Entrepreneur Nick Malcolm of uSnap.us offers up four quick nuggets of quasi-wisdom that just might help you "push the button" and launch your own product.
They say if you aren't embarrassed by your first launch, you launched too late. That’s small comfort when you are showing off a part of yourself to the world, one often held close to your heart.
uSnap.us has its flaws. But most importantly, from the user's perspective, everything works.
Behind the scenes, well, as the Wizard of Oz would say: "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"
During our first big event we discovered a pretty fundamental flaw. When a guest took a horizontal photo it appeared in portrait format on the live slideshow. One of our key features, the face of uSnap.us, looked horrible!
I sat there throughout the day, watching the livestream of this wedding. When a photo came in incorrectly, I'd download it. Then I’d rotate it. Then I’d re-upload it.
Tedious and embarrassing? Yes. But from the customer's point of view? Smooth sailing.
If they come, then you build it
In Eric Ries’ book The Lean Startup, he talks about a technique called ‘the concierge’. It’s the man-behind-the-curtain deal again. By doing the work yourself in the background – being a concierge – you can save the time and money it would take to develop a potentially unwanted feature.
uSnap.us lets an organiser download all of their photos in a zip file. Click download, then get an email with the link – that's what the user sees.
What actually happens is this: I get an email, go to the server, put the photos in a zip file, then email the link to the organiser.
If and when this becomes annoying, I'll know it's time to implement the feature properly. Not before.
“If you build it they will come”? How about “If they come, then you build it.”
Find another way around
Most startups make a profit by taking people's money. Unfortunately for New Zealand startups, taking money isn't so easy.
To get online payments you need to set up a Merchant Account, and the only bank which does that is the Bank of New Zealand. In typical bank fashion, we've been waiting over a month to have our account set up, and when that finally gets sorted we'll still have to wait for more pieces of the puzzle to fall into place.
We originally thought we had two options: wait for the bank to get its A into G, or give uSnap.us away for free. Neither of those options would prove that uSnap.us is something people are willing to pay for, though. And that's a fairly important thing to figure out.
Enter option three. When a customer clicks "purchase", they get upgraded immediately, and we get sent an email. We manually invoice the customer via email, and they pay via PayPal. We found another way around the roadblock.
But this is not the typical user experience. People have clicked upgrade by accident. Which leads to...
The upside of weird
Having that weird billing process has been a blessing in disguise. Most of the people clicking upgrade didn't mean to, and we expected that. So in our invoice email we have a little message "Didn't mean to upgrade? Just let us know". People get back to you pretty quick when money is on the line!
And that's the point. We now have an open dialogue with these customers, albeit through a rather unorthodox fashion. This has led to conversations that provide valuable feedback.
We tossed around the option of adding a confirmation dialogue to the upgrade option, but decided against it. The worst that could happen was actually a good thing – they say "I don't want to pay", and we get to talk to them. The best that could happen is, obviously, money in the bank. Win win.
Just because it's weird doesn't mean there can't be an upside.
Push the button
There will always be some voice in the back of your mind saying to wait just a little longer. It's embarrassing; it's not finished; there's something you just *have* to wait for.
Unless you're building software controlling a manned space shuttle to Mars, there's a good chance you'll get way more value from launching early and learning now than you would dilly-dallying and learning nothing.
It takes time to learn when to tell that voice in your head to shut up. Maybe that time is now?
Nick Malcolm is the cofounder of uSnap.us, a website and iPhone appthat lets event organisers guest-source their photos.