It does not have to be perfect, but it has to work.
Reid Hoffman once said, “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you've launched too late.”
At some point in the future, you will look back in hindsight – and with the benefit of experience and accumulated knowledge – to see (clearly) that your first step was not perfect. Not even close. But you took it, and that is what matters.
Slow your roll, though. That does not mean you throw something together haphazardly or without even a sense of an intended outcome. You cannot count on blind luck (or the gullibility of a customer base) to find success.
But it is not that complicated, really.
Identify the problem you intend to solve. Craft your solution. Parse out the key elements required to first gain acceptance, then traction. Focus on this list – little else matters at this point. Make a promise to your audience or customer. Then, fulfill it.
Admittedly, that’s a gross oversimplification, but it is at the core of every successful venture, so it’s true. Set clear expectations, then meet or exceed them. Do so, and you will delight your customer.
And keep them coming back.
The key is to narrow the scope to fit within your budget and current capabilities. Sure, you have a grand vision for what your product or service could become. But you have to start somewhere. And most likely, you do not have the resources – or real insight into what your customer actually wants (and will pay for) – when you take that first step.
So check the hyperbole at the door (a topic tackled in my last post), roll up your sleeves and get to work. Find a scaled-down version of your solution that solves the problem. Maybe not fully, but enough to justify the existence of your product or service.
And put it out there. Then, observe, listen and learn.
In his widely regarded book, The Lean Startup, Eric Ries explored the concept of the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). It represents a starting point. A version of your offering with just enough to satisfy a customer need. The MVP is an integral part of the build-measure-learn process of rapid, incremental iteration as you inch towards the promised land of product-market fit.
In the above, promise your customer transportation, and you win at every stage in the bottom scenario (I mean, just look at all those smiley faces...). Sell them a car, however, and you will never make it to the second iteration. Early adopters can be forgiving, but not that much. If you do not cross the chasm between expectations set and what is delivered, you will have lost them.
Focus all your attention on the viable part. It has to work. Expectations must be met. And each step should build towards, and support, the next.
Remember what Reid said. Your solution does not have to be perfect. Not every feature on your product road map has to be implemented in your first version (or whatever iteration you are currently shilling).
It just has to deliver on the promise that your customer paid for. And leave them hungry enough for more to stick with you as you grow and inch your offering towards that fully-loaded end point you initially dreamed of.
Focus on, then take, that first step. And leave the embarrassment for not having gotten started sooner.
When I'm Small by Phantogram
This is the kind of song you would expect to hear echoing through the cavernous space of a hip, New York loft during a gathering of people cooler and better dressed than you. But that does not mean you cannot rock it in your three-two with an attached garage in the suburbs for that awkward gathering of the parents of your children's classmates. Like the bumper sticker recently spotted on the rear windshield of a decidedly non-descript mini van: “I used to be cool”.