Originally published on Inside-Startups.com
As a startup, we live by launch dates. Some launch dates are based on particular events or restrictions, others are totally arbitrary dates pulled out of thin air.
No matter what drives them, launch dates matter.
Setting a hard date and sticking to it isn't just about creating a stake in the sand. It's a powerful catalyst for driving the entire team and the product to a meaningful milestone that everyone can get behind.
The team behind Fundable has dealt with launch dates for a very long time. Over the course of the past two decades (we're old) we have launched 9 of our own Web startups and have helped literally thousands of other startups get launched as well.
Still, no matter how many times we go to bat, it's still incredibly hard. What we have learned through blood, sweat and tears (mostly tears) is that setting critical milestones is the only way to get everyone on board. Without launch dates, the center does not hold.
We started putting together our launch plan about 90 days prior to our May 22nd public launch. We began the project much earlier than that, but it took a few months before we had our arms around what we were actually going to build.
Once we knew what was on tap, we scrambled to put together a launch date. We were less concerned about the actual date than we were with vanquishing procrastination.
We've learned one lesson very well – we will take as much time with any task as time allows. I learned this back in college. If I had an entire semester to finish a term paper, I would take that long. If I were down to 3 days, that's also how long it would take.
We freak out about procrastination, and without a set launch date, we feared that demon would swallow us whole. Was 90 days the right amount of time? Maybe not. But we knew that without a line in the sand, we'd still be debating when this project should launch.
Launch Dates help Benchmark Productivity
For as much as we fear procrastination, our team is militant about productivity.
The early stages of a startup, before there is a functioning product or real customers, are the hardest to benchmark because we live in this amorphous state. Setting critical milestones in stone, especially the launch date, create tangible goals that everyone can understand and react to.
Our team needed benchmarks. I needed benchmarks. I needed to know on a day-by-day basis whether we were getting moving the ball forward or just spinning our wheels.
When I look at the first month of our dev calendar, when we had roughly 3 months until launch, we were wildly unproductive. We felt like we could afford to slack off because the penalty felt far away.
We keep a very detailed log of all of the work we do, so it's easy for me to see that as we got closer to our launch date, our productivity jumped exponentially.
This isn't unique to us and it's not unique to launch dates. It's the human nature of procrastination, which is why without that launch date we would have never had a driver to increase productivity in the first place.
Deadlines Force Critical Decisions
New product launches inherently involve a feature list that is always longer than it should be, and ours was no different. We had a million features and a million good reasons to implement them. Without a deadline, we would still be working on them months later.
A launch date takes that option off the table. We wanted to launch with the ability to have startups provide detailed business plans for interested parties. That would have taken another two months and even though it's a critical function for us, it wasn't critical for our launch.
Our discussion wasn't just about whether it was a critical feature, it was about whether we could survive launch without it. There's an important distinction there.
We weren't paring down the feature set by what people arbitrarily thought was important. We were paring down the feature set because everyone could agree that in order to build one feature, another feature had to be discarded.
It's hard to make critical decisions, especially about features, but a deadline puts a common reference point – time – at the heart of the conversation. It allows everyone to agree that these decisions must fit that framework or they get tossed, period.
Our Launch Date Saved Us
We may have worked up until the final moment of launch, but we launched. Did stuff break? Yup. Was it worth the cost? Absolutely!
Our launch gave us an important early move into a very hot space (crowdfunding) that is witnessing a launch of a new entrant just about every week. We were able to capture early press and a great deal of customer attention.
More importantly, we got a head start on getting real world feedback from our customers that validated most of the decisions we made to not build features in the first place.
In the end, our launch date may have cost us some sleepless nights, but it saved us months of being unproductive. It was a fair trade I'd say.