January 26, 2016 - No Comments!

Perfect is the Enemy of Good

I've watched dozens of software startup owners fail to launch their product at the right time, if at all. I believe that 10% of them would have succeeded and the rest would have a lot more money if they would have avoided two things:

  1. Employing the help of a service-based software vendor
  2. Taking on investment capital too early

Unlike the sick feeling most people get in the pit of their stomach, I usually get a great deal of excitement from the unquantifiable risks involved in designing a product for a startup. It's a designer's favorite thing; the opportunity to bring something small and novel into the world.

All of my experience has been a culmination of roles I've played for other people—mainly employers and their clients. I've been lucky enough to have some pretty great bosses. Nearly every one I've had provided me with an opportunity to grow. From my first job as a junior art director to my recent days as a strategist, crafting the experiences of users at each touchpoint in massive systems, I've learned more than I ever set out to learn.

Not that I'm sitting here polishing a bunch of trophies, I'll be the first to admit that I've only recently begun sharing in any actual risks with product owners. You know, the risk of not making back any of the time or money you've invested in your idea?

It wasn't until I understood the risks involved in real partnership—win or lose— that I was able to fully understand the importance of my role as a product designer.

This is one opportunity that none of my ex-bosses would afford me. And no matter how much practice they offered me to hone my skills in a craft that I love, I still sort of resent them for never teaching me this most valuable lesson—what it feels like to really fail as an owner.

Their service-based business model provided their clients with... me. Bobby by the hour. Bobby at a premium rate. And even, "Bobby Bobblehead: Perfect for each new feature you dream up," because... it's all billable.

And why wouldn't you want to work with me? I'm a highly skilled and professional designer. I have over a decade of experience in my field. I contribute to the design community in editorials about digital strategy, interface patterns and research methodologies. I've built and lead highly successful teams of product developers, content strategists and project managers.

Sure, there are plenty of credentials to justify my bill-rate. But not a single one of them is worth a shit when you consider that none of my ex-bosses allowed to me use (and enforce) one of the most important words in my vocabulary today:

"No."

Before you pay a company or a freelancer to build something you want, imagine that you're a contestant on TV's "Shark Tank." Pitch them your idea as if you were seeking an investor and you're likely to get either of these responses:

  1. Question: What's your budget?
  2. A Functional Requirements Document and Contract.

Neither of these responses are useful in any way.

Wouldn't it be strange if you were in a consult with a surgical specialist, and they asked you to make the first incision?

Did they even kick the tires on your feasibility research? Did they ask any questions about your business plan? Were they interested in anything besides the money you had for them?

When people believe in your idea, they invest in it. They commonly give you something you don't have in exchange for ownership. Commonly, this investment comes in the form of money. But others can partner with you by sharing their skills.

When people don't believe in your idea, they say no—unless there's something else motivating them to say yes—like a bunch of money in a contract before you've validated a single assumption in your market research.

Here are some best practices is working with a software partner:

  • Put your partners in a position to be honest with you.
  • Let them share in the risk with you, and not just the reward (or your startup capital).
  • Find a partner that is going to validate your idea(s) as quickly as possible—a real release to real users.
  • Empower a partner to define MVP with a shoestring budget and an aim on hockey-stick growth you both share.
  • Share in the believe that you will build the least complex things of the most value to your customers.
  • Demand data when resolving disputes.
  • Expect that they will tell you no and take that response as if you'll be working with them long past the date of your alpha launch.
  • Heck, put your launch at the beginning of your timeline, just to be sure you don't fall into that trap of an early-funded startup owner surrounded by Bobbleheads: holding back the release of your product awaiting perfection.
  • Fuck perfection. It's the enemy of your good product.

If you're afraid to release because you are worried about the way your software looks, think about what Facebook looked like a few years ago. If you're reading this from your new-fangled MacBook, imagine what it was like to own the first Macintosh. If you never have a public release history, it's either because your product failed or you hated your users enough to never release it—no matter how useful it might have been to them.

I've been working on a product suite for a startup over the past four months. We're about to begin an open beta test of three applications and a lighting-fast alpha release in the following two weeks.

I'm praying that these initial launches are successful, because I have skin in the game. The design load is slowing down and the product is moving into testing and validation cycles. I get to continue working only if this suite begins generating revenue and is successful enough to warrant improvement.

I've invested as much as I can at this point and I'm looking for my next gig. I’ve got a few options for full-time again, but the sweet nectar of freelance is just so good. I hope to continue developing opportunities to participate in the exponential growth of startup businesses as I join the Toptal Freelance Interactive Design Designers Group. I'm definitely impressed with their screening process and it seems to be an innovative way to help talented people find one another to do work together.

Wish me luck!

 

Published by: Bobby Duebelbeis in Articles
Tags: , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply