Release Early or Release Big?

There is a debate in the start-up world regarding two theories of releasing software: release early or release big. Aaron Swartz wrote an insightful blog post on this topic relating to his experience with Infogami. Paul Graham also has thoughts on this topic.

The value of releasing early is in the user feedback you receive. Users will tell you what is wrong, what is right, and what new directions you should move in. This feedback is a great way to make sure you are obeying the first law of business: making something people want.

The other school of thought asserts that a product must be mature before launching. They must enamor the users of techcruch, reddit, digg, and all other early adopters. If your first release isn’t compelling, these early adopters will not stick around, and you will have lost your chance at catching the updraft of the viral internet community.

We are exploring this issue because it has recently been debated among our peers, in response to the launch of Pollground. In a recent blog post we promised that as each YCombinator funded company launches we will dedicate a blog post to their idea and experience. Here are our thoughts on Pollground.

pollground site Pollground is an online survey site where you can post questions anonymously and get feedback and suggestions from their visitors. The site was started by two young entrepreneurs. One is an upcoming sophomore, the other an upcoming junior.

The idea of Pollground: the wisdom of a crowd is wiser than the wisdom of one.

There is nothing to protect in terms of IP with their offering. At least not yet. Their lockout to competitors will be their user base. They need to develop a large following, quickly, so that Pollground becomes the defacto site for getting your personal questions answered by a crowd. The business plan has not been divulged but I would venture a guess at two possible models.

  1. They could license the software/data to market researchers
  2. They could run advertising. It is often said that it is easy to find a business model when you have 100,000 users. The hard part is getting 100,000 users.

They were the first YCombinator funded company to release their product publicly. They received some derision for the underdeveloped functionality of their site. Many critics neglected to consider that this site was put together is less than one month! The question remains – Should they have launched or should they have waited?

After reading their blog I’m convinced it was good for them to launch. They have received a lot of feedback and are quickly adapting the site to their users’ desires. They might have sacrificed a larger sustained user base for these early suggestions, but now they are doing the most important thing in business: making something people want.

Here at Xobni, we have grappled with this same debate. Release early with limited functionality, or release later with advanced functionality and limited response to user feedback. Our product does not rely on having a critical mass, unlike many web-based companies, so we have chosen a third option. We have decided to release early to a few friends, advisors, and potential customers.

This limited release has allowed us to fix bugs, learn how people are using our product, and incorporate suggestions into our public release. Now we know we are making something people want, the only question that remains – will we reach escape velocity? We hope so.

2 Responses to “Release Early or Release Big?”

  1. 1 Dharmesh Shah July 23, 2006 at 2:53 pm

    I think you’ve got the right approach.

    Use the limited release to get the needed user feedback (I have found that only a small number of users is actually necessary to identify the Big Glaring Holes). Iterate a few times based on this feedback and then release out to the larger community.

    This way, you’re getting somewhat the best of both worlds.

  2. 2 Paul Graham March 13, 2007 at 3:36 am

    Pollground wasn’t the first YC funded company to launch. In fact, they were part of our third batch of startups.

    They launched too early in my opinion. They probably could have come back from that, if they’d worked hard to iterate the site, but they didn’t.

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