The "Iterate Fast and Release Often" Philosophy of Entrepreneurship

The world of entrepreneurship is well-known for being fast-paced.  First movers   have an advantage, but so do those who simply build a bett
November 12, 2009

The world of entrepreneurship is well-known for being fast-paced.  First movers have an advantage, but so do those who simply build a better product.  Entrepreneurs constantly struggle between taking more time to improve their product for the customer and launching new features out before the competition beats them to the punch.   


There is a famous quote by Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, which really resonates with some entrepreneurs:

If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.


Reid’s words reflect a growing movement within the entrepreneurial community, one that I call the “Iterate Fast and Release Often” philosophy of entrepreneurship.  The core tenet of this philosophy is that it’s more important to launch a product and new features and iterate rather than take the extra time necessary to “perfect” a product or feature before launch. 


The debate on this philosophy has been rising rapidly recently, so I thought it was time to really take a look at the pros and cons of the “Iterate Fast and Release Often” mantra and see just why many entrepreneurs (including me) so highly recommend it.


The perfect product is shaped by the users


Pretend you are the founder of a startup company building a web app (if this isn’t you already). You know that your upstart rival is building a similar product.  However, you don’t know what features it is going to launch with, nor do you know when.  What should you do?


In the Iterate Fast line of thought, the answer is easy: get the thing launched with minimal features.  As long as you have the core basis, you can iterate with new features along the way.  If you are beaten to the market by another company, it can quickly amass market share, attention, and most importantly data.


There is something to be said about making the product right the first time, though.  Launching a very buggy product can lead to a disastrous night of damage control.  But that still is a point in favor of the Iterate Fast camp: the damage can be controlled and bugs can be fixed.  Most of all, users will forgive you as long as the core product is useable.


Here’s the biggest reason I am in favor of the Iterate Fast philosophy, however: the user knows best. You may believe that your research says that this set of 13 features is what users want, but you don’t really know that until the product is launched.  Users interact with web products in surprising ways.  By launching quickly, getting instant feedback from sources such as Twitter, and tracking user behavior on-site, you will have a far clearer direction for your product.  The worst thing you can do is build a feature that nobody wants.  Time needs to be treated as a limited resource.


So this serial entrepreneur recommends that you worry less about launching with everything you want and simply launching and seeing how users behave.  Build new features and products based on how they behave and you will end up with a killer product. 


Finally, don’t worry about the users being upset with your launch: they will forgive you for your errors as long as you are open and transparent about what you are doing.


Image courtesy of iStockphoto, CMCDerm1