Joel Gascoigne

Startups, life, learning and happiness

I'm Founder & CEO of Buffer. This is where I share lessons I'm learning.

Fear of not shipping

Written on 13th March, 2011
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"I’ve had many many many products, the vast majority of the things I’ve written, or created, the organisations I built fail, but the reason I’ve managed a modicum of success is because I just keep shipping." - Seth Godin

"Finishing" or "shipping" things is essential to success. For the longest time, I’ve been very afraid of "shipping" things. There are so many reasons to hesitate to ship something. All sorts of things could go wrong which could have negative consequences.

However, over time I feel I have gradually shifted from not only not fearing shipping, but actually fearing not shipping. I think this is a healthy fear for anyone doing startups and can be applied elsewhere too.

Fear of not shipping my blog posts

Every two weeks, on a Sunday, I wake up and I sit down and write my blog post. As I reach around 700 words, I start to make sure it flows well, and that each section is in the right order and that there are no typos. Then, after I’ve finished, I spend a little time reading it through and wondering whether I have missed anything or whether it could be better.

That is when the fear hits me. I know that if I aim for perfection, I will delay shipping greatly. So I quickly read it through, and then hit publish. This is how I’ve kept blogging consistently, and it’s also how good discussion arises. If it’s perfect, where is the room for discussion. More importantly, is perfect even possible?

The great thing about this is that my blog posts so far have triggered off some absolutely fantastic discussions and I’ve been delighted to have received some fascinating comments which I’ve learned a huge amount from. Therefore, since I am shipping consistently and benefiting from it, it becomes something I want to do more and I feel I could realistically do more.

Fear of not shipping my startups

Another area I have found this “fear of not shipping” really applies for me, is with my startups. I’m passionate about creating my own scalable startup, but a startup is something you can feel very attached to. You don’t want people to see it rough around the edges. You want it to be perfect before you let the world see it.

Over time, I’ve realised that waiting for it to be perfect does not achieve the most success for me. The 80/20 rule really applies here, and I’ve found time and time again that the final 20% of the benefits of working on a product or a feature in a product genuinely can take 80% of the time you work on it if you are not careful. This is very much in line with the lean startup techniques which I’m a huge fan of.

With my previous startup, I took 4 months to launch it before I received any real feedback from users. With my current startup, I was very keen to launch it swiftly. I questioned everything I was building into the first version in order to keep it very minimal. I even sent an email to people saying it would take 1 week, and it eventually took 7. As I approached the end of the 7th week, a fear hit me that I had been working on it for too long without getting feedback. So I “shipped”. It was buggy, and it even let people pay without an automatic upgrade process and without some of the paid features even working. You know what? It worked out very well. I even had my first paying customer 4 days later.

I think getting into this mentality of fearing not shipping more than fearing shipping is a very important mental shift with huge benefits. For me, it has turned out very well.

Creating a fear of not shipping

How can you change your mindset into a fear of not shipping rather than a fear of shipping? I doubt it can happen just by reading a post. I suggest you try shipping a few things before you think they are ready. I am confident you will be pleasantly surprised, and when it happens, keep doing it. Soon you will fear spending too long on things.

I find this topic fascinating. I’d love your thoughts in the comments.

Photo credit: Pete Snelling

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