Five Reasons You Haven’t Launched

Photo by stevendepolo

This post is an accusation. A call to arms. A sharp stick that says “get off your ass and make something happen.”

But I didn’t write it for you; I wrote it for myself. Every one of these reasons has haunted me at one time or another over the past 10 years. Many a moon ago I thought I was the only person who struggled with them. Now I have several conversations a week that indicate otherwise.

These reasons will come to life every time you start something new, be it an application, a website, a book or a presentation. Excuses don’t discriminate based on what you’re creating.

So with that, here are five reasons you (and I) haven’t launched…

Reason #1: You’re Still Trying to Find the Right Idea
Give yourself a month. If you spend a month of “thinking” time, interspersed with a few hours a week researching ideas and you still haven’t settled on one, close up shop.

Keep the day job. Hang around the water cooler. Become a lifer.

If you can’t find a worthwhile niche in 30 days of intense thought and research there is trouble ahead, sir. This is an important decision, and yet it’s just one on your path to launch. There are thousands more that need to be made before you’ll get there.

If you can’t make this decision in 30 days, save yourself the time and aggravation of trying to launch a startup.

The clock starts today.

Reason #2: You’re Set on Doing Everything Yourself
Yep, I am going to say it again.

One of the most time consuming startup roadblocks is your need to control every detail and do every piece of work yourself. When you’re scraping together 15 hours a week of night and weekend time, outsourcing 5 hours a week makes you 33% more productive.

You may be able to slice PSDs, but there are people who can do it faster and better than you. For $159 save yourself several hours of time.

You may be able to write web copy, but there are people who can do it faster and better than you.

Depending on your skillset, the same goes for graphic design, theme creation, creating unit tests, and a slew of other pre-launch tasks.

Time is one of your most precious commodities. Conserve it with a passion.

Reason #3: Hacker News, WoW, and [Insert Distraction Here]
Distractions are everywhere, including new-fangled distractions that disguise themselves as productive work (think Twitter).

Forget the TV and video games, how many times have you found yourself thinking you were being productive only to look back and realize you spent 3 hours searching and evaluating something you may not need until 6 months down the road? And frankly, you’ll probably never need it.

Another common distraction masquerading as productivity is reading business books. I’ve already beaten this one to death so I’m not going to re-hash it here. Suffice to say, most business books are the entrepreneur’s Kryptonite.

Avoiding distractions takes discipline, and discipline is hard. Especially when building your product is supposed to be fun.

Wait, this is supposed to be fun, right?

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but maybe building a product isn’t quite what most blogs, books and magazines make it out to be. Maybe it’s actually a long succession of hard work, late nights, and a boatload of discipline.

For some people that’s fun. For others, not so much. You should decide which camp you’re in before you get started.

Reason #4: You’re Busy Adding Features (That No One Will Use)
When was the last time you spoke with someone who is planning to use your application in the wild?

Not your friend who’s testing it out to make sure it doesn’t crash when you login, but a real customer who entered their production data and told you they are anticipating the release of your application more than Iron Man 3?

If you’ve not working directly with at least two customers you have no idea if what you’re building is adding value. Or a total waste of time.

Reason #5: You’re Scared
We all are.

In my experience, fear is the #1 reason that keeps people from launching. Except most don’t recognize it as fear because it manifests itself in other ways. Needing to make everything perfect, to add one more feature, or to read one more marketing book are all ways that fear turns itself into excuses.

This is how fear really works. It keeps you from launching by tricking you into thinking you have real work to do, when that work is actually pointless busy work created to stave off your launch. Because launching is scary.

Actually, it’s terrifying.

But we’re all terrified at one time or another. You just have to deal with it and move on or you’ll never get your product out the door.

Bonus Reason: You Have Launched, But No One Noticed
You had a great idea for a product. You went and built it in your bedroom. And now it’s available for sale. Hooray! You made it to launch. Only problem: no one noticed.

You missed one minor detail in your mental business plan. You need a targeted, sustainable strategy for bringing prospects to your door. Or in this case, your website. If it’s not both targeted and sustainable you are out of luck.

You can have a great launch day with a link from TechCrunch and an article on Mashable. But then it goes away. The traffic dies. 10,000 uniques the first month, 500 the second. 300 the third.

How can you build a business on 300 unique visitors a month?

The answer is: you probably can’t. You need to figure out how targeted prospects are going to find you consistently, month after month. Because 10,000 unique visitors in a month is a nice bump in sales…nothing more.

What are your best bets? I know you want me to say “fun” and “sexy” things like Facebook and Twitter, but alas it’s the un-sexy things like SEO, building an audience (blog or podcast), and having an engaged mailing list that work over the long-term.

(I have a lot to say about these un-sexy strategies. If you want more info check out my startup book for an entire chapter on this topic).

Your Turn
This list is incomplete. What have I missed? What are the reasons you haven’t launched? Post them below and let’s discuss.

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#1 markee174 on 11.10.10 at 6:45 am

Reason 6 – You are waiting for the perfect moment and you need to wait until after Christmas, holidays, pick the perfect buying time of year, etc

It never arrives…

William Davidson Reply:

markee174 you’re right. There’s a 1001 excuses for not getting a project done. It takes a ton of dedication to release anything and I’m proud of everything I work on and release. People who have built nothing on their own don’t realize how hard it is to actually release something.


PS: My favorite quote from technology is that one that’s attributed to Steve Jobs, “Real artists ship.” Always have to remember that one.

#2 Troels Richter on 11.10.10 at 7:06 am

Reason #6: you lose faith in your product

This relates to “Reason #5: You’re Scared” but I think there is more to it.
When you start working on a product you really believe in the idea and this believe will keep boosting your motivation to work on the product for a while.
When launch time is getting closer there is often a lot of hard work to be done. And at this point the initial idea isn’t that fresh and inspiring any more. You start questioning your idea and this really kills your motivation and keep you from launching.

#3 Gareth on 11.10.10 at 7:34 am

I spent a year dismissing ideas for one reason or another, I documented them all. Then I slowly made the switch from thinking about a web platform idea to a mobile platform idea and suddenly one of my ideas is perfect for Android.
So now I have a few months learning Android dev and I will finally have my startup. Thanks for all you do for us Rob

#4 Craig Griffiths on 11.10.10 at 7:53 am

Fear of being unready (intensional bad use of English) If I launch someone may steal my idea before I get a concrete following. I need more finance, I need more marketing, I need more… It doesn’t end.

#5 John Hinnegan on 11.10.10 at 9:24 am

I enjoyed the post.

Enjoyed the ironic twist at the end — endorsing a book after #3 espoused the distracting evils of business books

Rob Reply:

If you read my post on business books you’ll notice I define them pretty specifically. A niche book with actionable advice that helps you get closer to launch is not within that umbrella:

#6 gennady on 11.10.10 at 9:25 am

So according to reason #3′ I shouldn’t be reading this post?:)

Reason #7: not validating… Not talking to people who can give you advice about your business and working in a silo.. This can fuel fear of the launch. I’ve been there!

Rob Reply:

>>So according to reason #3 I shouldn’t be reading this post?:)

Perhaps. Pick your top 10 (maybe 20) blogs, and get rid of all others. If this blog is one of your top picks you should be reading it. Otherwise, can it.

#7 10 | November | 2010 | Startup Bites on 11.10.10 at 9:30 am

[…] In my experience, fear is the #1 reason that keeps people from launching. – Rob Walling […]

#8 Marc on 11.10.10 at 9:58 am

Changing technologies (build your product on ASP.NET, switch to Silverlight, switch to plain javascript, switch to …)

Changing Target platform: Desktop, web, cell phones, …

Changing project: the new idea always look more interesting than the last one. When the fun stuff of the app is done, change project to avoid the dull stuff…

#9 @harscoat on 11.10.10 at 10:14 am

As commented on HN
One big reason is: you can still w.nk yourself with the idea! (pardon my French) without the pain of taking care/answering real, demanding, not getting it, or plain indifferent (non)users (your #5). Until you have launched for real, you can dream of your beloved app/API/novel/idea/etc, that it will be so great, so new, so cool, everybody’s going to be blown away and come to it in flocks. You can still dream in the Limbo. Once it’s out … the hard indifferent reality sets in. (Until that hockey stick curve of course 😉

Rob Reply:

This is an excellent point and one I think I’ve suffered from more than once.

#10 Gregory Kogan on 11.10.10 at 10:43 am

As with anything else, there are always exceptions.

For example, business books (or any other form of learning) can certainly be distracting, but they can also be an excellent way to make use of free time(such as on bus rides, etc) while you’re working on your startup. Learning and doing CAN be done together, as long as you’re not doing one to avoid the other.

Rob Reply:

True, but you should pick your business books wisely. General business books won’t help you get to launch. Books catering to your niche that contain actionable advice can actually save you time.

I would also argue that time on the bus could be used for things other than reading, such as: brainstorming marketing approaches or higher-level thinking and decision-making that’s sometimes hard to make in front of your computer. Reading books is typically less productive than most people make it out.

#11 Wael on 11.10.10 at 11:21 am

Good article. I agree with #2. However, outsourcing has its own issues. For starters, you have to worry about trust and maintaining captial.

There is also the cost of entry. Competing against the big names can be draining.

Rob Reply:

Trust is a big one. Not trust that they will steal your idea, but trust that they can deliver on what you’ve assigned. When I’ve outsourced larger development projects I have a five-minute daily standup with the developer(s) via Skype or IM. This is a basic agile tool, but was amazingly effective at keeping tabs on the project.

Maintaining capital – I assume you mean “having enough money?” Indeed. However, I’ve found senior-level PHP developers for $15/hour and senior-level .NET developers for $20/hour. When I say “senior” I mean “knows this stuff better than I do.” So on a 300 hour project you do need $4500-$6000, but IMO that’s a small price to pay for 300 hours of my time.

#12 Ivan Walsh on 11.10.10 at 11:35 am

When I worked in Asia we would often launch products before they were completely tested.


Releasing them to a live user group was/is the real acid test and stopped us from over-developing the product.

It also saved $ on focus groups and other such activities.

Set a date and get it out!

#13 Off By One # 11 | Off By One on 11.10.10 at 11:45 am

[…] Five Reasons You Haven’t Launched | Software by Rob – Rob Walling lists the reasons that may delay your launch. Cancel reply […]

#14 Manuel Gonzalez on 11.10.10 at 12:13 pm

We delayed too much the launch of our product, a legal case management software, just because we wanted to give it the same level of quality of our previous software products (totally unrelated sector, network security).

If possible, do not launch your products before time. People will not try it again in the future when your product has all the features it needed from the first day.

Rob Reply:

Agreed. I specifically didn’t include the language that you should launch early and often. In many cases (especially in the legal arena as with your example) that’s not the right approach.

As long as you’re working with 1-2 potential customers you will know when it’s ready, but “launch early,” in general, is bad advice.

#15 Simão Freitas on 11.10.10 at 12:30 pm

Reason #10 -> You don’t have the money to put it to work!

It may be easy for americans to get funded but where I live (small country in europe called Portugal) it’s a lot harder. Here people don’t invest in internet startups as much and angels always want to take a 20-50% share in your company.

What’s the solution?

Thanks and good post!

#16 Steve Morin on 11.10.10 at 1:08 pm

Lack of focus and shinny new startup syndrome.

It’s so bad that recently I heard of a founder and blogger that half launched a product with a customer waiting list. They abandoned the original product built a new one and launched it instead. Make me wonder how long till they abandon their current product.

You need to have some consistency and dedication to a product. Which is not so say you’ll stay with that one project forever but atleast long enough to determine if it’s worth pursuing further.

Rob Reply:

Indeed; good point. You’ve almost quoted this recent post verbatim:

Steve Morin Reply:

Rob keep up the great posts.

#17 Christian on 11.10.10 at 2:00 pm

Additional bonus reason:
It actually does take a really long time to launch because there is no way you have a enough money to pay anybody — even $159 — and you need to do everything yourself. Not because of need to control everything, your just flat broke.

Moreover, most of the stuff you listed in reason #2 is not in reality going to save that much time because these items are just not black and white enough to be outsourced. Sounds good, though. A graphic designer has be integrated from day one. Web copy is best written by you — or at least should be — you’re the one with the passion right? Unit tests — ur kidding right? If you’re trying to launch a product on shoestring those things are worthless (even without a shoestring). I am just very skeptical on how much can be truly outsourced without paying good coin. No free lunch there.

Great article though — I was chuckling good on reason #4.

Rob Reply:

>>Not because of need to control everything, your just flat broke.

This is a valid reason. However, if you’re a working software developer I would ask: why are you flat broke? (this is a rhetorical question, no need to answer here).

Software developers are some of the best paid people around. If you are committed to your product are you willing to reduce expenses to fund it, even at a small level?

>>Moreover, most of the stuff you listed in reason #2 is not in reality going to save that much time because these items are just not black and white enough to be outsourced

Not true. I’ve outsourced everything (and more) that I listed in this post with great success at under $20/hour. I have saved literally thousands of hours in development, design, HTML/CSS, admin, testing, etc… time over the past couple of years.

You can be skeptical, but it can be done if you are willing to do it.

#18 Liam McLennan on 11.10.10 at 5:36 pm

Reason #1 could not be more condescending. I have been searching for the right idea for more than a month and I will continue to do so until I find something that I believe in.

Rob Reply:

It wasn’t intended to be condescending; it was intended to remind us that analyzing for extended periods feels like real work, but it’s not.

A few years ago I spent 12 months (no exaggeration) analyzing different ideas without making a single move forward. Reason #1 was specifically written for the “me” of a few years ago. I wish someone had forced me to do this at that point.

Also, this reason _could_ be more condescending…you should have seen the early draft of this post 🙂

Best of luck on the search for your idea.

Liam McLennan Reply:

😉 Nice one. Forgive my hyperbole.

#19 TG on 11.11.10 at 11:27 am

Reason #11

Great Idea!!….not enough technical skills…

Rob Reply:

Indeed. That’s when you have to put #2 into overdrive and outsource development.

TG Reply:

Thanks for the advice! I’m trying to get into the RFID industry, it’s hard to find Electrical/wireless engineers than it is to find web developers.

Much of the startup apparatus(books, blogs, tools, networks, funding etc) is geared towards web development, so it’s been tough.

#20 pauk960 on 11.12.10 at 11:36 am

I agree with everything you wrote. I myself am being constantly stuck in a limbo between idea and launch. Often I have to many ideas and don’t know which one to pick first and concentrate on it. And even when I do concentrate on one idea, after a few days new one comes which sounds ten times better than the current one.

Also, being a full time student and a freelancer web developer doesn’t give me much free time for my projects.

I tried to recruit friends to help me, but without luck. At first they are all interested, we are all brainstorming, but when actual works needs to be done they are all gone (probably wasting time on Facebook and such). It’s hard to share the same vision. Those experiences taught me to depend only on myself.

#21 Bookmarks for November 10th through November 12th | Scherzer KG Blog on 11.12.10 at 1:05 pm

[…] Five Reasons You Haven’t Launched | Software by Rob – […]

#22 Schwabe on 11.12.10 at 2:13 pm

Here are a couple doozies you might be wresting wtih:

#12 – you owe $xx,xxx in overdue taxes
Probably best to pay the government before you start your next biz

#13 – you are $xx,xxx in credit card debt
Not saying you can’t do it, but who in their right mind wants to start a company with piles of existing debt.

Clear the plate, start fresh.

#23 Interesting Links | Adrian O'Connor's Funny Little Blog on 11.17.10 at 5:46 am

[…] also caught my eye: Five Reasons You Haven’t Launched. It explores the common excuses for not launching yet. We all know that we should release early and […]

#24 Patrick on 11.21.10 at 2:03 am

Even though this doesn’t apply to starting a business, I have always wanted to learn how to program and I am either too busy or not enthusiastic enough about it. This article is now compelling me to get off my butt and do something too

#25 Prx on 11.22.10 at 5:56 pm

I agree with the 5 points, but I would like to add this one “No money for adds (google/facebook) adds”, I’m from Central America and the salaries in our countries does not permit us to have few dollares saved in order to pay for adds or marketing on sites. –Currently I works as software Dev and I make around $1,200 monthly

BTW, do you know how to get 10,000 unique visits without pay any penny???

That is my main obstacle now.

Rob Reply:

>> I would like to add this one “No money for adds (google/facebook) adds”

Google and Facebook ads are good for driving traffic, but not a silver bullet. They are especially bad to rely on for sustainable revenue; few businesses can afford them over the long term.

I wouldn’t consider having or not having money for PPC ads a roadblock to getting started.

>>BTW, do you know how to get 10,000 unique visits without pay any penny???

Depends on the niche. Blogging or podcasting is a great approach, if your niche reads blogs or listens to podcasts.

SEO is the other keystone approach for driving traffic. But it depends on the niche – you wouldn’t want to try it in the credit card or mortgage niche.

#26 Samuel on 11.27.10 at 2:51 pm

Awesome post man. Yeah, fear and looking for the perfect idea before they start is the main key that’s making entrepreneurs fall off the board. Also they think negatively. Thanks a lot.

#27 SaaS on 12.02.10 at 3:12 pm

Yeah… Fear is the number one , but In me it is fear that no one will like my idea and I will have to start over again. Or the fear that I am doing something wrong and someone will see and I will get in trouble. Does this sound CHILDISH, yes it is, and I have had to work hard to overcome. It is a daily war. Thanks for the post I thought that I was the only one …

#28 grapkulec on 12.06.10 at 4:30 am

couple of weeks ago I launched my first “commercial” (read: users can do something) website and I notified about it in a short note on my blog which is focused on personal finances which in turn is not so related to a focus of my website. I just simply used my current public to spread the word.

first hours was hard because I got ton of emails regarding what users can and can’t do on my site.

so lesson 1: FAQ section should be addressed to my grandparents rather than to my fellow software geeks.

my website looks awful because I focused on core functionalities not GUI. it is simple, users can do what he is intended to do but no bells and whistles. I explained it right from the start but…

lesson 2: when your application dies from error make sure it looks like Leonardo Di Caprio not like Godzilla shot in the head.

but my most important lesson is that if I still worked on that website in a safe environment of my home server and just imagined what my users would want from service like main I probably never released.

now I finished next version of that website, with enhanced functionality and I’m ready to facelift user interface with some jQuery, CSS and whatnot. and what drives me to further work is group of users that acted as my guinea pigs and now I want to reward them for patience and faith in me 🙂

#29 Chris on 01.08.11 at 9:26 pm

It takes discipline, and not everybody has it. Also, there is a fair amount of fear to overcome in venturing out on one’s own. Most people don’t have the comfort level of risk that comes with being an entrepreneur.

I was at a venture capital seminar this last week and something mentioned that I found fascinating and relevant to this was the number one determinant for success or failure was the support of the spouse. The number one reason. Amazing.

Enjoyed the article. I wish everyone the most success on their own startups. Only with innovation will we pull ourselves and the country out of the economic slide.