The Fear of the Launch
I’ve just got off the phone with a client; they want to meet for a coffee next week. You might think this is great news: a potential revenue opportunity, a new project or a referral?
For some background: Whilst running my own SaaS company, I also do some consulting for small companies, particularly in FinTech, as well as running a Bootstrapped Business meetup. I also write this blog and help entrepreneurs launch and grow their products via the mailing list. An email from one of my subscribers combined with the client call triggered me in to writing this post. More on that in a second but first, back to the client...
I’m not sure what the coffee or the chat is going to be about but I do know one thing: it’s going to be about launching. We (the client and I) have spent hundreds of hours and they have spent tens of thousands of pounds building a product. Over many months, we have researched the market, spoken to potential customers, prepared pricing models, written persuasive copy, collected email addresses and written software. We’re about 2 hours away from Launch.
We have been 2 hours from launch for over 2 months.
I don’t mean that ‘there’s always’ one more thing to do. You’re right, there always is. But I structured the project so that we ruthlessly stripped features to make sure that we could launch as soon as possible. We’re ready. There’s literally 2 hours worth of work left to do. It’s to enable the ‘live mode’ of the payment processor and to send the ‘announcement’ email to the list. The email is written, the list is segmented, we are ready. So why haven’t we launched?
We have been 2 hours from launch for over 2 months.
The fear of the launch is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. My hard drive is littered with failed projects. Not failed because I gave up on them. Not failed because I lost interest. Failed because I never gave them the opportunity to shine. I never gave them the opportunity to see the light of day. I never launched them.
Many entrepreneurs I know struggle with this issue. The ‘shiny object’ syndrome is one thing: you get excited about a new idea, you buy the domain you start designing or developing and then suddenly, real life gets in the way and you never return to it. I don’t think it’s about not having enough time (you can always Make Time for your projects). I think it’s that we’re often too scared to launch.
Why be scared?
Is it fear of failure? Or is it fear of success? If you never launch you can never fail. But by not launching you’re not giving yourself the opportunity to succeed. Moreover, you’re not giving yourself the chance to learn. To learn what it’s like to launch.
Brennan Dunn Experience doesn’t always help. Brennan Dunn, a good friend of mine, has written about confidence. He used to run a multimillion dollar development agency; surely he is confident by now?
Seth Godin Seth Godin is a world class author and speaker, surely he’s confident by now?
Christoph Engelhardt Christoph Engelhardt, another good friend of mine, has just published a heart-warming and heart-wrenching post about launching his SaaS startup (you should check it out if you need help with your SEO links).
Rob Walling Rob Walling, a very successful entrepreneur who has gone from selling beach towels to being a number one SaaS owner (HitTail and Drip) also struggles. So much so that his wife, a psychologist, often talks about the trials and tribulations of entrepreneurs (and particular the impact on the rest of the family).
Andrew Culver Andrew Culver, with whom I have the pleasure of sharing a bootstrappers' chatroom has said "There were times when I was overwhelmed and wondered whether I should just throw in the towel and give up".
Blair Wadman Blair Wadman, someone who always makes me laugh, found out that I had written a book on SaaS pricing. I’ve interviewed Brennan Dunn, Sacha Grief, Patrick McKenzie and many others. I’ve written thousands of words and never launched it. Blair told me that I was stupid for not launching it. He’s right, it’s been sitting on my hard drive, gathering dust. Just like the client project, it’s 2 hours from launch.
The road is often long and winding. Startups are full of emotional volatility. So, whether you’re an old hand or whether you’re a wise expert with years of experience, we all suffer every now and again with confidence.
What causes the fear?
Whether it’s impostor syndrome or whether it’s a fear of the unknown, I think that there are a few issues that first time entrepreneurs face when launching their side projects:
It’s easy to see think that you’re not good enough, that your work is for nothing. Particularly, when the survivorship bias of startups is all around us - we only hear about those that have been successful or those that are beautifully designed or those that have made huge revenues. The press also loves to talk about rags to riches stories; they glamorize the industry and its potential riches.
Weekend Projects (apparently)
Perhaps you’re hooked on Hacker News and the latest impressive side projects that people have created ‘over the weekend’. Perhaps you’ve got a Product Hunt addiction where all you see are new, beautifully designed products that look so much better than yours. Ryan’s story of how Product Hunt started is a great example of a rags to riches story: a product created over a weekend; a few months later, hockey stick growth and now part of YCombinator.
Most people fail to find traction in their startup. Most people fail to make their first dollar. Then you read about someone who is launching 12 startups in 12 months. More importantly, each one has been profitable and has got more traffic than you ever have! It’s easy to see this and think that could never be me.
Other people's success does not diminish your own. Help people, don't hold them back. Scott Hanselman
Stop the Comparisons
Stop comparing yourself to the echelons of the community. Everyone starts at the beginning and you have to start at the beginning of the journey, just like everyone else. Just like the study of the pottery class, you might find success by focusing on quantity rather than quality. It’s quantity that has produced the best in quality at the end of the journey.
A caveat: Apple doesn't do MVPs. The theory is that you can't create 'Minimum Viable Magic'. They don’t throw things out there as soon as possible to test the market. They do months or years of research and focus on beautiful design before they even begin to think about launching something. But they do have internal MVPs. So, by the time you're holding that new iPhone, you're looking at hundreds of iterations of progress. Also, you’re not Apple and if you’re reading this, it’s likely that you’re not running a multi-billion dollar company. Your image doesn’t matter if nobody knows who you are.
What am I going to do about it? What are you going to do about it?
The phone call from the client and an email from one of the subscribers to this blog (I read and try to help every subscriber I can) triggered me in to writing this. To paraphrase, the email said two things:
- Thank you for the advice and inspiration (through this blog and the help I provide just to my subscribers)
- It still feels a little odd not knowing who you are. You’re just Charlie at StartupClarity.
This is me
The author of this blog was nameless. It was just Charlie. A few close friends knew about this but most didn’t. That hasn’t stopped me from getting thousands of subscribers, tens of thousands of visitors reading this blog each month or appearing at on the first page of Hacker News countless times. But perhaps my anonymity has held me back. Perhaps I should remember that we all start somewhere and that we learn by doing.
That's me. The author is no longer nameless. Feel free to get in touch via the mailing list or on Twitter. I’d love to help you start and launch your business (or help you grow it if you’re already established). Phew.
What’s the Solution? Don’t Launch.
I obviously don’t mean never. What I mean is that you should have multiple launches. You want to get in to a position where it doesn’t feel like launching. Make lots of small launches to build up traction.
Being open with your progress can have fantastic results.
This is similar to the Lean Startup model but it’s more than that - it’s more than not being proud of the first version. It’s knowing that every time you launch, every time you publish, you learn. Learning will help you get to where you want to be.
Nathan Barry Nathan Barry advocates ‘educational marketing’ where you help your potential customers by bringing them along the journey with you; providing value as you go. His most successful posts that have ultimately driven revenue to his business have been ‘here’s how I did it so you can too’.
Amy Hoy Amy Hoy advocates ‘ebombs’ as part of her 30x500 course. These are large, educational pieces of content that help build trust, establish integrity and set you up as an authority. They’re also about showing the world that you exist!
Adii Pienaar Adii Pienaar, founder of Woothemes is now running PublicBeta. His posts are often brutally honest and enlightening. He is also a staunch advocate of putting yourself out there, even though it’s sometimes hard to do.
Paul Jarvis Paul Jarvis, the rat-loving author, has his own way of tackling this inherent fear. He schedules. He schedules emails and blog posts so that it doesn’t feel like he’s launching. Delaying the fear can sometimes remove it altogether.
Justin Jackson Justin Jackson’s mantra is JFDI (Just F*ing Do It). He’s right but that’s much easier said than done. Sometimes, it’s still scary and that fear can be paralysing.
Noah Kagan Noah Kagan, of Appsumo fame asks ‘Are things happening to you or are you making things happen? Successful people DO, not-so-successful people WAIT.
Ryan Hoover Ryan Hoover, founder of Product Hunt explains why Building Your Product in Public can be hugely beneficial: it increases ‘buy-in’, gets early feedback and excites your audience.
What You Can Do Now
Stop wondering, Start Doing If you’re still fearful, make it easier. Choose a quarter of it and do that. The key is to do something. Ruthlessly strip everything until you can launch (but don’t call it launching, because that’s scary!).
Start small, keep going.