You don't know what your customers want
While you might think you know what your customers want, you have absolutely no knowledge of how much value your users attribute to new features or products. All startups are constantly trying to discover the next product & set of features/functionality/performance improvement which will fuel their growth. This is distinct from optimizing an existing product for your mainstream customers when their desires are absolutely clear. Apple knows its users want higher battery life, and Amazon knows their users want products at a better price, faster (*). On the other hand, Google does not know what its users want from Google Glass, Facebook doesn't know how much its users engage with in-feed video ads (**).
You can't justify product investment based on projections of value delivered
Absent of a quantifiable basis for value of new features, you don't know how much spend can be justified for development of these new features. This leads to significant risk of wasting precious capital on features that don't deliver value to the users & business - capital that should be used with significant prudence. Note that I say prudence, not sparingly. Sometimes this is misconstrued & product teams end up solving the easy problem that don't require high investment. At Sefaira, when we were were doing early usability tests of real time analysis plugin, we didn't connect the plugin with our cloud based engines. However, we learnt quickly that this could undercut the viability of our product. At this time, we invested time & money in connecting the new plugin with our cloud based engines. Note that the product still lacked polish, which brings me to the last point.
You can't polish your way to success
While polish can amplify engagement of a useful product, polish doesn't convert a useless product into an engaging one. Products without polish are promising at worst, and highly engaging at best. Google Glass is promising, whereas Facebook's early version showed very high engagement. If you compare Mailbox with Boomerang, you see a clear case where polish clearly creates a highly engaging experience with Mailbox whereas poor design with Boomerang keeps its squarely in the "promising" bracket compared to Mailbox.
Release for learning
Gated releases allow you to learn based on early user experience, and enable meaningful iteration on the product itself. This iteration is based on feedback from a prior batch of users, and unlocks budget for the next gate. Metrics that need to improve are identified & measured. It is important to identify the size of each batch of users such that you can learn meaningfully from it, and ensure that your product team is capable of gathering feedback without getting overwhelmed.
Releases become forgiving
All product teams should take quality assurance seriously. However, there is such a thing as too much testing which can be quantified when you are testing aspects of the product that you are not looking to measure. These aspects are discoverable by you & your users, but simply don't matter for what you are trying to learn. If you roll out such a product through a "gate", you will quickly discover these aspects of your product & you will learn how much it held back user experience. Through the next iteration, you can fix these issues before opening the next "gate". Further, frequent releases allow you to fix mistakes quickly as you can quickly identify source of those mistakes due to the "small delta" nature of gated releases.
Releases unlock budget for next iteration
For all startup product teams, product development should be a series of carefully placed bets. You need to understand what bets to place by sampling your user base as often as possible. Gated releases allow for rapid & meaningful sampling of your user base
Releases eliminate intrigue & win support
A product team that doesn't ship, as well meaning as their reasons might be, can lose stakeholder & customer patience. If you are building it, ship it because shipping delivers value. However, a poor product can kill you. To avoid that fate, roll it out through "gates" of validation
- Infrastructure that enables gated releases
- Development practice that buys into moving fast with focus on value
- Communication to the business that ensures everyone is informed & gathering feedback