to Launch or not to Launch

Scott Francis
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There’s a really thought-provoking blog on startups, Lessons Learned by Eric Ries, and in a recent post he details his thoughts about “the Launch”.  His advice in a nutshell:  Don’t Launch. It sounds so counter-intuitive when so much of the hype and mystique around startups is about The Launch.  Much like The IPO, or The Liquidation Event, it seems inextricably tied to the process of starting up:
  1. Draw business plan/product idea on paper napkin
  2. Get angel funding
  3. Build out slide deck and prototype for investors
  4. Get Series A Funding
  5. Launch
  6. Build virtuous hype cycle
  7. Go public
Or something like that…(YMMV)  However, Eric points out that most people conflate the announcing of a new product/service with the making of that product or service available to the public.  It turns out, he is advocating to do the latter – make your product or service available – without the marketing launch. He makes compelling arguments:  that the launch is a tactic, rather than a strategy.  He points out that there are pitfalls to a launch, as well as rewards (for example, mis-positioning, and setting expectations unrealistically high). What Eric does a really good job pointing out is that your time and energy in your startup is much better spent on improving your product and service offering, on iterating it, and building up your operational capability, revenue stream, pipeline.  In other words, focus on the basics of running a business.  Don’t focus on the Launch. Put into process terms:  the Launch is a step (tactic) that cannot ensure success in the process of building a successful startup.  It turns out that you need to focus on all the more process-oriented aspects of your business:
  • Product Design & Development
  • Service Design & Delivery
  • Sales
  • Operations, etc.
Some would say this is focusing on substance over flash – and isn’t that pretty appropriate for a process-focused professional? After all, when the process is the star of the show, there’s a little less glamor, but the bottom line results speak for themselves, and those results are generally sustainable over a longer period of time- launching isn’t something you can do well in a repeatable fashion for your product- its a one-and-done moment in time.  And as a result, as Eric points out, the risks associated with this single tactical action can be negative, but the positive side is a temporary boost if all goes well.