Half Baked or Fully Baked?

This is a guest post by Mike Ferrari, founder of Des Moines-based SmartyPig

No this isn’ a post about Colorado.

Entrepreneurs often debate the question: should I get a proof-of-concept out to market quickly to gauge customer feedback or should I not put anything out until it is fully completed and in its most perfect form? Therein lies the half baked/fully baked dilemma.

So these are two schools of thought -

First figure out the business you want to start, build it and get something out there as soon as possible for people to use, then rapidly iterate based on customer feedback. This leads to the proverbial “ship it” line that so many entrepreneurs love to post on Twitter when they release a new version of their software. They’re urging their fellow peers to “just ship it!” and work through the issues later.

The other thought is to hold off on shipping until the product is fully baked, fully tested and ready for release. After you’ve taken into consideration the UI/UX and every edge case you could think of, after you’ve painstakingly gone through the user experience and made it as awesome and frictionless as possible - now it’s ready for release.

I’m fascinated by these two approaches. There have been a number of articles written about why one approach is better than the other. When I started SmartyPig in 2007, the last thing I would have ever considered was putting out a product that was half-baked. Maybe that came from my experience working at an ad agency for over 10 years. In that industry you would never dream of giving something to a client that wasn’t your absolute best work. That four-page brochure that took eight weeks to design? Amazing detail went into the branding, typefaces, point size, line length, leading, tracking and kerning. The color scheme was carefully selected. Each photo was photoshopped to ensure absolute perfection. Each illustration designed perfectly. That was the world I came from. That was what I knew. Never compromise. That is why I selected Happy Cog to design SmartyPig.com. Because I knew they would put incredible detail into the design and user experience.

So to think that one would consider just “shipping” something, knowing very well that it wasn’t their best effort, was completely foreign to me. Why would they do that? Was this a deliberate product decision or one made due to laziness, timing, resources, etc.? Clearly something was driving their decision. Something was telling them that they had to get this out to market now. They didn’t want to waste time and resources on making it look awesome and perfect or on building out features people might not like, they just wanted to get something out quick that people could react to. “Lets just get it out and see what people think.”

I simply will never understand having your customer’s first impression be a proof of concept. I just don’t agree with that mentality. Sure it’s a huge risk to fully bake a product before its release, but in my opinion it's far less risk than releasing something that looks like you never took the time and effort to care in the first place. Consumers expect a lot more from the brands they interact with. Our attention spans are less. We have far more choices than ever before and for just about anything we want. Be it a pair of shoes, a loan, a banking relationship, a mobile payment, hailing a taxi, getting a hotel room, etc. Chances are that whatever you are building has a competitor. And that competitor is doing everything they can to build an amazing product. You simply can’t afford not to be awesome in every way. The virality of disappointed customers on social media will destroy you.


Mike Ferrari is the founder of Social Money, the parent company of SmartyPig, who recently launched their newest product, CorePro, a core processing API platform for any company to issue and manage FDIC-insured savings accounts.

Photo Credit: Header image via Mark Zuckerburg on Facebook