Welcome to “Small Business, Big Mistake” where entrepreneurs face up to their biggest blunders and share advice to help your company steer clear of the same fate
Consider the following scenario: You’ve spent eight months creating a brilliant new product — one that you know the world needs and one that you’ve poured your heart and time into. You love it, your friends love it, you’ve told everyone you know about it, and you’re almost ready to launch it to the world.
But then everything goes horribly wrong.
That’s the exact situation my business partner and I found ourselves in a couple of years ago.
Today, our product has become one of the most popular WordPress lead-generation solutions, allowing Web site owners to convert abandoning visitors into subscribers and customers. But when we first thought we were almost done building it, we encountered a major road block.
We started testing it on a few sites and the software crashed our servers repeatedly. We had made a huge mistake in the way we designed our system. There was no way to fix what we had created without completely rewriting it: We were looking at eight months of hard work, totally wasted.
Eight months earlier
Back in 2012, frustrated with trying and failing to find a WordPress lead-generation solution that lived up to its creators’ claims, I came up with the idea for OptinMonster.
At first, I started with a simple popup that I put together for my own site. It worked so well that I partnered up with another entrepreneur, Thomas Griffin, to build something bigger. We decided — and this was a big mistake — to create it as an SaaS application (one that is meant to work on all Web sites). Sounds sensible enough; after all, we wanted our product to be accessible to everyone who wanted it, no matter what type of Web site they used.
Unfortunately, neither of us had any experience building a SaaS application. But we decided to go ahead and create one anyway using WordPress (which we were highly experienced with) as a framework.
Over the course of eight months, we honed, tested and refined our product. We were really happy with all the little features we had added; that is, until the moment when we realized, in horror, that while it was running just fine on a handful of sites, it wasn’t going to work at all if we went any further than that.
It was a bleak moment. And we faced a difficult decision: give up, or completely rework our product.
How we turned failure into success
We decided to give ourselves 30 days. We had already spent eight months building the initial product, and we wanted to get it finished and out there. Several competitors had already entered the market, and the longer we delayed, the harder it would be to establish ourselves.
There simply wasn’t time to rebuild from scratch. So this time, I suggested we stick to what we knew well: WordPress. We would launch OptinMonster as a WordPress-only plugin.
We stuck to that 30-day limit. That meant we needed to focus on the essentials and make a Minimum Viable Product. While after those 30 days it wasn’t perfect, it was already an improvement over existing products.
Our launch was a success, and it allowed us to focus on making OptinMonster better and better over the next year with added user input. Until we launched OptinMonster 2.0, we didn’t simply get to work putting in all the improvements we thought mattered (some of which users would never even have noticed).
Instead, we encouraged feedback from our customers, and focused on designing a product that met their needs.
“Overnight” successess usually take months or years
A few months ago, an interviewer asked me about our “overnight success.” I had to chuckle. Because as you can see, we didn’t achieve anything “overnight.” In the end it took roughly 10 months to get from that initial idea to the end of a successful launch. In fact, you can likely ask anyone who seems to have been an “overnight success” and find that they were working away, unnoticed, for months or even years before you ever heard of them.
Our journey could’ve been quicker if we’d kept things simple. We should have started by designing a minimum viable product, testing it under real-world conditions and gathering feedback from customers as soon as possible.
If you’re working on a new product right now — or if you have a great idea for one — don’t do what we did. Don’t aim for perfection straight away. Launch small (perhaps before you feel quite ready) and build from there. If you do, your product could well be the next “overnight success.”
Syed Balkhi is an online marketer and one of the creators behind WPBeginner, List25, OptinMonster, SoliloquyWP, and Envira Gallery. He is a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of promising young entrepreneurs.