In May 2003, LinkedIn went live about six months after the company's inception with only the most basic features. Users could search for others, connect with them if they knew their email, and view their profiles and network information. Fast forward 13 years, and Microsoft acquired LinkedIn for $26 billion in 2016. The simple website, which started with around 1,000 people, has become the largest platform for professionals to connect and find jobs.
Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn's founder, once said, "If the first version of your product doesn't make you feel bad, you probably launched it late." When LinkedIn was launched, the team was concerned about the absence of a "Contact Finder" feature. However, they prioritized getting the site up and running quickly over having all the features in place. Even when Microsoft acquired LinkedIn 14 years later, the "Contact Finder" tool was still missing.
Reid Hoffman has also spoken about feeling ashamed of early work in one of his essays. It's acceptable for people to see an imperfect or slightly lame product. It's better than spending months perfecting a product when focusing on customer growth could be more beneficial. People are generally understanding, and if a product addresses their everyday problems, they'll appreciate it even if it's not perfect at first.
Founders should view launching as a process, not a race. Concentrating on the first week and then the first month is crucial. After the launch, results can be assessed, changes made, and a soft launch conducted.
Focusing on a Small Market is Essential
For products with massive user bases like Uber or LinkedIn, a failed first start might not feel like the end of the world. However, when the audience is only a few thousand people, as with many B2B products, a failed first launch feels much worse.
The best course of action is to start early with a stripped-down version of the product and focus on a small group of users. Founders should concentrate on a small market first, as this forces them to work on customer growth and obtain valuable feedback.
In marketing, it's important to suggest a glass ceiling even if there isn't one. If not, the offering may not be unique.
Embracing the "Fail Fast" Mindset
The "fail fast" mentality in startup culture can intimidate founders. In software development, failing fast is a way to build a system that can work even when things go wrong. The idea behind the fail fast method is to create a system or process that identifies problems immediately and reports them to prevent larger issues from arising.
Customer development is the fuse that allows for failing fast if a product is launched correctly. By demonstrating a product to people one at a time in a controlled experiment, problems can be identified and fixed before presenting it to another customer. Although this method is slow and time-consuming, it ensures the product works before being shown to a larger audience.
Founders should consider implementing a glass ceiling on the number of people who can purchase their product and focus on developing customers.