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It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so. - Mark Twain

Release early to figure out what you don't know and avoid spending time on building stuff your customers don't want or need.

Unknown Unknowns

Why you should release early

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. - Mark Twain

It felt fitting that my first ever blog post should be about releasing early. I’m a programmer and startup founder by day and have some painful experience with not releasing early. It’s natural to strive for perfection when building products, after all it is a labor of love. Also there is the fear of criticism and outright failure. The product that is not released can in one, twisted, sense never fail. At least that’s how I reason on an emotional level.

But what is even harder emotionally, and financially, than not releasing is discovering you built the wrong thing.

When designing products I figure there’s two sides of this problematic coin that can trip you up on a conceptual level. Thankfully both can be solved by releasing early, preferably before you have a product.

What you know for sure

As Mark Twain said “It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so” that gets you in trouble. See, when you set out building a product you have all these ideas about how the world works, how your customers think and how your product should work. You will get most of the product right, especially the parts where you know you’re lacking in knowledge. The lack of knowledge forces you to actually speak to other people. And only then do you form an idea about how your product should work. Now, the problem is with all the things that you know for sure. The fundamental ideas that you build your product around. When it turns out you’re wrong, you’re really wrong. If you’re unlucky you might even have built the wrong product altogether.

What if no one is actually willing to pay for what you are building? What if you built your product around something that you knew for sure, but reality simply does not agree with?
Scary stuff.

Unknown Unknowns

If you’re not a domain expert it is really difficult to know what you don’t know, a.k.a. the Dunning-Kruger effect. Take bookkeeping which I have the dubious pleasure of doing from time to time. I’d pay good money to be replaced by software. But if you as a founder have never worked with bookkeeping you’re bound to have some gaps in your knowledge. You’ll probably avoid the first mistake of erroneous assumptions, but how do you know that you really understand the field you want to disrupt? You could spends months reading up, but still you would not know where your knowledge was spotty. Something you never expected to be a problem will come crawling out of the darkness and bite you real good.

Here’s another scary thought for the road. What if every hour you’re spending right now building your product will turn out to be wasted because of something you have yet to discover?

The flossing of product development:
Releasing early

I don’t really need to write this part, you already know what I have to say by now. So let me focus on the flossing instead. I know flossing is good, my dentist even claims it is essential. I don’t doubt he’s right. But do I floss?


So even though I know I should (must) floss I don’t do it. It’s kinda the same with releasing early. Releasing early is as painful as flossing is boring. I’m actively working on overcoming my fear of releasing. Why else do you think I’m flogging this dead horse with another poor(ly) thought (out) piece? You probably already know how to release early. You know how to make paper mock-ups, how to pick up the phone, how to make a proof of concept over the weekend to show to your potential customer. You’re probably a lot better at it than I am.

No, it’s not the techniques you’re lacking. It’s mindset. And that can only be rectified by releasing early. So do that. Release something.