Push early, fail often

Posted on February 2, 2010.

In a startup environment the mantra of “push early, push often” is often heralded as the right product development course. The theory is one driven by the Agile model – get value to customers in the form of working code as quickly as possible, get feedback, iterate and push more code. This also jives well with another popular mantra, “Fail early, fail often.” Similar? If we were to use (ok, not really) the transitive property (if a=b and b=c, you get the rest of it) you come up with the following formula:

Push (early, often) = Fail (early, often)

I’m not interested in getting into a debate about the merits of Agile. I’m actually quite bought in to the value it brings to a software shop and believe that UX design can be properly integrated into the process. What I think this equation speaks to is the image of your newly-birthed company in the market. This is also known as your brand.

Getting to minimal viable product and pushing code live may get you “to market” fast but the risks of doing so before you’ve reached minimum desirable product can outweigh the benefits. Prior to launch, your startup’s brand is a tabula rasa. It’s yours to own and shape and, as the old slogan goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Even early adopters are sensitive to the presentation of a new product. It doesn’t have to do 50 things. It only has to do 1 thing but it has to do it elegantly, efficiently and in a manner that speaks to its audience – sophistication, fun, exploration, etc. Early adopters (with the blogosphere counted among them) are often the loudest voices on the Web and can easily make or break your debut. At the very least they can put up enough of a stink to create a brand and PR hurdle to overcome before you’re even out of private Beta.

Consider the whole experience you’re pushing live before doing so. Yes, your product does what it’s supposed to do but how does it meet the minimum desirability standards of your target audience? The push early/often mantra gets your team focused on the details. But is anyone looking at the big picture? The whole experience?

It’s critical to involve design thinking in this process (as Dave McClure points out here) from a variety of angles. Ensure you’ve considered that first impression before actually going out in the market. Make a good enough one and the market (and blogosphere) will be far more forgiving to the updates you continue to push out. Make a poor first impression and each move will be attributed to you “fixing your product/brand/image” in the marketplace.


One thought on “Push early, fail often

  1. Putting it differently: For Agile to succeed, the entire organiztion has to participate whole-heartedly. And that includes the appropriate level management who are expected to “see the forest for the trees”.
    Good posting!

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