I was interviewing with a company last week (let’s call them Company X) that was over three years old, but they had only launched their beta site 6 months before. What did Company X do for two and a half years (30 months!)? That seems kinda crazy to me.
Ship it! Get the basic functionality built and start sharing it with your target customers! How did Company X know what they were building was what their customers actually wanted? How did they know what features were important and what were nice to have (or even a “yeah, we’ll never use that” kind of feature)? How did they know if they built flexibility in the right places to fit the customers business processes (without over complicating the solution)?
What was their competition doing during those two and a half years? I am sure they weren’t standing still. Company X is trying to enter a very crowded space with very successful, well entrench, well funded players already in place. How often did the bar of basic functionality expected get raised on Company X by the competition during those two and a half years? Company X had to have spent huge cycles just trying to catch up every time a competitor released an update.
And how much did the market change in those two and a half years? There has been big pressure on pricing the last two years. I know their business model had to have been way off.
I believe you should release as soon as you solve a business problem or fill a true need – customers will use it. And they will give you feedback. Look at the most famous beta in the world – how long was gmail in “beta?” Or look at Basecamp by 37Signals – not the most features, not the most flexible, but it does what it does really well and simply.
If Company X had spent six to nine months (even a year) building the beta and then had released who knows where they would be today? How do they know if during the last year or two their customers couldn’t have helped them find a space no one else is competing in. Or functionality that separated them from everyone else? Most start up companies go through massive changes during the first few years. Normally for the better! As they have sales and market pressures adding features and changing their focus most start ups become better and better. It’s like a diamond, you don’t get something beautiful without a lot of heat and pressure!