Failure to Launch

This month has me feeling very busy. So busy, that I haven’t taken the time to sit down and write the blog post (one of the blog posts, rather) that I’ve been meaning to. This is my attempt to remedy that.

Earlier this month1 Audiophone 1.0 was released on the App Store. I’ve been working on Audiophone at varying degrees of devotion since this past summer. It represents my first individual efforts as a developer and businessman, and I’m extremely proud of it2. There are a number of lessons I learned along the way, both as a developer and as a person. There’s one that rose above the rest though, and that’s what I’d like to talk about.

I didn’t want to launch.

It’s not that I didn’t want to release Audiophone, it’s that I always had a reason not too. I’d have excuses every time Tanisha (my endearing girlfriend who always pushes me) told me that I should just submit it. Excuses like: “It’s not good enough yet,” “If I see problems with it, everyone else will too,” “I can’t release it if I know there’s a bug.”

Well, let me tell you something. I released it. I still don’t think it’s good enough. And yes, there are bugs (both known and unknown). And, surprisingly to me but probably not you, I feel better for it. I am not a perfect creature and my work will never be perfect either. I read somewhere (of course, I can’t remember where) that if I’m too much of a coward to put something out there and fail, then I’ll never succeed either. That pushed me to submit the app.3

And you know what? Nothing bad has happened. In fact, only good has come from this. I have customers now! Suprise, surprise! And I don’t just have customers, I have customers to communicate with. Instead of working on this idea that I hoped was good enough or on the right track, I have valuable feedback and criticism to drive Audiophone foward and make it better. The net result of releasing it, whether I thought I should or not, is that I’m better off and my customers are better off.

But it needs to be perfect!

There is merit to obsessing on your work. There is value to hiding away and polishing your product to make sure that it amazes everyone you show it to. But if you spend months or even years stashed away in your dark room telling yourself it isn’t good enough, you’re only hurting yourself. You may come out and realize that the world has passed your idea by. Someone may have beaten you to it and even though your execution is better, what if there’s was good enough and it doesn’t matter now?

Apple is the classic example of “do it right or don’t do it”, but they’re playing an entirely different game. When you release your app, will it be on CNN, BBC, MSNBC, and every other world-wide news outlet with a full list of why it sucks (even if it doesn’t)? I doubt it. When you release your next update, will millions of users be clammoring and waiting in line to get it? Probably not. This is the kind of problem where you know it if you have it (or maybe not, Microsoft).

So… release crap?

No, I’m not saying that. Personally, I knew I could have released Audiophone months ago. Would there have been more bugs? Yup. Would that one feature not be as polished? Yup. Would it have been as good enough then too? Definitely. Would I have been able to spend the time since then improving areas that are more important to my users that I original thought? Absolutely.

Based on my experience, I believe there’s a point where if we’re absolutely honest with ourselves we know whether a product or idea is good enough. Unfortunately, our pride and fears get in the way of that. Our lizard brain screams at us that this could go very badly and we run back into our dungeon and polish away until the next attempt. In reality, we’re selling ourselves short and undermining our self-confidence.

Next time, I hope that I’ll have the mindfulness to recognize when I’m making excuses for myself. I can’t tell you when your product will be ready. It really depends on your personal values and goals. If you want to release the most amazing animated Facebook reader, then you go ahead and spend years and make your own Facebook Paper. But if you’re building something for people to use, remember that it helps to let them use it.

  1. Feburary 6th, 2014, for posterity.

  2. Except the warts and bugs, those I hope to fix in short order.

  3. Actually, it pushed me to re-submit. But that’s a longer story for another post.