In my 14 years of developing and launching products, I have launched early, late and at “just the right time”. Truth is there is no “right time” if you have been working with customers and getting feedback. At that point the launch event tends to be largely a PR & AR (Press, Analysts & Bloggers) communication and outreach effort to create awareness, feel good about the traffic over the next few hours and get back to work.
Thanks to accelerators and the 3-4 month programs, almost every startup “launches” during demo day. To investors at least.
Since they want to launch “to investors” with some good momentum and traction, most startups are doing a soft launch or private beta a few weeks / months before and getting users and customers and some form of usage so they can show that traction to the investors.
I got a question about when to launch yesterday from an entrepreneur in Seattle. He’s been working on a consumer travel app and they have about 200+ active users that have been using the solution for the last 3 months. The beta criteria they kept for themselves (besides removing all the bugs) was active usage once a week by at least 10% of their registered users.
I ended up having a conversation of the pros and cons of launching early versus late. While I am fan of the “launch early and often” approach, I am also very aware of the problems of launching early, especially in a mature market such as the US. It tips of potential competitors who have a chance to be an better fast follower, that executes better given the lessons they can learn from the first mover.
Launch late and you will invariably get lots of people comparing you to the first mover and asking for features (right or wrong) that are already available with the competitor, making your ever so slight difference in the product strategy seem like an afterthought.