working on it. In fact, there were many groups of people working on a daily deal aggregator. But, because we launched in 3 days, we were the first ones and got most of the press attention.
- A potential investor will see it. I’m not sure if an investor actually did see it. But, even if they had, it’s not a bad thing. Investors like to see the progress you make as a product and as a team.
- TechCrunch will write about us when we’re not ready. They won’t. We spent a bunch of time trying to get people to write about us and they didn’t. Also, in some crazy scenario where someone writes about our terrible prototype, I can safely say it won’t matter in the long run. Startups succeed because they have a good product and not because they got good launch PR.
The Excuse I Didn’t Admit
There’s one more excuse I had but didn’t talk about. I was afraid it wouldn’t work.
I had quit my job. I had told my family and friends about the idea and they’re all telling me how much they believed in me. What if the idea is bad? What if I had to tell them it didn’t work? What if I had to admit failure?
You have to fight this feeling. The best way I’ve come up with is to think of a startup as an experiment, not as a business. Your early experiments are supposed to go wrong. Your goal is to find out what went wrong and iterate.
For those of you that don’t have an amazing excuse (like you will be put in jail if you do this), please launch an early prototype. Not waiting to launch is, by far, the best advice I can give. Hopefully you’ll listen more than we did.