Ship it, Don't Shelve it

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The best product validation is launching. By Aye Moah (Co-Founder & Chief of Product, Baydin)

People often ask me what Baydin, the name of our startup, means. I usually answer with “in Burmese, it means foretelling the future through magic". But I don’t usually tell them the next part of the story. We named the company Baydin because we were building a product called Baydin, an email tool that could automatically find relevant documents, emails and people for the specific email you're reading. Just like magic.

That product doesn't exist today, because we never shipped it. We listened too much to people who told us that you can’t do anything that touches people’s email unless everything is perfect. We were too afraid of what people would think or write about it, when we should have been worrying about if anyone was going to care enough to bother thinking or writing about it at all.

We kept working on the prototype and the alpha, finding more and more things it needed to make it perfect. There was always another set of bugs that needed fixing or another feature to build before release. As a result, the release never came.

We ended up shelving a product that might have had a future. We still wonder what would have happened. We should have shipped.

You might be thinking “but you only get one chance to make a first impression!” Don’t worry about it - if your product isn’t any good, you won’t make any impression at all. That sounds existential, but upon reflection, it’s incredibly liberating.

You have the freedom to release as many times and as many products as you want in blissful anonymity. The first time you release something that people want is the first time anyone is going to notice your startup’s existence.

Unless you are Jack Dorsey, nobody is going to remember what you released on launch day (unless it’s amazing).

So release! Put it out there. That's the only way to know what you have. The best product validation is launching. You don’t know if there are people out there who want your product until you release what you have. The opposite is also equally true. You can’t know that there AREN’T people out there who want your product if none of them have ever seen it!

The most important lesson I’ve learned from working on Baydin is that a startup without big name investors and celebrity founders should not worry about shipping a less-than-perfect product. We took this lesson to heart with our next product, Boomerang for Gmail. We shipped Boomerang after just two weeks of alpha testing.

From my own experience in launching Boomerang, something that people want can be just two buttons inside Gmail. You can have a makeshift Google Doc form on your website as your beta invitation system. You can have bugs in your product, even embarrassing ones. When there is a screaming need for your product to exist, people will break your beta code system to start using your product.

The thing we feared most that people would hate us, because we had bugs in our product, couldn’t have been further from reality. The people who discovered bugs in Boomerang became the most passionate advocates for the product. Regardless of how unready we felt at the time of launch, because we took a leap and put it out there, we now have one of the most popular cloud based apps in the world, and our company is profitable from the product's revenue.

The startup journey is long, and the first real steps of the journey only happen after you release. Before that, you’re just packing your luggage and reading travel guide books. Get on the road!

Photo credit: Melted Snowball on Flickr.

Women 2.0 readers: How to remind yourself to ship, not shelve? Let us know in the comments.

About the guest blogger: Aye Moah is the Co-Founder and Chief of Product at Baydin, a profitable email productivity company. Baydin makes software to ease the burden on overloaded emailers, including the popular Boomerang email scheduling extension that has millions of downloads. Aye wears many hats at Baydin including UX designer, product manager, developer and resident gardener. She grew up in Burma and has a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from MIT. Follow her on Twitter at @ayemoah.