Around this time of year, almost all of the startup founders who pitch me or ask for my help will start saying, “…and we’re [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 started worrying that Easter was drifting away from the Spring Equinox it was meant to coincide with, and largely unchanged since an earlier calendar invented by the Romans, who decided that a year should end on the last day of Decem (which became our December). It also has nothing to do with the startup industry.

There are several big reasons why the end of the year makes a lousy goal for shipping a product.

 

  • Many of your team will probably be on vacation, making it hard to staff to cover for unexpected problems, marketing activity and responding to customer service enquiries. Even if they’re not on vacation, they’ll be under pressure from family and friends to shave hours off the beginning and end of their work day or to try and do their job from their smartphone.
  • Many of your suppliers will similarly be under-resourced and unfocused.
  • If you’re venture backed, your investors won’t be available to help you increase the impact of your launch activity.
  • Consumer and business customer behaviour changes dramatically at this time of year in all sorts of ways, both gross and subtle. Consumers are more likely to be on social media, less likely to respond to email marketing, and less likely to respond at all unless you’re offering large post-shopping season discounts. Consumers trial more, convert less.
  • Business customers are less likely to respond to any kind of offer; decision-makers are offline, next year’s budgets are subject to review without warning and the first quarter’s revenues are usually the least predictable, so they’re less likely to take a chance with a new product or service.
  • Less exposure is given to business and tech stories in the media, as the journalists themselves are often expected to take vacation time while the major stock markets are quiet or closed and business in general is quieter.
  • I understand the impulse to finish this before the end of the year. We all need to tell ourselves we’ll be starting 2016 with renewed focus, a clean lean canvas and a new superpower delivered by the amazing product we’ve nearly finished. I get that.

But instinctively pushing your team, suppliers and investors to be finished by year’s end does bad things. It creates a startup culture where it’s OK to push and make sacrifices for a meaningless goal. It guarantees that you’ll launch at the most difficult time of year for most categories to launch a new business or product.

And it means you’ve forgotten that eternal truth of startups: what looks like the summit from here is just the top of the ridge, and there’s always another ridge to climb when you reach the top of this one.

On January 1st the journey continues, and you’ve just expended all the energy, commitment and love in your team to make it to December 31st. Do you want to be burned-out, sick of each other with a backlog in all areas when the rest of the business world comes out of hibernation in January, or would you rather be in great shape to launch an even better product at the end of that month?

Let go of the meaningless month of Decem. Romulus won’t mind.