Fast vs. Flawless – What should a founder do?

By Raviraj Jain
As a startup founder you are often faced with many critical decisions, each of which can make or break your business. One such critical decision is when to launch a product? Should you rather launch early even though the product is buggy or should you instead wait to resolve all the bugs and launch a (near) perfect product?
There are arguments on both sides and successful companies have adopted either strategy. Reid Hoffman, the Founder of LinkedIn once famously said “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you waited too long to launch”. On the other hand Apple is known to come up with near perfect products, planning and designing everything down to the ‘T’.
When two very successful companies (and I am sure there are many more examples on either side) adopt very different approaches, it may make you wonder how to decide which path is right for your product. Making this decision requires evaluating three key factors:

1.       Market Position
It makes sense to launch early if the launch can give you a first mover advantage especially when the barrier to entry is very low and there is a threat of multiple competitors emerging. However, if competitor products already exist, in order for you to win the market the new product needs to be substantially better. In such a situation it is a better strategy to ship a (almost) bug-free product even if it may take a few extra weeks/months

2.       Product
The decision on whether to launch early or to launch a more bug-free product also depends on the type of product you are launching. Often products which can be updated remotely are better match for early launch and products which cannot be easily updated are bad. Often most of the hardware products fall in the latter category where it makes more sense to launch a relatively bug free product than to launch early.
Also products which are very critical and their malfunctioning can pose risks of huge proportions should be launched only when they are made bug free. An extreme example of this is space shuttles and rockets.
There are some products which can only improve after live customer feedback or can only become valuable and more useful once a large number of customers are already using it. Such products also are better candidates for early launches. Social networking platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook are some good examples.

3.       Type of Bug
No product launched in this world is bug free, so it’s important to analyze the type of bug in order to establish readiness of the product launch. There are many types of techniques for evaluating risk (or failures) but they usually boil down to 3 inputs:
Severity - This is a measure of criticality. (i.e. breach of security vs. having an inconsistent color combination for the same set of tabs)
Frequency - How often will most users experience the problem?
Visibility - Is it obvious that the error occurred or does it happen in the background and is not very noticeable?
These inputs should be measured against some pre-defined threshold to determine whether it is alright to launch the product with the existing bugs or to delay and ensure that the bugs are removed before going to market.

All being said, even the companies which believe in launch early and launch fast use stepwise roll-out process to ensure early detection and rectification of bugs. Some of the biggest social networks often launch their new products to their employees, followed by a restrictive launch to a particular geography before a full blown launch. This is often a great technique to ensure no obvious bugs remain in the product and the least number of customers are impacted.  On the other hand, even the companies which believe in shipping near perfect products often realize that their products were buggy, and historically these companies have responded either by recalling all the buggy units or in the case of Steve Jobs, advising iPhone 4 users facing the problem with the device’s reception to "Just don't hold it that way"! (and surprisingly people listened to him!).

 Here’s wishing your startup reaches that level of cult following!
 -       Raviraj Jain


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