The Difference Between Stealth Mode and Quiet Mode

A lot of companies still talk about being in stealth mode and aiming for a big hoorah type launch. It doesn’t usually work. Worse still, startups that are in stealth mode rarely talk to customers, prospects, users, partners or anyone else before their big reveal, which means they have little to no validation for what they’re doing. They haven’t given themselves the opportunity to learn anything while they’ve spent months building their “revolutionary” product.

Stealth mode stinks.

You need to find a way of getting to customers, talking to the right people, and validating (or more likely invalidating) what you’re doing. If you go into a dark cave, spend months building something, and then launch, there’s a very good chance no one will care. And that’s incredibly painful.

Quiet mode is different.

I’m working with a couple startups right now that are in quiet mode. They’re actively talking to customers–daily in fact–and collecting tons of feedback. They’re iterating quickly and learning … all in plain sight. But no one, except for their users, cares. No one, except for their users, notices. And that’s perfectly fine. That’s the right way to “launch” without being in stealth mode.

You don’t need to get on a rooftop and shout your name out loud. You don’t need press. You don’t need community buzz. Unfortunately this is what so many early stage companies go after, and worse they use the buzz as validation that they’re onto something and prematurely attempt to scale without any supportive data or proof that they should. Or they go in the complete opposite direction into stealth mode and speak to absolutely no one, including customers and users, which is a recipe for painful, gut-wrenching failure.

I like quiet mode. Go directly to your customers, as often as you possibly can. Build tight, fast feedback cycles. Learn, learn and learn some more. Adjust your plans and get the traction and proof you need before “launching” officially to the rest of the world. By the time the rest of the world takes notice (and you want them to) you’re cruising. That’s quiet mode. Strategic, lean and focused.

One caveat to this is for recruiting. I’ve argued before that you need to make a lot of noise and build a recruiting magnet if you want to attract people. The press and community buzz can help with this, but very early on, it’s probably not worth the effort. Network, build relationships, and speak with people about what you’re doing in one-on-one sessions. But stay focused. Don’t get into the hype machine for the sake of recruiting and then get caught up in it for everything else. Quiet mode means being strategic about how you recruit. In stealth mode, when you choose not to speak to anyone whatsoever, you have no chance (unless you’re already extremely well connected.)

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  • jonathan hegranes

    Love the distinction here… far better to be talking to customers and getting feedback than protecting some *precious* idea.

    And good to see you back with a great post… What have you been up to?

  • Josh Liu

    Ben, great article. You have great experience in enterprise space. In terms of getting into “quiet mode”, how to find visionary buyers so you have people working with you in the “quiet mode”?
    We are thinking of creating some buzz is essential for visionary buyers to “notice” us. Since visionary buyers are rare animals, inbound approach is better than outbound. What is your comment on this? Thanks

  • Benjamin Yoskovitz

    Strange, I thought I replied to this already … I’ve been busy writing Lean Analytics (book), which should be out in March/April 2013. Check it out here:

    It’s consuming most of my writing time / energy, but hopefully will result in lots of great blog content over the next year or so.

  • Benjamin Yoskovitz

    I’m not sure inbound is better for visionary buyers than outbound — if you know who you’re targeting (company, person in the company, etc.) you can do outreach without making a ton of noise (i.e. staying in Quiet Mode.)

    Having said that, there’s no reason you can’t do inbound in Quiet Mode too. If a visionary buyer is out there looking for a solution to a problem they have, and you offer that solution, you should have a site/landing page up to garner their attention. That’s still being done quietly–you’re not attempting to garner *everyone’s* attention, just a very specific audience of people.

  • jonathan hegranes

    Cool… Will keep my eye out for that book!

  • Anuj Agarwal

    perfection is the enemy of revenue and stealth mode is the enemy of product/market fit in startups

  • anshit

    i love stealth mode . . !!

  • jonathanjaeger

    Agreed. The stealth mode idea can be bad, but even worse is when up-and-coming entrepreneurs won’t even pitch you their whole vision because they’re scared you’re going to steal it. In reality, it’s hard enough getting a lot of people to try your product, work with you, or invest in you, let alone finding someone who will drop what they’re doing to go build what you’re doing better than you (and execute better than you).

  • Jillyan Scott

    Ben great insights. Although there are still some companies who prefer stealth mode, I would have to agree that sometimes you get so deep in the “cave” of keeping it stealth that when its finally time to make some noise everybody else just does not hear.

  • Zebedee

    experience working with numerous start-ups over the last 5 plus years reinforced a long held view that customers must be at the heart of any business idea from day one and to do this you must be talking with them from day one. Don’t be afraid to share. The energy shift in business worldwide shows that the culture of collaboration is here to stay and will grow in importance as more business leaders realise it is aligned to the conscious shift that the world has a whole is undergoing.