Here’s a question that every company has to answer: How do you know when to release your product? 

You might think the answer is “when it’s ready.” Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. Your product will never be ready — and that’s okay. 

Earlier this month, Karen Rubin, chief revenue officer at OWL Labs, gave a presentation on this topic at the first-ever ProductCraft Virtual Conference. Karen has brought products to market at three companies: Hubspot, Quantopian, and now OWL Labs. Each experience taught her something new regarding when to let a product “into the wild.”

So, if the answer isn’t “when it’s ready,” how do you know when to release your product? During her session, Karen shared five things that can help you make that decision.

1. Talk to your customers

Your customers are a valuable source of insight, so try to include them in the process of making launch decisions. 

Karen shared an example from her time at Hubspot, a marketing automation platform. She was tasked with releasing their Workflows campaign tool, so she planned a beta with tens of customers. Strangely, many of them were setting up campaigns, but not turning them on. When she reached out to ask why, they responded that they thought they had turned them on. 

Confused, she invited them to demonstrate their use of the feature in-person. When they got their beta users in a room and watched them set up campaigns, they discovered that they didn’t understand how to use the “ON-OFF” iPhone-style toggle. Once they changed it to a button, the customers were able to easily activate their campaigns.

This example illustrated how your customers can help you determine when your product might need a few more tweaks before it’s released. So, how and when should you gather this customer input? Fortunately, product teams have a variety of tools at their disposal, each with their own pros and cons:

Surveys

  • Pro: quick, large scale
  • Cons: expensive, impersonal
  • When to use: When you’re defining the problem to be solved

Interviews

  • Pros: Personal, builds relationships
  • Cons: Can be biased
  • When to use: Throughout the product lifecycle

User testing

  • Pros: Product-focused, actionable
  • Cons: Time consuming
  • When to use: With the first product iteration

Alpha/beta program

  • Pros: product-focused, in-depth
  • Cons: Time-consuming (months)
  • When to use: When you have a nearly-ready product

How do you decide which feedback method to use? Some factors you should consider are how much time you have, whether your learnings will have a large impact, and what resources you might need. 

2. Figure out how much you can share

Before launching your product, you want to get it in the hands of users who can test it out. But you have to evaluate the risks to intellectual property and the product’s “secret sauce.”

To illustrate this point, Karen shared two stories from her career. The first came from her time at Quantopian, a company that allows users to write algorithms to invest in the market. One of their engineers wanted to let users explore their data using another tool called Jupiter. The key question was: would it be too risky to give Jupiter access to all of their data?

Before taking the extreme action of immediately making all of their data available, the team decided to gauge the Jupiter community’s interest in Quantopian. Right away, Jupiter users raised their hands to gain access to the data. In the end, sharing this data with a third party turned out to be a successful gamble. 

The second story came from her current role at OWL Labs, a hardware company that produces a 360-degree camera for use in remote meetings. In software, you want to get your product out there early and often. That’s not true for hardware — you can’t iterate quickly. The lens within the camera was their “secret sauce,” so they couldn’t let any images of the lens show up on the Internet. And beta testers had to sign an NDA in order to test out the product. 

Which of these two situations does your own product or feature most resemble? Can you make your product or data widely available, or do you need to keep your invention under lock and key? To decide how much to share, ask yourself:

  1. What are the risks to the business
  2. How can you best learn, while also minimizing these risks?

Which led Karen to … 

3. Run a beta

In the OWL Labs example, the team needed to test the software that ran on the hardware. So, they ran a beta and closely tracked their NPS. NPS was negative in February, March, April, and May of 2017. In June, however, they made some changes to the product at NPS shifted to positive. That was their cue to launch. 

Even after their official launch, the team stayed in touch with customers, allowing them to quickly respond to any issues or challenges that arose.

So, should your product team run a beta? Ask yourself:

  • Do you have customers willing to partner with you?
  • Is it possible to iterate on your product quickly?
  • Does your business have the time?

4. Measure everything

Should you collect data? The answer, of course, is a resounding yes. The “how” of data collection is the trickier part, and requires that you consider the following:

  • Can you leverage existing tools like Google Analytics or Pendo? 
  • Can you store your data in a database?
  • What skills does your team have to access and analyze that data once it’s stored?

Your team will also need to decide which metrics will inform the decision to launch your feature, and what threshold is for doing so.

5. Have some faith

This was Karen’s last suggestion for knowing when to launch your product. Sometimes, you just have to take a leap of faith and put your product out there. That means you need to:

  • Leverage your team
  • Believe in yourself, your work, and your skills
  • Trust your ability to fix any problems that may come up after launch

Best of luck in launching your products, and remember that while you’ll never be fully ready, you can at least be prepared.

About the Author

Kristen is the managing editor of ProductCraft. Previously, she was a writer at Devada (formerly DZone). She has a passion for fashion and even ran her own fashion-tech startup for a while. A Syracuse native, Kristen now lives in Raleigh and is really enjoying the weather.