Sonar is a blog about marketing, code and coffee from Submarine.

Shipping vs Launching

Recently, Patrick McKenzie - the developer and marketer behind Appointment Reminder - tweeted about a shipping vs a launch culture.

Launch cultures vs. shipping cultures: "The work / conditions are not optimal yet. We should delay." vs. "I pushed deploy already."

Cultivate the habit of shipping things. You'd be freaking amazed at where that puts you relative to "the bar." - @patio11

Even as a one-man operation, this is something that I've struggled with in the past. A launch culture is one where you build a product and only launch it when you're completely happy with it.

A launch culture can be dangerous - especially for perfectionists. It's very easy to break out your Jobs-esque level of obsession and only release the product when you think it's absolutely perfect (spoiler: to you, it will never be perfect).

I instead prefer the idea of a shipping culture - one where you release the product when it's reasonable to do so - even if you're not entirely satisfied with it - but then continue to ship improvements over time.

There are some very real benefits that come with a shipping culture. Firstly, you're significantly more likely to actually release the product.

Secondly, you can heavily refine and improve your product based on feedback and usage data. Once people start to use your product, you may be surprised at what's important and what isn't. Shipping cultures make it much easier to refine and shape the product into something that people want, where launch cultures often result in you working blindly on an idea of what people want.

It's hard to understate the importance of this - launch cultures encourage the idea that once you launch a "perfect" product, you won't want to change anything - but that's rarely the case. There'll still be new features that customers may want added, or existing features refined, and it's much harder to change a product that's been developed for a long time with a set idea in mind. A shipping culture encourages a product that's a bit more fluid, and that can be molded and shaped over time.

A big problem with having a launch culture is that it encourages you to focus your marketing around one set launch date. That might be the day where you pitch TechCrunch, throw a launch party and generally make a Big Deal out of it. Remember, though, that the launch day doesn't necessarily make or break your product - there are many, many successful products that were never covered by TechCrunch on their launch day. Dropbox, for example, was first announced on Hacker News on April 5th, 2007, and wasn't mentioned by TechCrunch until August 16th more than 4 months later (and their product was extraordinarily useful and highly desired).

A shipping culture instead encourages you to focus your marketing and product development efforts on the day-to-day incremental improvements - the improvements that create real utility, and the work that tends to build most successful software businesses. You don't have the distraction of working up to a launch - and you can instead focus on what matter's most: the product.

If you're a perfectionist, I'd highly recommend that you replace "wait until it's perfect before launching" with "ship it, then keep improving until it's perfect".

(Thanks to Patrick for proof-reading this, and for allowing me to steal his idea.)

Published July, 2014

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