Alex Schiff / Uncategorized

Letting Go (Alex Schiff)

This month marked a huge milestone for Fetchnotes, the startup I first began working on in January. It’s probably the biggest milestone a startup of our stage can have — we shipped the product. To real people.

Granted, it’s limted, and it’s a beta. But there are real people using it! We have over 160 registered users and we’re starting to gather great feedback. *cue shameless cheerleading*

In the run-up to release, a curious hesitation to pull the trigger and send out invites arose. I kept coming up with all sorts of excuses for why I wasn’t sending it to more of our extended network — the VCs, entrepreneurs, early-vangelists, friends and mentors who gave us the feedback and advice we needed to get us to where we are today. I reasoned that I’ve been talking about Fetchnotes and the problems we’re solving for so long that I simplycan’t send it out to them before we have X-feature or before Y page looks more polished. What if they think it looks bad? What if it doesn’t work? Worse, what if, despite months of talking to customers and confirming the need, they just thought it wasn’t useful?

And that’s to the people we actually know. If I didn’t have Chase and the rest of the team (rightly) pushing to get invites out to real users quicker, I’d probably still be making excuses. First, I said that as soon as we have the web app done I’ll start sending it out en masse. Then the web app’s core functionality was done and I said, well, we really need to have the texting integration for people to find it useful. Then that was working and I said, well, we really need to have that page look better. Come to think of it, we really should have our sharing features built in too.

You can see where this is going. If you keep waiting for things to be just right, you’ll never release. This is very common wisdom among seasoned entrepreneurs, but no matter how many times you hear it as a first-timer that trigger-shyness only grows as you get closer to a “shippable” product. You need to resist the urge and kill it before you allow perfectionism to pervade your thinking.

Perfectionism is rarely thought of as a negative thing, but in tech startups it can be deadly. I once heard an entrepreneur say, “If you leave your release date up to your engineers, you’ll never release.” But the Fetchnotes engineers have been the ones that kept on asking me, “How many people have you sent invites to? What are they saying?” was the problem.

So after I shamefully pushed back the goal posts a few times, we set a firm feature anchor for our release date. As soon as I can text in my notes, invites are going out. This gave me something tangible that I couldn’t say “but wait…” to. Then we got texting, and off the invites went.

There wasn’t a catastrophe. No one wrote us angry emails because the design wasn’t quite right. The server didn’t start eating everyone’s notes. There weren’t any random explosions of argument between team members about long-settled issues. Everything went just fine.

In fact, everything was better than fine. Dozens of people went out of their way to say how much they loved the UI and design. “Clean and simple” was the theme that carried the day. We’re still building in a better way to track how much people are really using it, but the early indicators are positive. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re on the right track.

No, not everything worked flawlessly. There were bugs. There were a few suggestions that seem so ridiculously obvious in hindsight that I have no idea how we didn’t think of them in the first place. That’s because there are certain things that can only be uncovered by people outside your organization. There’s a big difference between how an entrepreneur uses his or her own product and how a customer does.

To all the entrepreneurs still stranded in Product-Developmentland, set a firm feature anchor to your release date. Ask yourself, “What is one feature that will make our product differentiated enough to get someone’s interest?” When that feature is done, it’s time to end your “friends and family testing” and ship it to real people. And to the rest of the Fetchnotes crew, thanks for keeping your CEO in line.

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