Your First Product Should be Terrible

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We’d all like our first product to be perfect, but that’s not realistic if it’s ever going to be released. Even big companies release products early to get feedback on the idea. Google’s Android Operating System was terrible at first but after many iterations it has grown into the World’s most used mobile platform. The same principle applies to startups, you need to get your product live painfully early to maximize iterations after customer feedback. Here are two ways to get your app to market faster:

Solve Only One Problem

Ideal:
Website
Signup
Login
Invite System

Reality:
You do it manually for customers

Remove whatever you can from the product to test and isolate the singular problem you’re trying to solve, this will result in a much faster time to market and help you adjust to customer needs earlier. Your first beta testers do not need a website, a signup system, a settings page, emoji integration; they may not even need a way to login.

When we started SendHub, a business texting app, we ignored this advice and tried to build an app which allowed the user to completely self serve. Unfortunately while our customers tried to use the interface, there were a lot of bugs, so people got stuck on things like signup and we didn’t get much feedback on the product itself. In order to test the core problem, we sent our customers messages for them, thereby removing any external factors.

No Corner Cases

Ideal:
International Character Support
Emoji Integration
Language Localization

Reality:
Basic US English Support

A scaleable product, for use by all, is an admirable goal but there’s no point making the product usable by everybody when it may still have limited appeal. Your first version does not need to cater for the range of possible corner cases you may encounter, such as special characters or international customers. It only needs to work for a small, initial target market, not an entire sector (e.g. SMBs). When you get feedback during the early stages, it will be tempting to fix the numerous small bugs, instead you should focus on the big issues.

SendHub launched in the US and our customers were quickly using both English and Spanish in their messages. Often our support channels would receive complaints of odd behavior when sending messages in Spanish. However, we had plenty of other basic product issues to address, such as ensuring messages sent through SendHub actually made it to the recipient. It wasn’t until the sales team closed larger Spanish speaking customers that it made sense to fix the language bugs.

A business has to solve a number of problems outside of its product or service — marketing, customer support, billing, the list goes on but those aren’t problems you need to solve now. In most cases your first version need only solve one problem for one person. You hope it will grow from these modest beginnings but in order to do that, you’ll need a lot of feedback from customers and you can’t get that if the product isn’t in their hands. Cut everything you can and ship it.

This article is part of a series on Startup Growth.

How to Understand your Customers Before Launch
Your First Product Should Be Terrible
A Simple Framework for Goal Setting
Bad Ways to Set Startup Goals
Hit Goals or Your Startup Will Die
How to Get 10% Weekly Growth
Finding the Right Price for Early Customers
Which Pricing Model is Best for Your Startup?
When Should Startups Pursue Partners?
Early Traits of a $100M Company

Sterling Road invests in pre-seed B2B startups based in North America. Full process here: sterlingroad.com/process.

You can reach me here: ash@sterlingroad.com

Thanks to Sean Byrnes, Ryan Pfeffer, Garrett Johnson, Duncan Davidson, Pejman Nozad and Ajay Kamat for reading drafts of this.

Written by

Pre-seed Investor. Email: ash@sterlingroad.com. B2B, US only. I work with founders for 3 months before investing. More info: http://SterlingRoad.com/process

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