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Summary:

I’ve spent the last few months amid the chaos of building another start up. There have been lots of mistakes, of course, but I was surprised by one of the largest of them. I’m grateful to my co-founder who so clearly brought it to my attention. […]

I’ve spent the last few months amid the chaos of building another start up. There have been lots of mistakes, of course, but I was surprised by one of the largest of them. I’m grateful to my co-founder who so clearly brought it to my attention.

As a co-founder, it was vital for me to be involved in the very early stages of defining the features and usability of our product. What I didn’t understand was the importance of allowing the initial push of development to happen, and to let it happen unhampered by the creeping, insidious list of minor tweaks that I kept adding to my wishlist. Each micromanaging tweak caused an equivalent wrench in the works, and although each was rooted in my drive for a better user experience, a simpler product (blah, blah, blah), each change would have, if left unchecked, set back our product launch by vital weeks or months.

Marketing guys like me are the worst for the development stage because we deal primarily in words and ideas. Words and ideas are infinitely easy to generate, but far more difficult to realize in lines of code. We marketers extend ourselves the luxury of changing our minds and refactoring, and expect that developers will be able to easily follow suit. The reality is confusion, misdirection and potentially crippling delays.

The lesson here isn’t about delivering a sub-standard product quickly. Instead, the lesson is about having the discipline to _productively_ participate in the early stages of planning and design. Those early stages are fun, exciting, invigorating. But in retrospect my error was to trivialize it, thinking of it as endlessly iterative. It’s always possible to refine the concept, streamline the feature set and theorize a better product, but what really counts is having the discipline to shut that process off to allow the development team to deliver on Phase One without confusing them with the limitless potential of Phase Five.

At Gaboogie we use Lighthouse (http://www.lighthouseapp.com/) to submit and manage trouble tickets. It’s a great tool for documenting bugs and requesting new features. But it’s also dangerous in that it can so easily transmit my actual indecision about what is truly urgent versus what is important to a team whose job is not to prioritize my ad hoc requests or to interpret on-the-fly shifts in focus.

As with any start up we’ve had a few bugs and glitches since “pushing the red button’ and launching the service to the earliest group of users. These issues have been relatively minor, but significant in the sense that there is only one opportunity for a first impression. I really learned my lesson when I realized (or rather, when my co-founder rightly shook some sense into me) that my continued focus on what could come next, and what might be cooler or better in terms of features, was getting in the way of our primarly goal: making the product we already had work the way that it was supposed to.

Now I know that it’s important not to confuse perfectionism with success. Endlessly pursuing the perfect product can mean never delivering a good product, or the right product. Successful start ups are about effective use of limited resources. While it’s critical never to limit the vision of what the company can be, having the discipline to package that vision into manageable pieces is perhaps more important still.

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  1. Every entrepreneur can learn a valuable lesson from this piece. Btw, gaboogie looks like a useful tool – well done.}

  2. This is really important I can see already. We are in the process of founding a start up and this is something (I especially) will need to bear in mind.

    Like the look of gaboogie too – nice simple pricing structure.}

  3. I’m familiar with the problem. Our solution is good planning.
    When embarking upon a new project, the chief engineer first breaks the project into chunks of 4 to 32 working hours. These chunks are then entered into a project management application such as eTask. This will show you the right order and the overall time involved.
    Now the trick is to incorporate every delay and every change into the eTask file every few days. eTask will then calculate the new overall time consumption and time for launch. the process doesn’t take much time or effort, but does wonders to keep things under control. Things always change during the process. But you will notice immediately when you plan to go over budget or deadline. You will then be able to take measures, for instance by dropping non-essential features, hiring more people or having a chat with your financiers/clients.
    This way I’ve been able to keep almost all my projects within budget and planned time to launch.}

  4. Daniel,

    Extremely valuable article and one of which I am sure touches the reality of the many software and app. entrepreneurs in existence.

    I am co-founder/CEO of an exciting new start-up social media tool company, and me having a marketing mindset from birth (and from a college degree), I connect 100% with your comments on the process of building a product from scratch from the perspective of such marketing types. I am constantly reminding myself that our dev. team needs to finish ‘Attribute #1′ before I eagerly bombard them with the ‘Attribute #5′ idea that would be nice to incorporate, two years from now.

    The concluding paragraph of your piece states it all: perfectionism and success are not necessarly mutually exclusive. In this high-growth game of internet start-ups, time-to-market is many times of equal importance to a newly launched product with a zillion features.}

  5. I am sharing this with my partners right now! Well done. Thank you.}

  6. great article..

    I am in the final financing run of a start-up here in usualy sunny South Africa.

    I have close relationships with developers but since my businesses are rarely based on software tweaks I tend to be feature averse. For me the best applications are rich with simplicity. That’s why i tend to cut down on wishlists rather than build them up.

    In case anyone needs to be re-inspired may i humbly recommend “Going postal” by Terry Pratchett. Although the business story is more of a turnaround, it is fantastically inspirational and has given rise to my favourite concept – “Move fast, you never nkw who is catching you up”

    Later
    Jeff}

  7. Thought of the Day: Perfection is the Enemy! « FoundRead Friday, March 7, 2008

    [...] you from the ultimate achievement: getting your product or service in front of your customers. (Go Ahead: Push the Red Button .) The sooner you do this, the sooner you will have the opportunity to make your offering [...]

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