I've heard the same question from a couple of different Internet entrepreneurs recently. Traditional wisdom would say that you should not launch until you are absolutely prepared to make a big splash. After all, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Get your brand right, get your system right - and, only then, after you've tightened all the screws and double-checked all of your lists, should you launch your new site.
I believe traditional wisdom is wrong.
I think you are better served creating a Web site, a blog, a forum, whatever - to engage your community ASAP when starting your business. Obviously, you have to have a clue of what you are putting up there... but just. The clue is all you need. The market will provide the rest while you continue to build your business plan and operations behind the scenes.
There are a few key differences between Internet Startups and traditional, geographically based businesses. Take a look and see if you agree:
1) Launching a Web site is not marketing. In other words, you are not making large investments that might end up being wasted if your message is off or your offering misses the mark.
2) Cheap Social Media-based Viral Marketing provides a self-regulating "deadbeat" monitor. First of all, the price is right for talking up your site in other blogs and social media. You only need to spend time in these communities, your community. Its totally free. And you are staying plugged into your market signals the whole time you are working the social media sites.
Secondly, if the virus doesn't spread, then you only have a dead virus. Dead viruses don't make headlines or tick off customers. The market will only become infected when you hit a nerve. So the risk is minimal
3) Barrier to entry - and re-entry - is low. Its easy to get up and running. Its easy for someone to visit your site.
What if they hate your site? Have you burned them forever?
I would argue "no way!" How many times have I had the exchange, "did you go to XYZ-Cool-Website.com" - and responded "Uh... I think so... a while ago. I didn't get it (or the site was dead... or the graphics sucked... or whatever)"
And I hear, "check it out now"
What is my barrier to re-entry?
My barrier is exactly the time it takes to type:
If I like what I see, I'm sold. No grudges. No remorse for previous bad graphics, stupid remarks in the blog or senseless product ideas.
So don't wait. Get out there. Have a "leave a comment" section. Or set up a blog and turn comments on. Or create an interactive widget to conduct a survey, collect feedback or assess your audience.
Better to start the conversation poorly than not at all. The Web only remembers what you said recently ... especially if they didn't hear you the first time you spoke out.