Accelerating Early Product

with Amy Jo Kim

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When your product is ready for polish

Amy Jo Kim

Game Designer, Social Architect, Startup coach

Lessons Learned

Smart entrepreneurs love getting results, good or bad.

Early polish is the death of innovation.

Go further faster. Your customers want value, they do not care if the button is off.


Lesson: Accelerating Early Product with Amy Jo Kim

Step #3 Polish: When your product is ready for polish

The way that minimum viable product gets you to product market fit is not by showing people a polished product. It's by understanding customer need, and then finding that what your product is starting to promise deeply meets a need that's actually there. If you can find that with a small passionate early market, you're on your way to product market fit. At that point, you have something worth polishing.

One of the things I guide my clients to do is to actually do that kind of testing very early. Sometimes you find out that the Emperor has no clothes, and you find that the people you knew you were targeting, do not want the thing that you wanted to build. That can be a real moment of reckoning for an entrepreneur. The smart entrepreneurs, the ones who have gone on ahead massive hits, route right around that and say, "Awesome. It's not what I first thought. Awesome." They keep going and they dig in, and they keep pivoting and iterating, keeping their true north to find out what was the great learning.

The key thing about MVP experiments is the goal is not to get people to buy a polished product. The goal is to maximize your learning, and if you learned what people didn't want, that's super high valuable, as much as learning what people do want. If you, through methods, find the right early adopters, talk to them, and they do not want what you want to build, you just saved yourself a lot of time, money and headaches. But a lot of times when you have those conversations you'll learn about adjacent needs. They weren’t what you thought, they’re adjacent of what you thought that they actually want, and then you can go for that.

That's where I've seen everybody I’ve worked with head, and it's gone great. You keep looking for that, and you keep learning, and your product becomes more and more polished over time.

Early polished is the death of innovation. It's a single most common mistake I see entrepreneurs make, and I think when they take VC money too early, they're very incentivized to do polish. I think when they’ve worked at places like Google and Facebook, where their project gets approved if they have something polished, they’ve learned how to do early polish and it's not serving them well, and they're trying to do innovative new products.

One of the things that I learned as a game designer was that there's a time for testing and a time for polishing. There's two times game designers do polish. One is at the end when they know what they built, they tune their systems. Part of polish is actually tuning your systems, but then the visual parts comes in later because they know what they’ve built and now it's time to polish. Sometimes polish gets cut. That's very painful as a game designer, and certainly as product designer.

There's another time game designers polish. When the execs are coming to see a demo and they have to have something slick, they’ll do some polish there, very strategic and they just suck it up, they have to do it. What I learned from game designers is how to do iteration fast without polishing because you're focused on understanding your systems, and tuning your systems, not on polishing. So, yes, that's the way I learn to do it.

I also saw people that weren’t game designers do that, much to their credit. It was very early at eBay. I worked with eBay starting when they had 35 employees. Stayed with them until they had 300, and saw that whole growth curve. It was not polished at first, it very raggedy, I was like, “What?"

I was a budding young designer. I thought I was hot stuff. I prided myself on visual polish, and I learned fast. That was the wrong focus. We were worried about something but it was much more important to tune in and introduce feedback systems, and a lot of what I was doing was tuning the reputation system because it had these big problems and then launching the About Me pages, and then launching the Power Seller program. That was much more important than polish.

So many entrepreneurs I've worked with, although now I tend to screen those people out, to be honest, I've gotten very good at screening them out. So many entrepreneurs that at times I've worked with, pride themselves on having good taste. They think they're Steve Jobs, or Dave Morin or you know. Those are awesome people who've done great, innovative work, but they pride themselves on that, and they insist that nothing be shown to any possible customer without it being polished.

They say, “Oh yeah, we want to do it your way, but I don't know, I don't like that interface. This should go here and I think the colors are wrong,” and they start getting into it, and it slows them down. It does not serve you well. I think it's a mistaken focus on polish and when it's right to do polish.

Again, it's the question you asked. Smart people make this mistake. These are very smart people. I'm a game designer, and I tend to see incentive systems everywhere, as everybody does with what they do. I think the incentive systems that they've operated under until that point explained why they're trying to polish too early. Part of what I do is try and unhook them from that and say things are different, and this will really help you go further faster and learn what you’ll need to learn. These customers don't care. They want the value. They don't care that the button’s a little off.

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