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Big Ideas

The Beta Principle: Skip Perfection & Launch Early

The lure of perfection can stifle innovation. We look at the practical and psychological benefits of “launching in beta.”

One thing every company has in common is a desire to innovate. Whether it means creating entirely new products or improving existing ones, everyone is familiar with the anxiety that accompanies all things new. All too often, we strive to get everything right the first time around.

As a consequence, our products suffer from costly delays and insufficient feedback prior to launch.For a solution, we can steal a page from the playbook of modern Internet and technology companies that have pioneered the practice of “launching in beta.” As you probably know, most of Google’s products are launched in beta (with bugs and all) for the world to adopt. The “Labs” icon in the top right hand corner of Gmail is a treasure trove of quickly executed ideas that Google is testing. Some are clearly half-baked, but all are available.

Why? Because sometimes it’s best to launch a product before it’s perfect. I call this acting without conviction. You may be uncertain – and some things may remain unfinished – but you’ve got to push it out. The reasons are both practical and psychological.

Sometimes it’s best to launch a product before it’s perfect.
On a practical level, you can only get feedback and real user data when the product is released. Google makes major changes to their products while they are in beta – and these changes are made based on rock-solid analytics. Also, if there are fundamental flaws in your assumptions about your product, you will realize them more quickly if it’s live. Rather than spending many months (and lots of money) on the finer details, getting early feedback can lead to priceless realizations.

On a psychological level, a team thinks differently once the first version of a product is up and running. Rather than working for a hypothetical group of customers, everything you do affects real people. Your team will become more expedient and start to think of the project in smaller chunks rather than as an insurmountable giant.

Even Apple, a company that is known for perfection and control, releases products with known shortfalls in exchange for market data and an early impact in the marketplace. Inside chatter that I’ve heard suggests that the critical “copy/cut/paste” functionality, noticeably absent from the early iPhones, simply wasn’t good enough yet at the time of launch. Rather than hold the iPhone back, Apple released the product anyway. And when they figured out the right solution, they upgraded the functionality many months later.

Especially for those perfectionists among us, it is important to weigh the benefits and costs of extending development. Oftentimes, the bounty of information and insight garnered from launching (or “going public”) is greater than the cost of early adopters finding a few bugs — and bringing them to your attention!

More Posts by Scott Belsky

Scott Belsky is the Chief Product Officer at Adobe and is the co-founder of 99U and Behance. He has been called one of the “100 Most Creative People in Business” by Fast Company, and is the author of The Messy Middle and the bestselling book, Making Ideas Happen.

Comments (18)
  • Victor Novak

    hmm.. I would very interesting to read answer by Alan Cooper to this post.. 🙂

  • Tanguy

    well, this is also valid on all levels within the company: if you know the boss will want it all redone anyway, better showing sketches on Tuesday than renderings on Friday afternoon… it sounds to me like common sense indeed. Pushing it to the next step, involving the end users, isn’t always comfortable but it makes a lot of sense.

  • Cristian

    Agreed! In the internet age velocity is a necessity. So launching a product quickly and less than complete is always the better strategy. Similar to the “Ready, Fire, Aim” approach to business.

  • Louis-Robert

    I totally agree. We launched an online flu surveillance project in beta mode last october during the H1N1 pandemic. I think we would still be working on it if we had waited for the product to be perfect. User comments helped us fine-tune the project while collecting precious epidemiological data.

  • Chris

    I’ve found that launching projects in beta also tend to keep the bosses happy. It provides that reassurance that you’re making progress and confident enough in your work that you aren’t afraid to let the public see it even before it’s 100% ready to go.

  • Joe

    I think this makes sense for maleable products (ie software/websites). But what about things that are more fixed, like a feature film, or a wedding cake. I guess I would say you can learn from those projects and consider them beta and upgrade future products, but it just seams weird to me for some things. Like I don’t want to make 12 terribly thought out movies to eventually make 1 great one. I’d rather have spent time and made 2 good to great films. …but that’s just me.

  • shruthi

    In many cases the improvisation after beta stage does not happen. It goes from bad to worse when hasty efforts are put in to patch it up and release the next version. Eventually the project is called a failure. Also, getting back the users who have gone away after finding a product bad/unusable is hard. Especially in this competitive market where new apps launch on a daily basis.

  • Damjan Planinc

    And in the end getting feedback is crucial

  • Leondurupt

    I agree, Joe, and I would tend to think that the article I just read on this website about Steve Jobs’ sense of clarity comes into play as well. Sticking to a vision and seeing it through to the end, even it that means a later launch until you get it right may also be a better approach. I’m sure the launch of the iPhone, while minus some key features, was a product that they felt comfortable with, especially since there was no one else doing what they were working on. Getting it right doesn’t necessarily mean getting it perfect. Although it helps…

  • Luke Gibson

    I think with a movie the beta step would come in much earlier stage of the game, the beta would be filming while still working out the bugs, improvising bits of script or certain camera angles as you go. But it is also best to actually set deadlines and stick to them, the need to be a perfectionist is a stong one amounst the artistic types like myself. And i know many people that have been writing music all their lives and never done anything with it. After the release of my first album although i feel the was a lot of improvement to be made looking back on it, i don’t think i would of progressed anywhere near as much musically if i had not had the feed back i have.

  • Brandon Lewis

    We’re getting ready to launch a campaign fundraising software application targeted at the under-served market of state and local elections.  Our hope is that by launching early and providing the application for free during the BETA period, we can give people a useful tool leading up the the election season.

    Great post and thanks for the ideas.

    Brandon Lewis

  • RecruitingScience

    beta by invitation only is an important decision to consider, as well.  if you need real control on your audience in beta, then invitation only is a must.  if you look at it from a social perspective, and allow only your original invitations to invite a few people, then in theory you’re getting a closely related audience in several dimensions.  also, if you’re a startup and you need to scale beyond your initial beta platform, beta by invitation is another way to control the amount of stress on your architecture.

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    Hiring a skip can make your project quick, clean and cheap. You can
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  • RG

    Success comes through rapidly fixing things, than getting it right at the first time. I disagree with people who believe changes can’t be made after the beta stage. Beta stage helps you know more about your product and redefines goals and path for you. There might be things that you thought are perfect for your launch and actually they end up being a bad start for you. Yes, persistence is the key to success, but if you are going in a wrong direction it will certainly lead you to a failure. Changes are to be made at every step of your business they aren’t just an opening stage in the launch process.

  • Nícolas Iensen

    Do not confuse “launch early” with poor quality.
    Quality should not be optional, quality is mandatory for anything you do.
    When people talk about launch early, they are suggesting that you should do less, and not do worse.
    Less means less features, every project have a very small chunk of features that are highly valuable to the user. All you have to do is find out what features are these.
    Awesome texts about this topic:http://gettingreal.37signals.c

  • Ejaz Karim

    You guys rocking. Targets problem which I’m facing right now. Thanks again Scott Belsky.

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