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Startups:  Why perfectionism is the enemy of growth

Published: Mon 5th December 2016
A mistake I have seen frequently is entrepreneurs wanting to get everything perfect before they launch the business.  This includes artwork, branding, business cards, code, staffing, even the phone dial-in recordings.

Why is this is a mistake?

1) You are wasting time when you could be making money and harvesting data

2) As a startup, most of your thousands of ideas/innovations are going to end up being mistakes and end up in the bin anyway

3) As a small business, you can make mistakes and no one is going to see

As a startup, you are completely “off the brand radar”, so you can afford to make mistakes.  No one is going to notice or care if you launch with a rubbish logo.  You can launch early, you can launch broken, your website can have errors, you can launch unprofessionally, and you can use all of this as a testbed for your ideas.  Then later, spend time on perfecting the ones which seem promising.  As well as this, you won’t become addicted until you launch and see the first sales.  And without addiction, you won’t have the momentum for growth.

My own examples: I didn’t even put a telephone number on the website until I had about £5M of sales.  Because I didn’t want to waste time figuring out how to staff it when I could be concentrating on building the higher priority issues.  I had buggy code, frequently buggy HTML, pixels out of place, stock out issues, poor customer service (email only).  I’d even “go live” with an idea on a Sunday night after a couple of bottles of wine then wake up Monday and find out it turned out great and needed a bit of fine tuning – I had a night’s worth of data already to tell me whether it was going to work or not.  If I waited until office hours my growth would have been far slower.

There is an issue that may hold you back: shareholders.  If you have to run your ideas by other people before doing them, you’re kinda screwed.  Personally, in that situation, I would be tempted to be a rogue and just launch stuff anyway until they gained my trust.  (Actually, I probably wouldn’t – I’m too polite – so the business would probably fail).  But I was fortunate not to have investors.  My business was bootstrapped.  i.e. I was fortunate to be able to grow it from the profits of selling a decent margin product in a “lucky” niche.  I nearly sold 1/3 to VCs when cash was low, which would have been hell on earth – I would avoid VCs (venture capitalists) if you can.

Now, remember I am talking about early startups here.  If you are Mars or Disney, clearly they don’t want to launch without near perfectionism or they would wreck the brands.

My rule?

Launch early, get data, fix what’s broken later.  Only perfect something once you have proof of concept in a live environment.

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