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Can Siri Advise You When to Launch?

November 4, 2011

Siri went mute yesterday, leaving many with the impression that the most hyped feature of the iPhone 4s, the most hyped product launch this fall, was premature. The product wasn’t ready.

Apple’s no startup, but like a startup, it’s often faced with the question of when to launch a product.

One lean startup mantra is “continuous launch.” The idea is to let customer reaction drive product development, because 1) that eliminates the waste of time and effort that goes into developing what they don’t want, and 2) customer actions in response to the product itself are the best way to gather good data about what they really want.

Our experience is that real entrepreneurs hate this advice.  They usually argue against following it on three slightly different grounds:

  • I’ve only got one chance to make a first impression. I’ve got a hypothesis about what will work for my customers, supported by what I consider to be sufficient evidence. If I launch and the thing doesn’t work, or crashes their computer, the Internet will be buzzing with how lousy my product is.  My company will get a bad reputation, we won’t be able to get good press later, future customers will have to take a leap of faith that we’ve improved, on top of the leap of faith they’re already taking, just to try a new product.  They won’t do it, and we’ll be screwed.
  • I don’t control my channel partners; it’s a big win just to convince them to let me play in their market.  They will not give me access to their customers, and will not invest in testing themselves.  I’ve got to rely on indirect evidence, and I’ve got to make my product as bulletproof and fully featured as resources allow to give it the best chance of succeeding.
  • My product has a set of features that work together to create value for the customer.  If Steve Jobs had launched the iPod without iTunes, it would have been just another mp3 player.  I’ve got to build out all the important aspects of my product before I can do any testing that will yield relevant results.

In short, early exposure can erode brand value and yield misleading data about the market.  Taking these fears seriously, the question becomes, how do you eliminate development waste and gather good data while avoiding these pitfalls?

We welcome your suggestions.

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