In this blog, I am going to talk about two different ways of introducing a new product to your consumer or audience. Most startups would normally prefer to use the first approach which I call the “incremental release” approach. When this approach is adopted, you won’t wait until your product is perfect before showing it to your audience. You would like to roll it out as soon as you have a prototype. In the software world, we usually call it alpha testing or beta testing. After we get the initial feedback from the users, we modify the product or service accordingly and do a second roll-out. This approach is preferred by many entrepreneurs or even some big companies because it can save you a lot of time and money working on a product in the wrong direction. If initial response from your audience is negative, you either tune your product in another direction or simply shelve the entire product.
The second approach is called the perfect punch. When using this approach, you would have to make sure the product is as perfect as possible before letting the end user taking a sneak peak of your product. You have to do very detailed market research beforehand. You have to make sure your product delivers the perfect user experience right from your own development lab. You have to make sure your product has enough momentum to disrupt the existing players upon the first release. Companies using this approach usually require a true leader who has great vision, strong confidence and sharp insight.
People usually tend to think the incremental-release approach is safe and has much lower risk. Well, it is not always true. If you are entering a market with strong demand but no serious (or smart) enough players, you can use the first approach. That is exactly Google rolled out its Gmail service many years ago. It stayed in beta phase for such a long time. People wants large & free mail boxes and Yahoo/AOL are way too stereotyped to fight back. However, if you are trying to create a new market with little consumer awareness or demand, showing an imperfect product to the world is equivalent to saying “I want to prove myself wrong”. You did some experiment, turned out nobody wants your crappy product and then you scrap your project. When Apple first announced iPhone, Nokia quickly responded by saying that they already did some experiment with touchscreen phones years ago and nobody wanted touchscreen phones. Well, it turned out people love touchscreen phones, just not those that have terrible software and are so hard to use. Or, if you are trying to break into an existing market with strong existing players, serving meals that are not fully cooked to your audience usually spells DOA. The famous example is Google’s repeated failing attempts to break into the social networking service market. Google wasted so much time and money on the Google+ project, doing all kinds of experiments before they even have a clear plan or strategy on how to beat Facebook. Google+ didn’t even make to the same popularity as twitter. When you are doing a consumer product, if you fail to impress the consumers on the first or second chances, you actually get no more chances. People will no longer try your product and the media will be unwilling to talk about your product. Even if you push out a much better product later on, the number of people willing to try it again will be so much fewer. Google got a lot of success using the incremental release approach at its early phases. Even if it is no longer the best strategy now, they still keep doing it based on past experience.
The second approach is usually harder to pull off and does involve higher risk. But it is usually the only way that a true disruptive business breaks into a tough market. Apple’s iPhone is undoubtedly the best example. The key to pulling it off is all about planning and preparation. It takes patience, confidence, vision and a little bit of paranoia. But that’s exactly how you can set yourself apart from your competitors. If you want to beat your competitor, don’t just copy whatever they do or follow their steps. Plan on offering what they can’t offer. Solve the pain points not covered by the existing players. It takes tremendous efforts to prepare and deliver the initial perfect punch. Once the first punch is dealt successfully, you will get a lot of attention from the media and consumers, which will be invaluable free marketing for your product. After that first punch, the audience and media will start to follow whatever you do without your spending another penny. The rest of your journey will be actually significantly easier.
The conclusion is, how to choose the right approach depends on what kind of market you are trying to enter and how smart the leader of the team is.