LinkedIn cofounder and chairman and Greylock Partners investor Reid Hoffman has a reputation as one of Silicon Valley’s wisest thought leaders.
And one of his most repeated entrepreneurial insights of the last decade is, “If you’re not embarrassed by your first product release, you’ve released it too late.”
It’s got all the right elements of a good quote: It’s pithy, controversial, and has fans like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whose own signature motto is, “Move fast and break things.” But these characteristics also make it easy to misinterpret.
“Over the years, some people have have interpreted my theory as permission to cut corners, act recklessly, or proceed without a clear plan,” Hoffman said in the Zuckerberg episode of his podcast “Masters of Scale.”
“But notice, I said if you’re not embarrassed by your product. I didn’t say if you’re not indicted, or if you’re not deeply ashamed by your product. Indeed, if you launch so fast that it generates lawsuits, alienates users, or burns through capital without any apparent gain, you did in fact launch too soon.”
The core of Hoffman’s message is the embrace of fast experimentation. As he wrote on his blog, when he was an entrepreneur in the 1990s, it was very difficult to do this because not only was the production of technology slower and more expensive, but customers had to pay premium prices for software that they downloaded to their computers from a disc they purchased in a brick-and-mortar store.
With the spread of internet access and an improved consumer experience, Hoffman and other entrepreneurs were then able to move faster and see what their audience liked and didn’t like.
He said in his podcast that entrepreneurs should feel embarrassment, a feeling that their vision is not fully realised, for every new product release, whether they have 100 users or 1 billion users.
Zuckerberg explained to Hoffman the way he has made peace with the idea that he doesn’t need his vision perfected in new releases at Facebook: “I’m much more motivated by making sure that we have the biggest impact on the world than by building a business or making sure we don’t fail. I have more fear in my life that we aren’t going to maximise the opportunity that we have than that we mess something up and the business goes badly.”
You need to be comfortable as an entrepreneur with upsetting a portion of your target audience — whether you introduce a new social media site or a new kitchen appliance — so that you can learn what the majority wants, according to Hoffman.
“The opportunity to build an enduring product far outweighs the cost of alienating a few users along the way,” he said. “And the sooner you internalize that trade-off, the faster you’ll move along the path to scale.”
You can listen to the full episode of “Masters of Scale” on Stitcher or wherever you get podcasts.
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