Why we take that with a grain of salt at our consumer startup
You hear it constantly in the startup community — “just ship it!”
Really? That’s it? Just ship it? Am I being duped by Twitter-speak and startup mentor nonsense spouted by people with no skin in my game?
It’s well intentioned on the part of the second or third time founder turned angel, VC, or accelerator mentor. Yet, it’s almost universally not helpful to tell a startup founder to just ship it.
Easy for you to say. You’re not the one spending 12 hours a day and all your money over the past 2 years building this baby.
The example of Angostura Bitters is sometimes used as the poster child of the “just ship it” call to action. The story goes that the brothers who distilled the aromatic alcohol worked separately on the bottle and the label for their concoction. They entered it into a contest and realized at the last minute that the label was too large for the bottle, but they “just shipped it”. They didn’t win the contest, but a judge commented on the wonky label and told them it made their product stand out, so they kept it.
Cool story. Unfortunately the relevance to the tech startup industry is limited at best. It’s one thing to slap a label on a bottle that’s too large and an entirely different thing to ship a software product that doesn’t work and doesn’t solve the customer’s problem.
The primary benefit of shipping something early is to learn from your customer. On one hand, you never know how people will react to something until they try it. On the other hand, letting people try something that simply doesn’t work is a sure way to lose that customer.
Either way, you learn something — and isn’t that the point of “just ship it?” To learn fast, “fail fast”, and iterate? To figure out where the kinks are and fix them? But, let’s do this with a small number of people and customers close to the product, shall we? These are customers with whom you’ve developed a strong enough relationship that they will stick with you (and your crappy product) through all the poor design, crashes, and bad user experience.
What you risk is a reputation as a product that sucks — and that can be difficult to recover from.
The “just ship it” mantra is really another statement of the “perfect is the enemy of good” argument. If you’re waiting for the product to be perfect, you will wait forever and never ship. Clearly that’s the antithesis to the startup mentality. So, we learn to get comfortable with a “good” product — one that we know has problems, glitches, warts, and wrinkles — and continue to fix and improve things along the way.
But, this is really difficult to do as a startup founder. We want to put our best face out there. We want our product to hit the market, wow the customer, get incredible reviews in TechCrunch, hit the #1 spot on ProductHunt, and go viral. We want to sit back on launch day and bask in the glory of all the traffic on Twitter. Yeah, right (cue eye-roll).
Allowing myself to be okay with the fact that it’s unlikely that any of those will happen (except maybe “hit the market”) is part of what I have to struggle with daily.
As a startup founder who is highly invested in our bootstrapped consumer social startup — “just ship it” comes with a number of caveats outlined here.
In all fairness, it’s likely that most advisors who spout the “just ship it” mantra do so with this list of caveats in their head, but it doesn’t sound as direct, succinct, and actionable when you attach all the footnotes.
First, whatever “it” is — it has to work. That’s right — it can’t fail repeatedly during on-boarding or crash the minute the user attempts to perform a key function. These are product killers.
Second, it has to solve the intended problem. To release a tech product that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do — yet — is a no-go. This is the concept of the minimum viable product (MVP) — it has to solve the problem the startup was designed to solve in the first place. To ship something and tell customers “yeah, but the really cool part is coming later…” ain’t gonna cut it. Put the cool part out there first.
Third, it has to have — at very least — usable UX. Products released too early, with terrible UX, go nowhere and die a slow death.
Bottom line…if your product meets these criteria, then by all means, just ship it!
We recently released the beta version of dijjoo, our mobile adventure journal and social media app, on the app stores. It’s been a long time coming. We waited a long time because we wanted to get it right at launch. However, we also knew that we’d have glitches. It’s amazing how fast 50 new users of your product will find little issues with your software that never surfaced with the 6 of us doing internal testing.
Despite rigorous internal testing for the past 6 months, we had several obvious issues with the app immediately upon release. Ugh! This is the startup founder’s second worst nightmare. The first worst nightmare, of course, is that you release your product and all you hear is crickets. No one uses it. So, at least we had about 50 people immediately download, on-board, and use the app.
Over the course of the first 19 days on the app stores, we fixed and re-released dijjoo 11 times, and we’re still iterating that beta version as fast as we can.
At some point in this process, a startup founder must take a leap of faith. It makes your stomach churn and keeps you up at night, but you’ve got to do it.
We shipped it and we survived. We’re learning tons each day from our customers and finding ways to make the product better. It’s a long-term incremental approach. We’re not waiting for perfect — it’s good enough right now to just ship it.
The motto that I’ve adopted throughout this process says it all. This is borrowed from the Founder/CTO of HubSpot, Dharmesh Shah. He has a twist on an old parable that goes something like this… “good things come to those who wait. Great things come to those who wing it and iterate.”
We are now officially winging it at dijjoo.
If you represent an organization (for-profit or not-for-profit) that shares our ethos, please contact us to see how we can work together.
If you are looking for a humanely-designed private journal and social sharing app and you think dijjoo might be the one, please give us try and then send us your comments.