Note from the author (added 29/9/2010): It seems that some readers found this post a little too opinionated for someone who hasn’t yet launched. I’ve tried to address your legitimate feedback in the comments here and on Hacker News. I’ve also done some toning down on passages below.
Don’t waste your precious pre-launch time like we have has been so well-received that I decided to expand on the topic and bring you a few more tips from the hapless entrepreneurs behind yet-to-be-launched just❤liked.
Get something online fast
It doesn’t matter whether you call it the launch, the beta, the alpha or something else. It’s absolutely critical that you make your app (some version of it), available online as soon as possible, and this is something we didn’t too well. In retrospect it seems that ideally we would have put something up within 1 or 2 weeks after nailing down the principles and definitions between ourselves. I’d be as aggressive as possible about this milestone and hold yourself accountable for missing this first and, in my view, the most important of deadlines before your real launch. We too should have been harsher on ourselves slipping that deadline.
Why do I insist so vehemently on having something online as soon as possible? Well, having something online gives you an entirely new perspective on the app. This may seem totally counterintuitive because development environments often do good enough job of emulating what the online experience will be like. And yet they are not the real thing, especially if your application is a multi-user one.
Many things (e.g. image pre-loading, web copy and messaging, and analytics) you will never plan for unless you’ve gone through the exercise before, and you would be well-served by giving the task of getting online fast the highest priority possible. The approach is also consistent with “iterate like mad” mantra. You can’t iterate without the first iteration. This actually reminded me of the way mathematical induction works. If you don’t have it proven for N, you can’t prove it for N+1.
Avoid Sophisticated User/Customer Acquisition Schemes
I know how tempting it is to make the alpha, the beta, the theta, etc. exclusive for a select set of users, priming your customer acquisition pipeline and virally spreading the news of your glorious app to the rest of the Internet. Yes, it sounds great, except you are a bootstrapped startup with very limited resources to spare on marketing and promotion. We too got a little carried away entertaining notions of viral growth while we should have focused on getting the app online.
If you are a starry-eye entrepreneur like myself and your user acquisition strategy is based on creating artificial scarcity, STOP!
This is domain of funded startups with connections. Chances are you are not going to be able to pull it off just on your own unless you are incredibly well connected (but then you are probably not bootstrapped). More importantly, if you get carried away with your scarcity generation, you’ll soon find out that you are creating scarcity around vaporware, which is a far worse situation to be in when you are trying to build trust around your name and product.
Keep in mind that scarcity doesn’t need to be generated: it’s inherent in every new product, and it’s the scarcity of user’s attention. I recommend to just open it up to all. Surely, nobody will come, but solving this problem is much easier when you already whetted it against early adopters and have something to iterate from.
Limit Conceptual Discussions and Long Term Planning
It’s important to agree on the basic principles of the application and to define the important terms that you will be operating with for the duration of the project. This will ensure that all involved operate with the same vocabulary. We’ve been bitten by this couple of times while working on just❤liked. Trust me, redoing things just because you misunderstood your co-founder is not fun.
I don’t believe it’s a wise use of anyone’s time to make plans that stretch beyond MVP. Sure, you may have a notion of how you want it all to turn out in the end, but it’s best to keep that notion to yourself until it morphs into something else or goes away. Because it most certainly will.
Your primary focus should be on building something crippled and putting it online. Make “crippled” a requirement if you must, just get it done. Anything that distracts you from this task or derails your efforts is counterproductive. Don’t belabor the evolution of the product until you have the first version and your opinions and speculations about the target market and user acquisition strategy are a little more informed.