Rule Broken: Just get out an MVP — quick, quick!
The prevailing wisdom in Silicon Valley is that by moving fast to launch a minimum viable product (MVP), you can generate buzz, harvest feedback from customers, and begin working out the kinks in your idea. Airtable took a slower approach. Rather than rush to market, the company spent three years developing the collaborative workflow software that finally launched in 2015. And the wait was worth it: Last year the company hit $20 million in revenue and raised $100 million in Series C funding. Andrew Ofstad, one of the cofounders, explains the wait.
Why the long development period?
There’s a lot of overhead that comes with customers. Once you launch a product, you have to grow the support team, pay for marketing, and scale your servers. We wanted to focus on the product-and-engineering side instead. Also, the cost for getting it wrong was high for us, because people would be using our product for their core business workflows. If we mess up and lose somebody’s data, or we’re down for two hours, that could lose a ton of business for somebody.
Was there pushback from your investors?
There was definitely some pressure. They were like, “Maybe you should hire some more people or launch the product and spend on marketing?” But we would explain our rationale, and they would ease up. Ultimately we were lucky, because our investors trusted us.
Is the lesson that other companies should incubate their products longer?
When I was a product manager at Google, I was measured by the number of launches I did. The thinking was, Let’s launch something, get feedback, and see where we go from there. I think that works for simple products where the MVP isn’t technically challenging, or if you’re just trying to figure out a market. But if you have a long-term vision, and you’re convinced that vision will bring value, then it’s definitely worth taking your time.