When building new technology products, you really only have three levers you can pull: speed, cost, and quality. You can choose two--you cannot have all three. If you maximize for cost and speed, then you cannot count on the quality of your product. If you're optimizing for speed and quality, it'll cost you a pretty penny.

I was recently speaking to a group of software entrepreneurs and was asked which two I choose to focus on when launching a new product.

It depends on your situation. Typically if you have a solid idea with massive market potential, and "first one to market wins," then you should try to get it to market as fast as possible. That situation demands speed and quality.

But that's if you have the capital. Often, we don't have the necessary resources when we're first starting out and trying to get products to market. That's why I'd recommend focusing on cost and speed while trying to minimize bad technology decisions that affect quality.

When my company first started, I had one employee. My co-founders and I were surviving off savings or other businesses. It was impossible for us to hire an engineer to help build our product at that time--we hadn't proven our product market fit and we had minimal capital to invest.

We contracted an engineer via Upwork (then known as oDesk) for a fraction of the cost of hiring someone in-house and were able to get a minimum viable product (MVP) out the door in less than three months. We were thrilled to go out and sell to the market.

What we didn't know, but should have known, was how much technical debt we would have later on because of this choice. Our team has grown from one to 150 in the last eight years. Our team of 35 engineers has to set aside time every quarter to go back and fix the quality issues that lurk beneath our code base's surface. Think of it like paying down a maxed-out credit card one month at a time.

I don't regret our decision to focus on cost and speed at that time because we were able to get into the market first and the timing positioned us to win in our markets. We could have waited to ship the perfect product, but then we could be sitting here holding a perfect product that nobody is buying.

Which two levers will you choose to pull?

Published on: Apr 2, 2018
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