Why Premature Hype Kills Start-ups
As someone with a marketing background, I've always been overly zealous to make noise about what I'm working on even before the product is entirely ready for public consumption. However, I've seen time and again how that only hurts the growth of my products in the long run. In my defense: I'm not the only founder guilty of this.
We've seen this happen for many products launched over the past several years. For instance, does anyone know what has become of the once much-hyped Color? Lots of press does not equal success. I should know. Buyosphere has seen a great deal of press over our lifespan, but we still have a long way to go in solving users' quest to find that perfect something. I have a collection of clippings a mile long, but when the kudos clear, the growth is still inching along. Should I throw in the towel? No.
Marketing is not a substitute for a great product that people love. In fact, a great product that people love will market itself and any noise you make beyond that just supports the growth naturally.
This point was driven home after hearing Ben Silbermann's session at SXSW Interactive last week. In the interview, Ben discussed the March 2010 launch of Pinterest and the lack of enthusiasm around it as well as the troubling slow growth over the ensuing nine months. The lack of hype from the press allowed them to focus on what was important: creating a better site for the handful of closed beta testers before they opened it to the world. They had breathing room to unveil the meticulously designed grid people love today without much outside interference, which set them up for a natural, viral spread. Now all you hear about is Pinterest this and that, but not because Ben has a killer PR team. It's because people love the site.
The biggest issue with pushing the press buttons before you are ready for it is that the world should not be your beta lab. Robert Scoble, in a widely read rant against writing about minimum viable products, wrote: "If you're gonna pitch me something it better provide magic." Every company wants to get to traction and getting to traction requires spreading the word, but if the word spread is "that app sucks," it will damage your reputation far more than waiting a few months until you can show something magical.
In the case of Color, I sometimes wonder where they would be today if they would have done a soft launch and let their users sing their praises about the cool technology. Would they be in the spotlight instead of Pinterest?
As start-up founders, we all need to chill out a bit and ignore the pressure from the hype until we have a product that deserves the praise. It will help us regulate expectations and focus on creating great apps that people love. The only thing that matters, I keep reminding myself, is finding a good product/market fit.