By Elizabeth Yin (Co-Founder, LaunchBit)
First-time web entrepreneurs often tell me “Oh we’re moving really quickly, we’re launching in just 6 months.” Terrible flashbacks go past my eyes — A couple years ago, I remember saying the exact same thing to myself.
The trouble is that product traction isn’t just about getting a product out the door.
Your biggest competitor isn’t any company or individual — It’s time. It’s in the duration you have before you run out of money, morale, and the enthusiasm your significant other/family has for your endeavors.
The trouble with my last company was that our experience in software development came from large companies, where your job is just to ship code. So we thought that a launch was just about writing the code. We did that in 6 months. But what we didn’t account for was that in a startup, you don’t have a ready large group of users just waiting to use your product. So your launch time must also include a cycle of user experience and marketing.
Since my failed company, I’ve learned there’s actually two kinds of time.
There’s work time, and there’s calendar time. The former is in your control. That’s the actual time it takes you to do work: code, write blog posts, write emails, etc. But calendar time is much trickier to control.
Calendar time is the total time it takes to get something done, inclusive of your work time but also inclusive of time it takes for other people to do things like use your application, give you feedback, take the time to talk with you, and respond to your emails. If you need to build user experience and marketing into your launch time, calendar time can be really long and unpredictable. You have no idea how long it will take for people to respond to your Craigslist post or get back to your emails. You have no idea how long it will take for SEO to kick in. Or, how long it will take before word of mouth will take hold. And, worst of all, you have no idea if any of these things will even happen at all.
If you do everything in series in a drawn-out way like we did: build, market, measure — it’s a cycle that can turn months into years.
Eric Ries suggests that shortening an iterative loop and going through such a loop multiple times quickly is the key to success.
I would take that a step further and suggest not only cutting activities to shorten that loop, but to do as much of this loop in parallel.
Our workflow looks like this:
- Get your Unbounce or LaunchRock page up from Day 1 — Start marketing before you have a product.
- Gauge interest and get signups from the very beginning until you’re done with the first iteration of the product.
- Start talking with potential customers and finding them thru Craigslist posts on Day 1 — Get feedback and potential customers immediately!
- Start mocking up your idea once you have enough of an idea of what to build.
- Get those mocks back out to potential customers to make sure you’re on the right track.
- Iterate as much as possible on paper before building— It’s much faster to re-draw than to re-code.
- “Delete features” on your paper prototypes as well, reducing what you need to actually build in code.
- Try to code as little as possible to shrink that build time to about 1-2 weeks.
The result? By the time you’re done building your first prototype, you’ve already acquired users from doing marketing in parallel. This puts you in a position to start measuring usage and gauging interest immediately before iterating through that loop again.
Build, market, measure should happen as much as possible in parallel to reduce your launch time and keep your money, morale, and support up.
This post originally posted at LaunchBit.
Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
About the guest blogger: Elizabeth Yin is a Co-Founder at LaunchBit and is currently in the 500 Startups incubator program. She is an internet marketer and backend programmer. Previously, she ran marketing for startups and also worked as a marketing manager at Google. Prior to Google, Elizabeth wrote backend code for startups during the rise and fall of the dot com era. Elizabeth holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford and an MBA from MIT Sloan. Follow her on Twitter at @launchbit.