July 28, 2022

Gaining speed and flexibility through the willingness to be embarrassed


For my first ever software launch, as proud as we were of our beta version, we still had broken links, spelling errors, missing images, janky functionality, confusing flows, site speed issues, onboarding inconsistencies, missing buttons and so on.

Getting initial feedback from users was painful. Just when you think you’ve built something beautiful and useful, the world exposes every single weakness of your product, both known and unknown.

It kind of reminded me of going to the beach, wading into the ocean and taking that first full body plunge. It feels exciting and invigorating at first, and then  saltwater quickly reveals all the places on your body where you have open cuts or sores. The sodium stings your wounds like a thousand needles.

That’s what launching software feels like. And everyone who gets into that business knows it’s coming.

The trick is, although it burns, you have to remind yourself that it’s ultimately a good thing. Exposure to saltwater cleans and promotes wellness. The minerals accelerate your healing process, contract your wounds and improve overall skin health.

And sure, there’s some bacteria in that ocean. Maybe a single celled organism seeps into your bloodstream, hatches a thousand eggs and its babies slowly eat away your cells until you’re nothing but a pile of mush.

But how often does that really happen?

Not unlike the cleansing power of sweating or crying, the exposure to saltwater promotes growth. If the exposure stings, that’s probably a good thing.

Reid Hoffman, the billionaire entrepreneur and startup advisor, often tells founders that if they’re willing to be embarrassed, then they can gain speed and flexibility. They get to market faster when they’re not trying to anticipate and design every feature and potential use case. His frequently quoted mantra is:

If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.

But if you fail fast, then false assumptions about your customers and how they’ll use your product will be corrected. Which means you’ll start learning sooner. You’ll collect feedback from users faster, and learn about what happens in instances you didn’t or couldn’t anticipate.

That salty water stings, but ultimately makes the product better.

Are you willing to plunge into the sea and expose your weaknesses?

It’s not for the faint of heart. You will absolutely take it personally. Particularly if you’re someone who creates art as an extension of their identity. Every piece of negative feedback will feel like another needle pricking your skin.

But that’s the only way to iterate your way to success. You’ve got to let the water tell you where your product has open cuts and sores.

Believe me, when it comes to my creative work, I think feedback is highly overrated and most people are full of shit and have no idea what they want.

At same time, it sure is nice to get an email from a complete stranger who discovered one of your product’s flaws, took the time to send you a screenshot, and offers a recommendation for how to remedy the error. That’s the kind of wave you can surf all the way back to shore.

Were you embarrassed enough by the first iteration of your latest launch?