Recently, I started taking part in an experiment. I began the process of adding voice controls to my home. As part of this, one phrase started to become commonplace:

"Alexa, turn on the tv..."

These same five words can be heard in houses around the world, at least once a day. They're words that help people segue into using something that is, at its core, something extremely complex and technologically advanced. And yet, what I realize as I listen to those words is that they are also cleverly meant to connect with us.

When I was younger, not only did we not have internet, or cell phones, or even personal computers in most homes - our televisions didn't have remote controls. A common phrase heard in every home was "<insert name of youngest child>, turn on the tv." This was followed up by asking the same person to change the channel (often one channel at a time), by going forward and back, to change the volume up and down (often multiple times), and then to go turn on or off the lights. As I've been experimenting more with Alexa, I can't help but think about "her" as that young child.

Jennifer Prenner, global head of marketing, growth, and engagement at Amazon Fire TV, offered a similar take on the new Fire TV Cube with Alexa. "We wanted to take everything that was great about the Echo, including Alexa, and make it even better with visuals from a FireTV," she says.

And, as a visual version of an Echo, it is certainly an upgrade. Says Prenner, "Our goal is to give people an open ecosystem where they can have the type of entertainment they want, on their own terms." In my experiments, though, I've had some hiccups getting the Fire TV Cube to open third-party apps like Netflix or HBO over the Amazon Prime app, and it won't turn my television off, no matter how politely I ask.

Interestingly, as I asked Alexa to pause Netflix, she told me of new commands added in an update that I could now utilize. This made me realize something--like the young child changing the television, Alexa is growing up, and learning along the way.

This just highlights one of the most difficult choices you can make as a business owner: knowing the right time to set your child -- I mean, product -- out into the world. Here's a few guidelines to help you out:

1. Consumers are asking for it.

It may seem obvious, but the first step in releasing any product is to have some sort of consumer base to release it to. If you have gotten into the unenviable position of developing a product with no built-in customers, then you will have a long road ahead to try to convince them that they need it.

Instead, try building on something that is familiar. With the iPhone, Steve Jobs took an MP3 player, a computer, a camera and a cell phone and combined them into one unit to give people something they'd purchase.

2. The product is done-ish.

While we all wish it weren't the case, most products do not work correctly 100 percent of the time. In early releases, products have a higher percentage of failure as early bugs are being worked out of the system.

Research indicates that customers are willing to put up with a few glitches, especially in technology. However, they want a product they consider reliable. As Linkedin Founder Reid Hoffman famously said, "If you're not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you've launched too late."

3. You have a communication plan.

There's nothing worse than finally releasing your product after working on it for months (or years) to the resounding silence of the internet's indifference. Instead, prior to launch you need to spend some serious effort letting people know you exist and building up a targeted userbase. Then, you can release it when you're fairly sure they're ready to buy in.

Of course, the other option is to assume people will come on their own. From my own personal experience, going this route means certain failure. 

Like all young children, Alexa has a lot of growing up still to do. By opening up the ecosystem for development and giving users the reigns, Amazon is giving us a chance to grow with her.

Hopefully, she'll learn to turn off the TV soon, so I can get back to work.

Published on: Aug 22, 2018
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