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The Beta Principle: Skip Perfection & Launch Early

The Beta Principle: Skip Perfection & Launch Early
Published February 25, 2010 by Scott Belsky
One thing every company has in common is a desire to innovate. Whether it means creating entirely new products or improving existing ones, everyone is familiar with the anxiety that accompanies all things new. All too often, we strive to get everything right the first time around.
As a consequence, our products suffer from costly delays and insufficient feedback prior to launch.For a solution, we can steal a page from the playbook of modern Internet and technology companies that have pioneered the practice of “launching in beta.” As you probably know, most of Google’s products are launched in beta (with bugs and all) for the world to adopt. The “Labs” icon in the top right hand corner of Gmail is a treasure trove of quickly executed ideas that Google is testing. Some are clearly half-baked, but all are available. Why? Because sometimes it’s best to launch a product before it’s perfect. I call this acting without conviction. You may be uncertain – and some things may remain unfinished – but you’ve got to push it out. The reasons are both practical and psychological. Sometimes it’s best to launch a product before it’s perfect. On a practical level, you can only get feedback and real user data when the product is released. Google makes major changes to their products while they are in beta – and these changes are made based on rock-solid analytics. Also, if there are fundamental flaws in your assumptions about your product, you will realize them more quickly if it’s live. Rather than spending many months (and lots of money) on the finer details, getting early feedback can lead to priceless realizations. On a psychological level, a team thinks differently once the first version of a product is up and running. Rather than working for a hypothetical group of customers, everything you do affects real people. Your team will become more expedient and start to think of the project in smaller chunks rather than as an insurmountable giant. Even Apple, a company that is known for perfection and control, releases products with known shortfalls in exchange for market data and an early impact in the marketplace. Inside chatter that I’ve heard suggests that the critical “copy/cut/paste” functionality, noticeably absent from the early iPhones, simply wasn’t good enough yet at the time of launch. Rather than hold the iPhone back, Apple released the product anyway. And when they figured out the right solution, they upgraded the functionality many months later. Especially for those perfectionists among us, it is important to weigh the benefits and costs of extending development. Oftentimes, the bounty of information and insight garnered from launching (or “going public”) is greater than the cost of early adopters finding a few bugs — and bringing them to your attention!

More about Scott Belsky

Scott Belsky is the Chief Product Officer at Adobe and is the co-founder of 99U and Behance. He has been called one of the "100 Most Creative People in Business" by Fast Company, and is the author of The Messy Middle and the bestselling book, Making Ideas Happen.

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