The Planned Iteration Startup Launch Minimizes Risk
The traditional mode of starting a company has been to plan a serial process, where you complete once all the steps, leading to the “big bang” launch of the company. I strongly recommend a dramatic departure from this model, called “planned iteration” or Lean Startup methodology, where you assume you won’t get it right the first time, so you launch with a minimum viable product (MVP).
This idea was first articulated by Paul Graham in an old essay, called “Startups in 13 Sentences” in which he talked about “making a few people really happy rather than making a lot of people semi-happy.” One of his key points is that “launching teaches you what you should have been building,” and I agree.
All you old software development types will recognize the analogy to the traditional two year “waterfall model” of software development, which has been totally replaced with the Agile iterative methodology. Agile assumes and plans for iterative development, where requirements and solutions evolve as more is known and markets change.
Don’t mistake this for a license to launch an incomplete or poor quality solution. Your strategy today should be to define and excellently prepare the absolute minimum product that will excite a selected small segment of your intended customers, and roll it out to them – as a Beta, early promotion, or even a give-away.
Then you assess feedback, adjust your offering, and iterate until you get it right (have some very satisfied customers). Plan on multiple small launches, with iterations, rather than a big launch. Here are the advantages I see with this approach:
- Faster time to market. If you launch fast, you can be working with real customers in 4-6 months from your start, rather than 1-2 years. In today’s fast moving marketplace, needs, competitors, and costs change rapidly, so even if you were right, two years later the wave has moved on. Equally likely, your first target was wrong, and you will need to adjust.
- Show some traction before funding. Let’s face reality, the angel or VC funding process now takes 4-6 months of almost dedicated effort and time, and usually fails because you don’t yet have a product or customer. By using a laser-focused approach for the first iteration, you may actually produce something and get a customer without funding. Now investors will pay attention, since scale-up funding is less risky and has a time frame.
- Fail fast and cheap. Since you can predict that your first iteration will somehow miss the mark, speed and cost of pivoting are critical. We all know how hard it is to turn a battleship. With a minimum viable product, your startup remains much more agile. The planned iterations can then be applied more productively to enhance the right offering.
- Find customers, partners and channels early. There is nothing like a real customer pipeline to convince you that you need partners and channels, and to convince partners, channels, and investors that you are real. Get out there personally and find that first customer. It will narrow your development focus, and adjust your strategy for you. Spend your time finding renewable sources of customers and iterate.
- Use social networking to start the wave. Costs are low these days to set up a credible website, do some search engine optimization, start blogging, and start mining the social networks for interest. It won’t cost you your whole funding pot to start some momentum, or to realize that your original strategy needs major tuning.
Think about it. Where did Google, eBay, and Facebook come from? They inched their way into public view before the first multi-million dollar funding rounds, and they have never had a big public launch. New product companies in the offline world start one store at a time, or in one geographic area.
Big bang product launches are the domain of big enterprises, and you can never match their clout and budget. The biggest advantages you have as a startup are speed and agility. Use them.
Written by Martin Zwilling
You might also be interested in
Co-founder Equity Split: A New Framework to Objectively Divide Startup Ownership and Get Back to Building a Business
We’ve just released our free Co-founder Equity Split tool. It’ll give you a fair and objective recommendation about how to divide your startup’s ownership, so you and your co-founders will have a sensible, real starting point for this notoriously hard, crucially important conversation.
Many startup founders find themselves lacking clarity and direction when it comes time to divide their
With startup growth up 61% since 2014 and more investment programs emerging, it can be overwhelming for founders to know just where to jump in. As the most startup-friendly accelerator on the planet, MassChallenge has helped 835 startup companies around the world, who have raised over $1.1 billion in funding and created over 6,500 jobs. We have seen startups at
Update 2017: To help you understand how your startup will look to investors according to this methodology, we’ve created a fundraising feedback tool that will give you investor-level insight into your startup’s performance. In just about 15 minutes, it will tell you how much money your startup is likely to raise, where you can find that capital, and what to
After less than a year, Glassbreakers is now a team of 10, we have thousands of active users on our free product, we’ve expanded into enterprises with paying customers and raised over a million in seed funding. After a few of my Glassbreaker matches inquired, I started to reflect on what it’s like to build a startup
The median investor looking at your proposal is in her 40s. Her eyes are going, not to mention her brain. I look at a lot of spreadsheets and analytic reports, and way too many are difficult to read and therefore hard to understand.
In an effort to make my life easier, I’ve summarized here the steps that will