There are generally two schools of thought when it comes to building product: 1) sit in a room for months and build what you consider perfection; and 2) build the minimum you need to start getting good customer feedback and constantly iterate. Obviously both of these techniques have worked in the past for certain companies. For (1), Apple is the best success story. However, nearly all companies that try to do (1) don’t get it right the first time, and end up wasting time and money during the months they sit in that room. And for a startup with little money and little resources, often option (1) bankrupts them.
In my experience, and granted I’m not a designer, I’ve never built the right thing the first time. Every product I’ve built that was successful started as a failure. I always built the wrong thing first. Not because I’m not talented (I think I am), but because everyone is different and hardly ever can you truly understand others’ needs. I used to build things to perfection before launching them, but now I don’t, because I’ve seen how much money and time it can waste when things don’t go as planned (and usually they don’t).
I think Steve Blank puts it best: “A startup is a temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.” Until you have customer development and market traction, you have very little proof that you’re building the right thing. In this industry the proof comes in the form of customers and product. And without a product, you can’t have customers, and hence you have nothing. The earlier you have a product that’s good enough, the earlier you can start understanding what customers like, what they don’t like, and what they’ll pay for. Surveying them for these things just isn’t effective — they need to use the product.
So my advice to anyone in the early stages of a startup is to decide on a minimum viable product that is simple and represents your core value. Complexity is not good in a product’s infancy — think about the iPhone when it first came out. Keep things simple so customers can get started easily. Get something out there so you can understand quickly what people want and what they don’t want. Even if you’re incredibly talented, which I’m sure you are, you’re still relying on your own instinct for success, which is strictly more risky than having good customer stories and feedback.
Stop saying, “I think we should build …” and instead say, “Customers think we should build …” Of course you don’t need to listen to everything your customers say, but hearing their advice is strictly better than not hearing it.