As business people, we like to be dependable. We like to show up on time and meet our commitments. Sometimes, though, it just isn’t possible. For various reasons, we find ourselves unable to meet a launch deadline, or able to but considering a delay. Try as we might, reality intrudes and disrupts even the best of plans. So when is it ok to hold off on launching a product?
If you’ve already built the hype, how can you delay a launch and still maintain credibility? Once you’ve done the work to generate all this excitement for a particular date, how can you transfer that excitement to a new date? While it’s certainly not ideal, it can be done. Like any stumble in business, it’s not about avoiding every single mistake. It’s how you handle the mistake that matters.
When It’s NOT ok to Delay
Before we get into the acceptable ways to delay, let’s clear one thing up. It is never— never— ok to delay a launch out of fear. That’s the one time that putting the launch off can’t possibly benefit your customers or your business. Even in the case where a delay could improve the product, getting into a habit of unnecessary delays will catch up to you, and it will hold you back.
New entrepreneurs are often so afraid of scrutiny that they paralyze themselves. They find reasons to delay their launch just long enough to make this fix or that fix. They try to create the perfect product, one that couldn’t possibly be criticized. And they won’t launch until they do. The problem? There is no perfect product. We should try to perfect our products, but we do that by testing it in the market.
Real entrepreneurs have to be willing to roll with the MVP, or Minimum Viable Product. When you launch, it doesn’t have to be perfect. It can’t be. You can only make your product better by getting it out into the market and letting your customers use it. Once they do, they’ll find where improvements can be made. They’ll tell you how to make the next iteration better. That’s how products evolve towards “perfect.” Not in the workshop or the lab, but on the street.
Of course, sometimes there are valid performance issues that can reasonably delay a launch. It is possible for your customers to be better served by changing the timetable. How can you tell the difference? Honesty. And not just any old kind of honesty. Knowing whether you have valid grounds for delay requires being honest with yourself.
Before you delay, ask yourself: Is this product viable? If it works, if it solves the problem it purports to solve, then you should launch. Yes, it could be better. That will always be the case, and you’ll make it better going forward. Yes, you’ll wish you had done this or that differently. That’s called learning, and it’s good for you. But if you have an MVP, you do yourself no favors by hesitating.
Entrepreneurs have to be willing to see their products play out on the market. They have to be willing to take risks and learn by doing. They have to be willing to fail! Even selling a subpar product is still selling, and selling is something you can’t learn without doing. We can always find reasons to delay a product’s rollout— but at what point are reasons excuses? If you don’t develop the habit of moving forward with an MVP, you’ll develop a habit of self-paralysis.
Our Delayed Gratification
I’ve had to make the call to delay, even when it was painful to do so. Our software company WebinarNinja has gone through a few iterations over time, from a fairly simple early version to the radically innovative 5.0 version debuting this year. When we moved to the current version, WebinarNinja 4.0, it was a big shift. We actually shut down and stopped accepting new members during the re-launch, so intense was the work we had to do.
Unfortunately, after we announced the release date for 4.0, our head developer fell ill. It wasn’t serious, but it took him out of the game for a full week, slamming the brakes on everything we were doing. Before we knew it, the promised launch time at the end of May was upon us, and we weren’t ready. We needed more testing, more refining, and more tweaking in order to make it something worthy of our existing customers’ trust.
In that case, I could’ve gone ahead with the release by May 31st. Instead, I chose to launch it on June 3rd. In reality, a difference of 3 days isn’t really that drastic. But I’d already told my audience to expect it in May, so I was caught between two options: a small delay for an optimal product, or keeping my word on paper while delivering something that didn’t reflect the work we’d put in. In the end, “May” was arbitrary, and the product wouldn’t have been what we’d promised.
As it turned out, the slight delay only energized our audience. We hadn’t planned on “teasing” anyone, but knowing that we needed just a few more days to go the extra mile was exciting for our customers. The hype was stoked, and in the end it was worth the wait. We had prioritized the users’ experience over our own credibility, drastically improving the former by taking (maybe) a slight hit on the latter.
That was the right decision, and I’ve carried that lesson to the present. Recently we announced a slight delay in the release of WebinarNinja 5.0. Again, it was a tough decision. Like before, it meant putting the customers’ experience and results ahead of my own ego. Would the software still work well if we launched when we originally planned? Sure. But this isn’t a first-time product, and it’s far more than the minimum viable. Given the fact that we completely rebuilt the entire platform from scratch and engineered an entire exclusive infrastructure for it, we decided that like 4.0, 5.0 was well worth a little extra patience.
As your business grows, delays will become more likely. Each person you add to your team is a variable, and variables detract from predictability. People get sick. People get fired. People underestimate how long things take. Partners fall through. The zone of events beyond your control broadens, and you have to adapt.
Don’t let pressure to rush a launch force you into turning out an inferior product. Don’t delay a launch out of fear of scrutiny. Between the two is the launch date that works best for everyone. With a little reflection and honesty, you’ll know when the timing is right.