Failure to Launch

Company ABC raises xx millions and is poised to become the next big Y. You hear it in the news all the time, but then never about them again. They’ve probably failed (as most tech startups do) by never releasing a product (or releasing a product nobody wants). How can something so poised for success utterly crash and burn?

When an idea for a product first comes to life, it usually comes along the lines of “how great would it be if we had a tool that did X?,” or “if we were only able to do X, we could do Y.” Essentially, you’ve identified a problem and are in the stages of determining a solution. You begin researching competitors, whiteboarding flows, wireframing screens, and all other sorts of planning/due diligence. You meet with industry connections who validate your idea and give you great feedback. You’ve decided you’re all in and raise or borrow money from outside sources. You can feel success around the corner.

Next up – actually building the product. You and your team have a product roadmap planned out, certain (after much debate) to deliver a minimum viable set of features on a strict deadline. Development gets underway and things are progressing nicely, at least initially. It’s usually around the first semi-workable version of your product where things start to change. Seeing the product for the first time, you start thinking about what needs to change, because now your ego is firmly-implanted in the product and you want it to be perfect. Quick iterations are fine and often necessary, but this is different. This is dangerous, because it’s about to become a pattern. Days, weeks, then months go by and you become lost in this world. A world where the only thing that matters is creating the mythical perfect product.

10 complete redesigns later and you’re still not there. You question the usefulness of the product in its current state and believe just a few more changes will be sure to set you apart from the competition. This process continues until you run out of money or you finally get around to launching a bloated piece of crap. Nonetheless, the product is a failure. Why did it end up this way? You’ve surely read The Lean Startup and are familiar with lean methodologies. 

It comes down to fear of failure. Failure is something we all fear and it keeps us from doing what we know is right – from asking out that date in grade school, to launching our software product. We fear that our product is in someway or another inadequate for the real world to use and thus, you delay them from ever having to see it. In all reality, you should have launched in the second or third iteration, just like you should have asked out that date years ago.

In order to have any shot at success, you must overcome this fear. One of Reid Hoffman’s famous quotes, “If you aren’t embarrassed by the first version of your product, you shipped too late.” says it all. Your product may suck, but at least you’ll know that and can pivot from there. Move fast, collect feedback without embarrassment, and iterate. Because delaying, with the fear of failure, will get you nowhere.

Image credit Ryan McGilchrist