'Beta' Gets Products to Market Faster - TheStreet



) -- Some companies spend a lot of money on research, prototypes and market testing, and then embark on a lengthy, expensive cycle to build the perfect product. However, by the time it reaches the market, variables such as technology, tastes, trends and competitors may have eroded the dream.

Companies that can get to market fast with a focused product or service, and then show the same kind of nimbleness when it comes to iterating it, often prove to be winners in their space. I'm not big on "ready, fire, aim," mind you. But I do believe there are advantages for some companies to quickly begin selling products with minimal features, and then exploit near-term opportunities to improve.

The trade-off for the lack of perfection can be a powerful combination of lower costs and higher-quality feedback.

This is a concept that many business people find difficult to swallow, but I'm not alone in advocating it. Behance Chief Executive Officer Scott Belsky has done a lot of research on the topic, and he says some companies can learn from a common practice among today's technology firms. Specifically, they are known to forgo extended development cycles and release products in "beta," meaning bugs and all.

That's not always been the case in high-tech.


(IBM) - Get Report

, back when it was a dominant player in the PC market, put its home-grown operating system, OS/2, through an extensive (and expensive) product-development process. It resulted in what many industry watchers said was a technically superior product to the state-of-the-art Windows software, yet Big Blue found it was late to a party already dominated by


(MSFT) - Get Report


Fast forward to today, and Belsky points to


(GOOG) - Get Report

as a successful company that routinely launches products that are still in beta, such as the ubiquitous Gmail and its "Labs" icon. It's a great way for an Internet company to get priceless feedback that can facilitate spot-on enhancements. In Google's case, the improvements made during beta range from nits to the significant.

He also says development teams tend to think differently -- more expedient and focused -- once the first version of a product is out the door. Basically, it's no longer a hypothetical environment, and what teams do is now affecting live customers.

I've seen this time and again in my own experience. It's not for everyone, but it can and does work.

Mitch Free, founder and CEO of MFG.com, a global sourcing marketplace for manufacturers, is an expert in topics of global manufacturing, trade, globalization, outsourcing, turning an entrepreneurial venture into a global business, angel investing and more. Mitch is an avid speaker at technology forums and conferences, including presentations to the Kellogg School of Business at Northwestern University, Harvard Business School, Wharton and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. He has appeared on CNBC, in Forbes, Fortune Small Business, Business 2.0 and more. INC Magazine named him an "Entrepreneur of the Year" finalist in 2005, and he was an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of Year regional winner in 2008. Free co-founded Shotput Ventures and is an active angel investor in disruptive Internet-based technologies. Prior to founding MFG.com, Free was the founder and CEO of 3DATUM, a provider of technology solutions for the manufacturing and engineering communities. He also held a variety of senior management positions at Northwest Airlines, where he managed aircraft engineering, technical procurement and aircraft acquisition projects.