When Does It Make Sense To Launch Early With A Buggy Product, And When Is It Important To Perfect The Product?

by Daniele Diab

Bugs, Bugs, and more Bugs!
Just let me raise the curtain…

You might wonder whether you should go out there after three weeks with a buggy product or wait nine months until your product is perfect. Although it depends on the nature of your product, I would favor launching early and imperfectly.

First, when being a first mover gives you an advantage, it might be very valuable to launch as soon as possible, even with some bugs. Time is money and one of your scarcest resources as a startup is time. Twitter, for instance, was notorious for being a buggy product in its early days, adding users aggressively at all costs and at the risk of going down more often. In my view, it was the right choice not to limit the amount of new users and postpone work on the servers’ stability given the first mover advantage and the importance of network effects.

Second, when your probability of failing is very high and you have limited resources, releasing a product quickly, albeit imperfect, will actually decrease your overall risk. In line with the concept of lean startup where you “test then invest”, having a buggy prototype means having a cheap and quickly available minimum viable product useful to test key hypotheses. The quicker your prototype is in users’ hands, the quicker you receive feedback, which ultimately means the quicker your product gains market traction through responsive design.

And, finally, when it comes to bugs of internal architecture nature, users do not really care. From their perspective, the technology is completely irrelevant. This is further mitigated when you state upfront that your product is in beta version; users will be patient. In the end, it's entirely about the user experience and what really counts is whether users love your product and your concept.

However, let’s not fool ourselves. Launching early can, in some cases, hurt you.

In fact, when sequencing is very likely to be misleading, launching an imperfect and incomplete version of your product might not be the optimal approach. For instance, when you issue a new feature, its success might be dependent on another feature that you scheduled to add later. You might drop the first feature not knowing that it is a valuable feature only if bundled with the feature you were planning to add in a later stage. Launching imperfectly might thus lead to false conclusions about specific hypotheses given their interdependencies – a problem that is not encountered if you go all the way.

Additionally, when the product is providing a mission critical service, launching a buggy product might destroy your reputation, especially when you still have no customer goodwill bandwidth. Some for data sensitive ventures (such as Gmail and Dropbox) or for platforms that are heavily dependent on building a strong relationship of trust (such as Paypal), it is critical for the product to be perfect at least at the software functionality level before being released since the impact of errors in these applications could be fatal.

To conclude, it is important to incorporate the trade-offs in your decision making process when choosing to launch a buggy product early versus waiting for the product to be perfect.