What should be prioritized in an online start-up? Quality, speed or…

What should be prioritized in an online start-up? Quality, speed or…

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This article has been contributed by Hernán Amiune.

This is a question that every entrepreneur must answer with accuracy and efficiency when taking the first steps with an online startup.

Launching our project too fast may result in some fears like: “What if new users enter and the system has errors?” or “What concept about our project will customers have if the design is not clear?”

On the other hand, if we aim at quality, different insecurities start appearing such as: “What if some competitors appear and enter first into the market?” or “How can someone know if they are taking the right track when programming for months without listening customers?”

The decision about choosing between prioritizing either speed or quality to launch our project to the public, as you can see, is not easy. However, to answer this accurately, it is better to focus on real examples rather than words, in order to learn from experience through three aspects, which can be seen below:

Design

One of the most significant aspects is the entrepreneur’s concern about how their product looks like, the one for which they have been working day and night for months.

One could argue that the better the design, the greater the customers’ trust in our work will be. Furthermore, the conversion will be higher because in a few seconds and with the least effort possible the user will understand what our project is about.

However, this aspect does not define the success or failure of our startup. Just take Ebay as an example; in one of the first designs, even without being perfect, they started with something basic:

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eBay Early Design

To have some perspective, here is the new eBay:

eBay 2014 Design

Without going back in time, we can see another real and present example that demonstrates that under no circumstance must the design delay our startup, which is something that did happen, for example, to Craigslist:

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Craigslist Design

The problem is that in contrast with Pinterest (where the design was excellent from day one) many online entrepreneurs are first of all software programmers or developers. That means that usually know little or nothing about designing, apart from code programming. Designing is often subconsciously taken as a “waste of time” and gets relegated to the last resort.

Pinterest

Once we have completed the system programming, we find ourselves in the dilemma of launching our online project with the design as the last thing in the agenda. That is when we realize that in fact the design is relevant and therefore we must take a decision, but, although it is indeed an important aspect, it should not be an impediment to the execution of the project.

We must get our project out and then keep improving its “look and feel”, as it is called today.

As for example did Andrew Warner from Mixergy (a one person business operation) with just using WordPress and a old theme, a startup that help small business owners. The functionality was there from day one, but the design will be improved later as the founder keep growing the revenue:

Mixergy Before

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And here, for example, is a brand new design that is being testing now:

Mixergy May 2014

Functionality

The functionality is another aspect to consider as entrepreneurs in relation to whether to launch our online startup quickly or wait until everything is ready, and it can be an obstacle.

Functionality refers to all the extras that we can add to our program in order to provide absolutely everything.

Optimistic though we may be, we will always have something to add. A venture is not an end point, but rather a process that never ends.

If we take the example of Twitter, it can be seen that when the social network started a few years ago, it was just a simple wall in where a person could follow friends and share statements.

Although it was not substantially modified, it was not until years later that they began incorporating photos and other features to their software to make it more complete and adapted to what users need and their scope.

Twitter Early Design

And here is the new Twitter (with pictures, videos, etc):

New Twitter April 2014

Twitter also revised their logo as they evolved.

Twitter Logo Before and After

About this aspect, it is interesting to reflect on what the basic functionality of our project is. Delimiting the answer to that question will help us to understand if our project is ready to be online.

Each additional point could be added with time; that is one of the great virtues of an online venture. Today more than ever we must support progressive and phased growth, which means incremental. In our startup MejorTrato, to give an example, we started with only three services in one country; today we offer up to nine services and we are present in 5 countries.

And this is where I want to highlight the major advantage of betting on speed over quality: the possibility of learning from our customers.

Already having our project online usually generates an invaluable adrenaline that makes us work harder to the top of our ability every day. When our project is not open to the public, there is little pressure or expectations.

However, when we begin receiving emails, comments, criticism, and suggestions from other people who are using our work now, our potential is triggered. Moreover, it is from users that we will really learn and find out exactly what to do and what to develop within our startup.

For example, Zapier, a small startup that let different apps work together, only began with connecting Gmail and Evernote. They don’t wait until the service was ready and working with all well known web apps to start. Then they keep adding new functionality while improving not only their service but also the design, like adding Saleforce, Zendesk, Trello, Dorpbox, MailChimp, Asana, Wuffo, Paypal, etc.

Zapier Design

Revenue Model

To close, as a final point, I would like to emphasize the business model; how are we going to generate revenue for our enterprise?

Many times, we are limited to developing our idea and launching it online because we do not know how to define a mechanism through which we will receive revenue.

As regards this aspect I would like to share the words of Paul Graham, famous U.S. entrepreneur and founder of YCombinator:

“We must first do what our customers need, and only after achieving this first challenge will we analyze and monetize our enterprise.”

I personally learned a lesson over time; no matter how well we have defined our revenue-generating strategy, if customers do not use our online startup we will not be able to obtain a single dollar of profit. On the other hand, if we have millions of clients using our platform, sooner or later we should find a turnover solution for us.

Just take the example of Google: when it started they had no idea about how its platform was going to be profitable until they reached millions of users worldwide and could implement AdWords. It was a simple experiment within the company that later had great success, as we all know.

On other hand, let’s think of Twitter; it is not profitable yet and it is already publicly traded. They still do not have an exact answer; however, the company continues to grow in users / popularity, and eventually they will generate millions due to developing an ecosystem that helps us communicate.

SnapChat

Another interesting example could be Snapchat, which has not even tried to generate revenue despite the success and its encouraging statics.

As can be seen throughout the article, neither the design nor the extra features, much less how we will generate income, should be an impediment to launching our online startup with the fastest speed possible in order to be able to iterate and grow together with our customers in the future.

Author: Engineer Hernán Amiune, cofounder of SeguroObligatorio, a startup for all Latin America focused on the development of new technologies, especially in the mobile world.

7 thoughts on “What should be prioritized in an online start-up? Quality, speed or…”

  1. That means first we must add some values to our customers lives by providing them great solutions and then according to the growth we can always redesign our applications. But will this model work today? I have serious doubts on this. In today’s cut-throat competition functionality, design and a feasible business model is very important from the inception of a company, until & unless your product is revolutionary. Like when Twitter comes they did not have any such competitions in the market and they won the heart of their users with that poor design but today if a company launch something like that wont have any impact.

    • Its a great article. But its still leaving a question in mind that will this model work today? Because Design is a very important element today. When Ebay came into market first, they did not have any competitor. Same goes with twitter. Either we have to come up with a very unique concept which is not in the market yet or if we want to do the same business which others are doing then functionality, design of the website plays an important role, because atleast this thing will keep us aside from others.

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