Where to start?

January 13, 2008

Let’s say you’re launching a new website.

How good is it going to be when it first goes live?

Probably pretty crap, truth be told.

Here is a screen shot of the Trade Me home page from 1999:

Trade Me Home Page Circa 1999

Doesn’t look like a million dollars you’d have to admit … let alone 700!

New website owners are left with a difficult decision between three options:

  1. Spend months and months (perhaps longer?) trying to make the site perfect before letting it see the light of day.
  2. Throw it out there, and follow quickly with a huge marketing campaign hoping that people won’t notice that the site itself isn’t all that you’re cracking it up to be.
  3. Launch quietly, get a few users, watch closely to see how they are using the site and how you can make it better for them, be patient, continuously improve the site, and focus on making sure that those people who discover the site have a good experience and tell their friends.

Truth be told … all three options are flawed.

The problem with option #1 is that no matter how long you spend building the damn thing it’s unlikely to be very good. Just like the best laid military plans, it’s unlikely to survive long in the heat of battle. I’ve linked to this quote before, but it’s worth repeating I reckon:

If you ship your product and you’re not a little ashamed of it, you shipped too late”
— Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn

The problem with option #2 is that you need very deep pockets. And, even then, all of the people who do visit the site on the back of the marketing push will quickly discover that it’s rubbish, and at that point will either leave (probably never to return again, no matter how much you later improve it) or, worse, they’ll tell their friends how crap it is. Let’s call this the “Ferrit effect”.

The problem with option #3 is that it takes a lot of hard work over a long period of time and it’s not obvious in the beginning whether it’s going to ever pay off. You need to be very patient, and ensure that you can stick it out long enough to enjoy the success when it (hopefully and eventually) comes.

There is, however, some evidence that tips the balance in favour of this last option. Just about every big consumer site has taken this path … Google, Yahoo, Facebook, You Tube, Amazon, eBay, My Space, etc, etc. This is a pattern of success that has been repeated over and over.

Of course this is not to say that everybody who has used this approach has been successful, just that those who have been successful tend to have this in common.

Can you think of any successful sites that buck this trend?

Or, is there a fourth option I’m forgetting?