When I think "stealth mode", I think of ninjas. Ninjas are cool. I also think of black jets with angular panels that make the planes look like pigeons to radar. That's cool too. But "stealth mode" for a startup isn't cool. It's annoying, painful and lonely. But sometimes it is the right thing to do... at least for a little while. Here's why we are doing it.
First, in case you haven't heard the term, a quick definition of "stealth mode". Stealth mode is when your company exists but you don't say what it does. You are doing work but you don't tell anybody what it is. Basically, you treat all your work like it is top secret.
There is a lot of debate out there whether stealth mode is a good idea. Some argue that keeping your work top secret will prevent other people from stealing your ideas. Others argue that ideas don't matter, execution matters, and you don't need to be secretive about execution.
I don't know what to think about those arguments because that's not why we are still in stealth mode. We are in stealth mode because we want to have everything in order before we shout out to the world, "Open for business!" You only launch once and we'd like to do it right.
But there was another criticism of stealth mode that definitely resonated with me. Many critics argue that stealth mode causes you miss out on customer validation. That made so much sense to me, and seemed like such a bad idea, that I made sure we did something to address it directly. How? Well, we simply took on a few "early adopters" as customers before we were completely ready to launch.
"No battle plan survives contact with the enemy." I don't know who said it (Patton? Churchill?) but they are right.— Rob Mensching (@robmen) April 23, 2013
I was wrong about the source (correct answer) but the quote is so spot on--even when you replace "battle" with "business" and "enemy" with "customer". I'm very glad we found a way to bring on some early adopters. I encourage you to do the same. Reality will be different than what you imagined, even if your are off by just a little bit.
But I haven't really explained why I feel stealth mode sucks. So let me wrap up with that. Stealth mode sucks because I can't talk about what I am doing.
Acquaintances ask, "What is the company name?" and I find ways to coyly change the subject. I've gotten so good at it I was able to write an entire blog entry about naming your company without naming my company. :)
People ask, "What do you do?" and I have to contain myself. I can't bubble over with excitement. Instead, I say things like, "I'm starting a company. It's really, really cool."
Fortunately, we're very close to leaving stealth mode behind. We're putting the finishing touches on everything, trying to ensure it all works perfectly.
Forget the ninjas, I can't wait for launch!