Around this time of year, almost all startup founders who pitch to me or ask for advice will start saying, “… [hoping/planning/must be ready to] launch by the end of the year.
Here’s the thing: “end of the year” is an artifact of the calendar system we use in the West, unchanged since the 16th century.
Pope Gregory XIII began to worry that Easter was drifting away from the vernal equinox with which it was supposed to coincide, and was largely unchanged since an earlier calendar invented by the Romans, who decreed that a year would end on the last day of December (which our December).
The ancient Roman calendar and the spring equinox should really have nothing to do with the startup industry, and there are several key reasons why the end of the year is a bad time to bring your new or revised product live.
- Many of your team will likely be on vacation, making it difficult for staff to handle unexpected issues, marketing activities, and responding to customer service inquiries.
- Even when they’re not on vacation, they’ll be pressured by family and friends to cut hours at the beginning and end of their workday or try their hand at work from their smartphone.
- Many of your suppliers will similarly be under-resourced and unfocused.
- If you are backed by a company, your investors will not be available to help you increase the impact of your launch activity because summer vacation is the vacation time for investors.
- Consumer and corporate customer behavior is changing dramatically this time of year in all sorts of ways, both gross and subtle.
- Consumers are more likely to be on social media, less responsive to email marketing, and less responsive unless you offer big post-shopping discounts. Consumers try more, convert less.
- Business customers are less likely to respond to offers; decision-makers are offline, next year’s budgets are being revised without warning, and first quarter earnings are usually the least predictable, so they’re less likely to take a gamble on a new product or service.
- Less attention is paid to business and technical stories in the media because journalists are often expected to take vacations while the major stock markets are quiet or closed and things are generally calmer.
I understand the impulse to finalize and launch a product or upgrade before the end of the year. We all have to tell ourselves that we will start 2023 with renewed focus, a clean, sleek canvas, and a new superpower delivered by the amazing product we’re nearing completion. I get it.
But pushing your team, suppliers and investors to be ready by the end of the year does bad things. It creates a startup culture where it’s OK to push and make sacrifices for a meaningless goal. It guarantees that for most categories you will start in the most difficult time of the year to launch a new company or product.
And it means you’ve forgotten that eternal truth of startups: What looks like the top from here is just the top of the ridge, and there’s always another ridge to climb when you get to the top of this one.
The journey continues on January 1st, and you have just poured all the energy, effort and love into your team in the weeks leading up to December 31st.
Do you want to be burned out, sick of each other, lagging behind on all fronts when the rest of business comes out of hibernation in January, or would you rather be on top form to launch an even better product in February?
Let go of the meaningless December month. Romulus won’t mind.