If there’s one piece of advice I give most early-stage startups it’s simply that.
Don’t forget to launch.
I say it to every pre-launch startup I talk to, or who asks for my advice. As you’d guess it often comes across both weird and unnecessary. “Des, this doesn’t sound like the type of value-add advice we need, I mean who in their right mind has an idea, builds a team, raises a few million of venture capital, and then… forgets to launch?”
And yet I keep saying it, and still so many keep forgetting.
When I say launch, I mean the real deal. No apologies, no private lists, no friends & family launches, no DM our founder and see if you can get an access code, I mean “put it all out there, and watch what happens, learn, and be ready to react”.
I’ve watched about a dozen companies with great ideas, with plenty of funding, with strong teams, forget to launch. Forget is probably an unfair word here.What actually happens is that there’s a long list of priorities and the big scary launch where you find out if the whole thing is worthwhile falls below the easy next task that doesn’t bite back. Do that enough and you have a big product, a good demo, some well-polished narrative, but no actual evidence that any of this will work. And the clock keeps ticking down.
In Intercom, we say Shipping is an act of confidence and humility. You need enough self-confidence and belief to put yourself out there, and then you need to be humble enough to accept you probably got lots of bits wrong along the way. Your product is a conversation with the market and launching is just the opening dialogue.
The real risks of indefinitely postponing launch are:
Your ideas hit the market before your product does. Other companies learn from what you share in your blog posts, or your teaser screenshots. I’ve seen companies ship great ideas that they found percolating in the private betas of the less confident startups still waiting for perfection.
You inspire the market, but that inspiration is perishable. Buzz has a shelf life, you can get everyone excited and ready to rock on your new project management app, calendar, to-do, but if they can’t use it for a few more months they move on.
It gets harder the longer you wait. There’s some type of vicious cycle here, where your fears & expectations and ultimately your launch keeps growing which weirdly means the launch date seems to get further away the more you work. The next feature fallacy is real.
The chances of success are lower. Unless you know your area and your customers inside out, you will make some mistakes in the form of unnecessary or misguided features. The longer you wait, the more you’ll have. The more you have, the slower you’ll move. The slower you move the quicker you die.
Runway & Energy are too low for launch. This one should be obvious, but again…launch is the starting line, not the finish line. If you intend to forge your way to product-market fit you should assume you’ll need to release 2-3 more significant versions of your product, you and your team will need the energy to do customer support, the customer research calls, the long days the late nights fixing critical issues and launching “must-haves”. Doing all this on an empty tank will kill you. And similarly launching with 2-3 months of runway left puts you in a very very difficult position.
I understand the safety net of not launching, you can maintain your perceived status as a founder, your product can continue to evolve aspirationally until it becomes the “superset of all great feature ideas ever”, and most importantly you can continue to use the future to defend yourself from the present. You keep telling yourself, your investors, and your employees about how great things are going to be once you launch.
And yes, the fear is real, it is understandable. It’s okay to be terrified about putting the biggest work of your career out to the world to be criticized and questioned.
But just know that there are worse things in life than your ideas getting picked apart and criticized. It is truly better to regret something you didn’t than something you couldn’t do.
So that’s seven hundred words to say just four: don’t forget to launch.