Quality or quickly?

What is more important, to reach market quickly or to launch with a quality product?

I received this question from Pete in South Africa…

I have been working on a small web application, which I hope to launch soon. My problem is that I am spending ages tweaking and improving it before launch. I fear that if I spend much longer on it somebody will beat me to market. What is more important, getting the product right or launching it quickly?

It is a good question and one with no single answer. It is certainly something we have been struggling with as we prepare to launch GetSignOff.

The advantage of launching early

twitter website

The prevailing wisdom is to launch early. The logic goes that by launching quickly you can be first to market and then refine the offering based on user feedback.

There is certainly something to be said for being first to market, especially online. It is easier to build some buzz around your product if it is an original idea. You can also establish a customer basis more easily when there is little choice available. However it is not without its drawbacks.

The disadvantages of launching early

You only get one chance to make a first impression. If a user does not like your product they are unlikely to return. They will therefore never see improvements you make later. The customer is lost.

Also, by launching early your competition has the chance to adapt before they launch. Few ideas are truly original and somebody somewhere will already be developing something similar. If you launch too early they have the opportunity to adapt their offering to undermine you.

Of course, the danger of delaying launch is procrastination. That has certainly been my experience. The idea for GetSignOff was formed over a year and a half ago and we wasted far too much time. Be careful you do not make the same mistake and spend too long obsessing over details.

How to make a decision

When to release is dependant on two factors, what you are releasing and who it is aimed at.

If you are releasing a traditional website it is important that the quality is high. There is no option to slap on a beta label, and users are less tolerant of problems.

getsignoff screenshot

If the product is a web application the decision is dependant on the nature of that application. If it is business critical, the users will have a lower tolerance for problems. However, if it is something like twitter then downtime and problems are more easily accepted. After all, the inability to twitter is not the end of the world (not that you would guess that from some peoples reaction).

The second factor that determines when you launch is audience. For example the audience for GetSignOff are other web designers. Although you couldn’t find a more critical audience, they do understand that a new product will have bugs. They are also experienced enough to work around usability problems and muddle through. However, if your audience is not so computer literate they are more likely to give up and try another site.

Fearing competition

There seems to be a fear of competition among web developers. They have this desire to be completely original, and so rush the launch of their application.

However, competition is to be expected and choice is good. I have received numerous apologetic emails and twitters from people pointing out the competition to GetSignOff. Their tone indicates that this is the end of the world. In reality it is to be expected. Even if GetSignOff was identical to its competition it would not be a problem. There are enough customers to go around. The web is a big place.

Take baked beans for example. There are a lot of varieties of backed beans and they are all basically the same. They do not even taste different. However, all of these varieties can exist side by side in the marketplace quite happily. There is enough demand.

In conclusion, there is no need to rush to market. Take your time and get your product right. However, be careful not to procrastinate and remember that you will need to tweak your application long after launch. No matter how careful the planning, you will not get it right first time.

  • To paraphrase Alan Cooper, there’s no large group of people waiting breathlessly to purchase your shitty product. Give me best to market over first to market any day: Google, iPod, Dyson, Facebook.
    The one exception is that if you’re way earlier than others and don’t suck, you might be able to cling on if you reach critical mass before competitors overtake you. Twitter is the prime example. I think this is only really the case for services with a large social component or a heavy penalty for disloyalty.

  • Launching early could also benefit you because, although small, I think there is a barrier to leaving and signing up for another service. That changes pretty quickly if there are serious issues with the site, but in the case of twitter its easier to just wait out the downtime than create a new account on another service and try to get friends to change over as well. Good post… pass the baked beans.

  • I would like to add the differenciation between a solid product and a polished one. Sometimes people get stuck in tweaking the visual design of an interface. Losing focus on the “big picture” and losing time may be the results. What we see on del.icio.us or craigslist.com for example are solid applications that provide a needed service. Both of them are (or were, in the case of delicious.com) not very polished on the visual side of things but their functionality is used by a broad range of users.

  • Rob

    I think it all really depends on your product and the market mixed in with a good dose of luck!!
    For example I have just launched a new product which is by no means original. It’s an idea we have been kicking around for a number of years but we were not sure that the market was ready.
    If we released too early then people would have lost interest before they were willing to engage with it. Too late and some big fish would have come in and claimed our share of the pie.
    Also, as mentioned in the post, it’s been useful to look at the other offerings out there and improve on what they have done.
    Whether or not we have timed it right, I think, is now down a small slice of luck. smile Time will tell I guess.

  • I think a good approach is to deliver quality quickly by reducing the number of features. A small number of quality features will get you online quickly … your users will let you know what feature should be implemented next!

  • There is no “silver bullet” in regard to success or failure of a business model or service offering and I agree with Paul in regard to enough demand to keep many business profitable and viable. I lived in NYC for 17 years and there is a pizza shop on almost every block and they were always mouths to feed… It IS a big web and I say go for it as you never know what may hit.