The Lean Startup mantra tells entrepreneurs to get a basic version of your product out there to test the waters, and then build the real product afterwards with the knowledge you gain from this early customer feedback. You iterate with live customers instead of on your design board because this is how you learn to build a better product faster. Lean Startup author Eric Ries recommends failing quietly with as few customers as possible on your way to creating a great product. But is that even possible anymore?
As it becomes easier and easier to create products and launch startups, one way to stand out is to craft something really extraordinary—whether that is a mobile app, a website, or a digital device. Founders who sweat the details before their product launches are gaining a leg up on those who just push code out the door onto the unsuspecting masses. The quality of the initial product is more important than ever before because there are so many channels to amplify the initial reactions of the few: Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, mobile notifications.
David Lee of SV Angel notes that the “fit and finish” of products is now key for these very reasons. He writes:
. . . for better or worse, these channels effectively act as amplifiers for the word-of-mouth zeitgeist. If your product doesn’t have the right ‘fit and finish’ or is deficient in some other way from day one, then you will hear about it quickly and loudly.
The days of staying in beta forever are over. The products that take off are the ones that get it right the first time. Look at Instagram (which started out as an entirely different product called Burbn that never publicly launched). Or Nest, the sold-out digital thermostat built by Apple alum Tony Fadell. Or even look at Path, which languished for a year until it did get it right. The mobile life-sharing app is now gorgeous in every detail.
Path shows that apps do get second chances, but only if they come out completely rethought. The initial reaction still makes or breaks the product because it is carried so far by social media. It is getting harder and harder for products to hide in obscurity until their founders figure out what consumers really want. Reputations are made, or broken, in realtime. The details matter.
Photo credit: Vinod Avala
David Lee is a Founder and Managing Partner of SV Angel, an angel fund with investments in companies such as Twitter, Foursquare, Flipboard, Dropbox and Airbnb. Prior to SV Angel, David was at Baseline Ventures, a leading seed-stage venture firm. He was a founding member of Google’s New Business Development team and led business development at StumbleUpon prior to its sale to eBay. He also was a corporate attorney at leading technology law firms. David has an M.S. in...