I’m going to come right out with it. We used the “L” word that we said we would never use. The word that rhymes with “haunch”. La*!%h. Shit, I said it again.
2 months ago we went dark. No more updates to our app, TransparentMBA. We wanted to refactor the app with a brand new design, a few new features, and a brand spankin’ new name — TransparentCareer. We had a la*!%h date set on our calendars and a la*!%h party organized.
As a company we tend to follow the “do what feels right and works for us” mentality. So from a product and development standpoint, over those two months, we went against our normal cadence of “sprints” and instead chose to take our time with this re-la*!%h. Jason Fried said it best when explaining how Basecamp sets up their work:
“These are not sprints. I despise the word sprints. Sprints and work don’t go together. This isn’t about running all out as fast as you can, it’s about working calmly, at a nice pace, and making smart calls along the way. No brute force here, no catching our collective breath at the end.”
The associations we have with words are so subtle yet they can have an immense subliminal impact. Calling something a “sprint” immediately makes it feel like you have to go as fast as you can and get your shit done. When we think of the word “sprint” we think of Usain Bolt. And he’s fast. But what if instead we just called it a “time period”? Sure it’s not as “sexy-startup” sounding, but it no longer makes it feel like you need to work as fast as you can. The difference between “2 week sprint” and “2 week time period” is subtle but it can have a huge impact on your subconscious. I wish we had come to this realization sooner. You’ll see what I mean.
We knew this was not going to be a “sprint”. After the big re-la*!%h there would be thousands of iterations, refactoring, new features, etc so we set a very realistic goal and only planned to have the absolute must have changes. Everything was set up for success and we felt great about our decision. No need for stress, plenty of time for sleep, and if push came to shove, we would air on the side of simplicity and push new feature ideas for after the la*!%h.
Everything is going according to plan. I’m averaging 8.5 hours of sleep per night. Nobody is stressed.
Everything is still going according to plan. I’m still averaging 8.5 hours of sleep per night. We started a count down on our white board. We are all feeling great about this.
Still on plan and still averaging 8.5 hours of sleep per night. It’s Friday and our plan is to la*!%h on Monday. We’ve had our new app running separately for a couple weeks now with some early beta users giving us feedback and helping us work out any kinks. We’re all feeling great! The plan is for the 4 of us to come to the office on Sunday, order lunch, do some last minute checks, copy our data from our old app to the new app, and then send all traffic to the new app. AKA press the la*!%h button.
Sunday 1pm. We meet at the office. Everyone is well rested and ready for some last minute checks before we la*!%h. We find a few small tweaks we’d like to make. No big deal. Oh, also there are a few other things we might as well change before we la*!%h. And, since it is the big re-la*!%h, we also should go ahead and make these other changes before people come to the new site. We don’t want anyone who sees our new app tomorrow to leave without thinking it was the best thing they’d ever seen.
Monday 2:30am. 12.5 hours later we all leave the office, delirious, tired and stressed out. We had officially pushed the la*!%h button but it didn’t feel as good as we were expecting. I got 4 hours of sleep that night. When we all came back into work a few hours later, as a team we collectively said, “we’re never doing that again”.
What the hell happened? Everything was going according to plan until literally the last day. Was it because we waited for 2 months before showing the world our new site? No. It was NOT because we changed up our release cadence. That was actually the best decision we made. This all came down to a subtlety that affected our subconscious minds. We used the L word (cover your eyes here if you don’t want to be offended) — LAUNCH.
Remember the “sprint” example above? Let’s do a quick exercise again. Close your eyes and say the word “la*!%h” out loud. What is the first image that comes to mind? Was it something like this:
A la*!%h is a big event and especially because we associate it with spaceships. And what does a la*!%h like that require? Perfection. Tom Brady level perfection. If everything is not perfect, something is going to blow up, someone might die, and years of work will be wasted. There is no time to correct after a la*!%h, so everything has to be perfect.
That makes sense for spaceships and maybe a handful of other things. If there is a mistake in your software or product that might cause something to blow up or someone to die, then perfection is paramount and this blog post is not for you (sorry for making you read so far). If you are in the other 99% of products where that doesn’t apply to you, then it does not have to be perfect. If nothing is going to blow up and nobody is going to die, then an imperfection in your product is just that. An imperfection. It can be fixed. Or maybe it doesn’t need to be fixed because not everything needs to be perfect.
Although we did everything we could to tell ourselves that this la*!%h is just one of thousands of iterations and releases, using the word la*!%h had a huge subliminal impact and caused us to do some silly things the day before. All of our discipline was thrown out of the window.
We expected perfection across other areas of our business after our la*!%h as well. Our marketing efforts were going to be perfect starting day 1 even though we changed almost everything about them. When we noticed imperfections, stress levels shot up and we scrambled to get things fixed as fast as possible. The next three days I averaged 6 hours of sleep.
Even though our new app is 100x better than the old app, there are still plenty of imperfections. That doesn’t mean we failed. That’s called reality. Nothing is perfect. There are plenty of people who saw our imperfections — or didn’t, depending on imperfections in our digital marketing efforts. But that’s OKAY. Nothing blew up. Nobody died. Sure, the people who saw our imperfections might never come back to use our product. But did they leave because of an imperfection or did they leave because our product wasn’t actually valuable to them? We’ll never actually know, but my money is on the latter. If a product solves an actual, real, problem for someone, that person will deal with imperfections.
So from here on out, we are never using the word la*!%h again. When we build out our Employer App, there will be no la*!%h date or la*!%h party.
La*!%hing is what spaceships do. And we are not building a spaceship.
Hi, my name is Neel Bhat. I'm the Lead Developer at TransparentCareer, a Chicago based startup building a better career data and career management platform. When I'm not spending time with my fiancé or perfecting my bread baking skills, I write about the realities of startups.