Working with entrepreneurs before they launch their first product is often exciting and challenging. For many, the most difficult part of building the first product is launching. Pushing the button. Saying “OK, this is it, now we'll put this in front of people today.” It's hard because your vision of what the product should be and what you've built in that first version will be far far apart.
You fear that the product won't work. That no one will use it. You fear that people will talk about you and your product in some negative way. You believe you won't get a second chance. That no one will care.
Of course, on some of these points, you are right. Few people will care. Most of those who see your product will maybe use it once and never again. Some people might even tell other people that your product suck (although few will remember to do so since they are too busy to be going around complaining to friends about this Alpha product they tried once.)
The fear of launching to “the market” seems reasonable enough. However, we've seen this fear of launching even with closed Alphas. For instance, we've seen weeks of tinkering with the first version of a product before pushing it in front of just 30 users. Yes, even at that stage, people are afraid of what users will think. They choose to hold off on user testing until the product is “in better shape.” We've seen products be in 100% stealth for six months. Most of the product works fine and we have 3 tests we could run with users right now, but because the design or experience is not “good enough” the product/user testing never begins.
This is human nature. Many entrepreneurs, especially successful ones, are perfectionists. They want the product to be really strong before they show it. They want to be proud of it. They want the design to be smooth, the experience to flow seamlessly, and they want optimized technical performance.
Lean Is Better But Not Everyone Gets It
The Lean Methodology was partly designed to tackle such issues, but it has been met with some resistance. For instance, in the past few months, we heard from one seasoned Internet/Mobile entrepreneur that this lean methodology is just hype. They don't buy it. They think “it works with some products, but not with ours.” Some believe that you have to build most of the product before you put users in. Some have even mentioned Steve Jobs as proof that the way to go is to have a vision and then build exactly what you want - not what users say they want.
This is bullshit. First of, Steve Jobs was entirely in tune with the customer. He listened to users all the time. He was the user. He was also more in tune with design, product, and marketing then anyone else alive. He knew exactly what was needed to bring about success, but remember the first version of many of “his” products? Even he had to go through a lot of trial and error. It won't be any different for you.
So if you build 80% of your product before you bring users in, you are in deep deep trouble. The point of lean is not to build a poor product fast and launch it. The point is to figure out which of your core assumptions are right and wrong. The point is to learn - fast and early - what to build and how to build it, where to focus your resources, and what not to build.
To minimize waste and get answers from users - you must launch early. You have to get one version of your product in front of one group of users so that you can get to testing. Something magical happens when you talk to people who are using your product for the first time. You'll discover that they won't behave the way you intended. You'll find that people will do things that you didn't even think of. They will ask for features that you don't have on your product roadmap.
The fear of launching is irrational. Once you launch, you'll realize that most people won't care. They won't care because you didn't get the product right. There is only one way to get the product right: Launch early, test, measure, and iterate. Repeat. It takes time, but it's the only way.