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STARTUP

Stop Trying to Catch Lightning in a Bottle

The golden rule of management is to set low expectations and beat them, says Mark Suster.

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I'm sure you've all heard the saying derived from Voltaire, "Don't let perfect be the enemy of the good," which in a way is encapsulated in the lean start-up movement and the ideology of shipping a "minimum viable product" (MVP), and then learning from your customer base.

Or to borrow a simple life lesson from Gretchen Rubin:

"The 20-minute walk I take is better than the three-mile run I never start. Having people over for take-out is better than never having people to an elegant dinner party."

I think about this topic of perfection being the enemy of the good often. Because I live in start-up land where everybody is a perfectionist. I think this is particularly true because every start-up entrepreneur is trying to catch lightning in a bottle.

I hear about it in every first product release. You can see it in the founders' eyes. They want the perfect feature set, the PR company lined up to do the perfect press release, they want maximum coverage, rave reviews, viral adoption and they want to sit back and then wait for the signups to come roaring in.

Life doesn't work like that. And gearing yourself up for a lighting-in-a-bottle moment leads to bad company decisions.

Even in the age of MVP worship I see founders who want to bundle too many features into a release because they're worried that customers will be unhappy if they don't.

I see teams holding back on product releases even when the product is complete because they're nervous it's not yet good enough to get positive journalist reviews.

They hold back on announcing their funding because they want to be sure they have three other important announcements to bundle--I often counsel against this.

Stop trying to catch lighting in a bottle.

Your announcement will lead to more traffic than you've had in the past. But it's highly unlikely to have that aha moment that Apple gets when it announces new products.

The much more likely result is that you get some positive feedback from the community, you get some strong users who like your product, you get some people telling you your product isn't as good as the competitors or isn't as good as your marketing hype.

That’s OK.

Launch and learn.

JFDI.

No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy. So the sooner you're live, the sooner you'll be able to separate your own internal BS from what the market really wants and thinks.

The other reason I counsel so much on this topic is confidence.

You gear your team up for your TC Disrupt presentation, your interview with Kara Swisher, your graduation day from YC and waiting for the product success.

And when it doesn't come in droves, it feels like defeat. And the whole company feels it because you set expectations too high.

The golden rule of management is to set low expectations and beat them. Lightning in a bottle breaks the cardinal rule.

So be prepared for the marathon. Expects a long, slow linear climb.

Take some comfort in Fred Wilson's blog post about Meetup and the 20-year-build.

After all--some people win the lottery. And that's who you read about in the papers. And it feels nice to think that $285 million is just one Lotto ticket away.

But you're a pragmatist. And you know that your success will come from the hard work and refinement of 20 different product releases each that incrementally made you the great company that you are.

And by being in the game long enough--if you're lucky, smart, and tenacious--you might just see that traffic and revenue arc up.

This post originally appeared on Both Sides of the Table

IMAGE: C. Clark/Wikimedia

MARK SUSTER is a two-time entrepreneur who has gone to "the dark side" of venture capital. He joined GRP Partners in 2007 as a general partner after selling his company to Salesforce.com. He focuses on early-stage technology companies. You can find him on Twitter @msuster.




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