"The saddest 'Just Ship It' story ever" made the rounds on Hacker News today. Briefly: the author builds an app for four years, never quite releases it, and eventually finds a money-making competitor of much lower quality.
First, thanks to the author for writing about this. It takes a lot of courage to share your feelings so openly with the world.
There are all kinds of lessons in stories like these, but I like the core one, which I might pithily put like this: if you're not embarrassed by your project, you've released it too late.
That version of the idea traces back to Paul Graham, though in a less condensed form:
Many great projects go through a stage early on where they don't seem very impressive, even to their creators. You have to push through this stage to reach the great work that lies beyond. But many people don't. Most people don't even reach the stage of making something they're embarrassed by, let alone continue past it. They're too frightened even to start.
And likewise David Foster Wallace on the love-hate relationship with creation:
The best metaphor I know of for being a fiction writer is in Don DeLillo's "Mao II," where he describes a book-in-progress as a kind of hideously damaged infant that follows the writer around, forever crawling after the writer [...]
The damaged-infant trope is perfect because it captures the mix of repulsion and love the fiction writer feels for something he's working on. The fiction always comes out so horrifically defective, so hideous a betrayal of all your hopes for it [...] And yet it's yours, the infant is, it's you [...]
So on that note, here's a side project I'm working on. It's ugly, basic, and buggy. But I think it has the germ of something beautiful in it.