Joe Stump on Why Startups Should Treat Products as Iterations and Not End Results

In Chapter 17 of 17 in his 2011 Capture Your Flag interview, Internet entrepreneur and SimpleGeo CTO Joe Stump shares his product development philosophy. He believes product releases should be treated as iterations and not end results. He shares why this is critical in context of investor financed world where companies have limited financial resources. For fully funded startups, this typically means the company has 12-24 months runway before it runs out of money. Given this constraint, Stump urges startups to release early, gather feedback, fix product, add features, and position for follow up financing. Stump is the co-founder and CTO at SimpleGeo (, a San Francisco-based mobile location infrastructure services company. Previously Stump was Lead Architect at Digg. He programs in PHP, Python, Django and enjoys scaling websites. He earned a BBA in Computer Information Systems from Eastern Michigan University.


Erik Michielsen:  Why should a product be treated as an iteration and not an end result?

Joe Stump: You know we call The Constitution a living document, I believe that products are a living, breathing thing that need to continually grow.  So, the first product that you release should kind of be like a sapling.  It’s going to grow over time and it’s your job to water it and make it better over time.  I think launching products is really difficult as well and if you try to wait till the tree is fully grown, there’s a couple of problems that can happen.  

One, as a startup you generally have – if you’re fully funded, you generally have between twelve and twenty-four months in the bank, and if you spent - let’s say you had eighteen months of runway and you spent twelve months working on your big “ta da” project and you launched it and people were like, “You know what? The core feature and problem that you’re solving is a problem for me and I kind of like it, but the problem is that you’ve layered all of these other features on top of it that are crap and I can’t use them and it dilutes the whole product experience for me.”  

If you hit that at twelve months and you find out in twelve months that your product needs to be basically completely redone, you’re screwed.  Because you have six months of runway left and it takes three to four months to raise cash in the beginning. So, that gives you three months to fix your product and get it back into the market and get a positive reaction after you’ve already had a failed launch.  

Whereas if you had – there is a great quote out there that is basically “Fail early and fail often.”  If you had just started with just that core feature and you felt that you had nailed it fairly well, people would have been much more on board and helping you along the way shape where your product goes. So, I think it’s really important, for startups in particular, to release early, release features once they are minimally viable and you feel like you’ve really crafted them to a way that will resonate with people, and then don’t layer on those extra features till they’re perfect.

Erik Michielsen:  Because momentum is really important.

Joe Stump:  Yeah. Yeah it’s really important.  If you look at Instagram, they came out, literally it was it Twitphoto and Hipstamatic had a baby.  This was not a groundbreaking product in any way, shape or form.  It was, however, really well done in a very minimal way, right?  And they’ve layered on a ton of features since then and now they’re doing I think one hundred and thirty thousand signups a week.  

So, the people who are the movers and shakers in our industry latched on to Instagram early, continued to use it because it was a great feature essentially that they had been missing and are now totally hooked on it as it’s become a full fledged product with a full fledged community.  Would have things been the same if Instagram had launched a very fully baked, major product? I don’t know because the feature that people where using and liked and immediately flocked to with the original Instagram would have been buried in all of the other things that are now in Instagram.  So, would have it caught on as well?  Who knows?  It certainly wouldn’t have the community that it does now.  So, I think it’s super important.