Launching scares the shit out of me. No matter what it is. The sheer thought of hitting the publish button freaks me out every single time.
Some people celebrate launches like a Gatsby themed New Year’s event. Like there was no tomorrow. Like passing the event horizon, blinded by a light so strong, that it keeps them from seeing what’s yet to come.
But what happens after the launch?
Let’s travel back in time. I’ll promise we’ll get back here in just a moment.
A few months ago I launched Mindful. Mindful is an extension for Google Chrome that aims at making users more mindful about their thoughts, ideas, and ongoing tasks by showing their notes in every new tab.
I made a video to better explain what it does.
Mindful is powered by a text editor engine that has been in the works for almost 10 years. I started working on text-editor experiences in my early twenties and always believed that the web could only evolve, if the tools with which it was shaped, would evolve as well.
But I never launched the editor. My friend always used to say: the editor itself is not the product.
I knew he was right.
All of that changed when Mindful was born. I finally launched something using the technology I painstakingly built over so many years.
The launch couldn’t have gone any smoother. It was featured on ProductHunt, HackerNews and the overall feedback was incredibly positive.
I felt like I had finally passed the event horizon. And it sure as hell made me blind.
But luckily, naïve me didn’t know that yet back then.
The days after the launch
One week after launch, the extension had amassed around 3.500 daily active users. On Friday morning, the day before Christmas, I decided to roll out a small update that would fix some minor bugs people had reported. I was committed to regularly updating the plugin.
I hit publish, and went for breakfast.
I was looking forward to hanging out with my friends and ease into a Christmas time.
While sitting together, enjoying delicious coffee and food, my phone started vibrating incessantly. Wiping my mouth, I looked at my phone only to have panic set in:
Fuck. Fuck. Fucking fuck.
My worst fear of a releasing my own product was about to become reality. In fact, it was already reality. I panicked.
I went home and immediately started rolling out a new update that would fix this. The U.S. is still sleeping, I have a solid three hours, I got this, I thought.
The update seemed to work, but by this point, most of the damage had already been done. Throughout the day, tons of new emails, tweets, messages, and passive aggressive comments on Facebook started coming in.
I answered every single message. No matter who, what, or where it was. I made it my mission to track down everyone who had lost his/her notes and help recover them.
Instead of having breakfast with my friends, I rushed home and started fixing stuff. Instead of enjoying a nice Christmas evening with my family, I went back to my room right after dinner and kept answering emails and tweets until 4 AM.
This would go on for another three days. I remember being on a Skype call with a guy from New York who was scared to death because he had lost all his notes for an important upcoming meeting.
It was painful. But I knew it was my responsibility. After all my product had let people down. I had let people down
This experience taught me a lot about the ethics of shipping and releasing products.
When people look at Mindful on Chrome Web Store, they see a bunch of positive comments and a fairly good 4.7 rating. But they don’t see the work it took to get there.
If you’re a designer, a product manager or any person working on a product, it’s your job to take responsibility for the things you put into this world. Sometimes not launching is a virtue just as honorable, just as important, as the launch itself. Perhaps even more.
The best products are created by people who care about their users. Not just on a superficial level by defining shallow personas to seem more empathic “As a user I want to…” — but by genuinely caring for them.
And that often means making sacrifices.
A product is never finished. Launching is only one piece of a bigger puzzle, a bigger story. Don’t look at the launch as the goal. Look at it as a milestone.