Launch Now: If Your Idea Has Potential, It Will Be Obvious
Test if your idea is good enough to attract users even half baked
Paul Graham famously said that you should launch when you can serve at least 1 user. Why such a low bar? Let me explain.
The central startup concept
My experience of spending €200.000 on a failed startup by raising money, hiring people, and building a product no one wanted (you can read more here) taught me that product/market fit is a central concept in a startup journey.
Even if you are familiar with it intimately, I would invite you to reread the definition I find enlightening. Here is a quote from Marc Andreessen:
In short, customers are knocking down your door to get the product; the main goal is to actually answer the phone and respond to all the emails from people who want to buy. You can always feel when product/market fit isn’t happening. The customers aren’t quite getting value out of the product, word of mouth isn’t spreading, usage isn’t growing that fast, press reviews are kind of “blah”, the sales cycle takes too long, and lots of deals never close.
Notice the sentence I bolded. Based on the quote, it is easy to deduce that the opposite is also true: you can always feel when product/market fit is happening.
Launching fast works because if your startup is useful for people, early adopters will see it despite the imperfections.
My startup LaunchClub, a platform that connects founders who just launched their startup in 1-on-1 video calls where they help each other, was initially launched on ProductHunt under the name GrowthClub. At the time, we were considering charging 5–10 USD per month.
Our CEO Max had a crazy idea: what if we charge 50 USD per month when we launch and see if anyone at all buys? Indeed we got a few early adopters. The fact that some users were ready to pay 50 USD per month validated for us that founders indeed find our value proposition of a peer-to-peer learning community who meet through 1-on-1 calls very attractive.
How startups die
Most startup entrepreneurs hold off launches because they want the product to be perfect. They don’t want users to complain. They don’t want some people to lose interest because of UX problems.
My argument is that at the stage of launch it doesn’t matter. The reason is, most likely your idea is something no one wants. I know this might be hard to swallow, especially if you have a strong faith in your idea. But hear this: the #1 reason startups fail is lack of market demand.
Most likely no one will care about what you’ve built. And no wonder. People are lazy to switch to a new product unless it is super attractive. And if the niche is super attractive, it likely already has 100 funded startups working on it.
On the one hand, that’s disheartening. On the other hand, it should be liberating for people who are just launching. Because details don’t matter at this stage. If your idea has potential, it has a strong pull. The pull is so strong that even with the shitty UX and high price some users will still buy your service.
Right now you need to launch and find out if your product has this pull. Most likely it won’t. And if it does, you will know. Trust me and Marc Andreessen: it is hard to miss.
So, what to do if you launch and there is no demand? Understand why, iterate, and launch again. It’s a simple cycle, but understanding why is a critical step, otherwise, you are bound to repeat your mistakes. At this stage I would recommend interviews as whatever data you might have is unlikely to have statistical significance.
Here is an example from us. Initially, we launched LaunchClub as a service for P2P coaching open to anyone. We talked to some users who were considering signing up and asked them why they didn’t. They were generally interested in personal growth but weren’t sure how the peer-to-peer model would help them and why not to go for a traditional coach.
We then started thinking about a niche where peer-to-peer would be more in demand and decided to focus on startup founders.
- A major issue is that founders believe they need a perfect product to launch. You don’t. Build an MVP — a minimum viable product. If you think you need to spend a month building an MVP, you are probably not thinking crazy enough. Take a Wizard of Oz approach: make it look as if the product is ready and automated before it is and see if anyone bites. A famous example is launching just a landing page. When people click to sign up, the button leads them to sign up for the waitlist. With LaunchClub, before we had any algorithms for matching people every week we were doing it manually.
- Some things are just hard to do. We need to overcome resistance to do them. For example, everyone knows that exercise is good for us, but not everyone goes to the gym. Some pain and discomfort are involved. Commit to launching now. For example, set a launch date (no less than 2 weeks away!) and tell your friends or like-minded founders you meet on platforms like LaunchClub.
- Check out ProductHunt, AppSumo, and similar platforms. They aggregate early adopters so you don’t need to find them.
- If your launch doesn’t pull people in, don’t despair. You have two options. Either try again or study the market. The easiest way to come up with ideas is to think about the area where you already know the market. For example, LaunchClub came about because I was already an entrepreneur and had a background in coaching so could imagine how people could help each other even though neither are experts.
My aim is to contribute to humanity's development through the levers of (1) personal development and education, (2) human longevity, and (3) political and economic systems. Interests: coaching, developmental psychology, self-managing organizations (Teal, Holacracy), longevity, aging, politics, economics, history, philosophy, metamodernism, China, AGI, meditation. I love meeting highly ambitious people. Are you one? Let's connect!