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Startup Secret 42: No time like the present. I mean, future. No, past.

It's easy to tell if you're late to market, and very hard to tell if you're too early. But it's still better to be early.

"We were too early."

-- numerous founders

It's a common self-criticism of the founders of flopped startups that they launched a product into a market that wasn't ready for their brilliance. Few regret it, though.

As Ole Lutjens of MX (Reporters' Roundtable: The Second Screen) says of his previous and mostly fizzled venture, Beta Lounge, "Maybe I should have waited. But the upside was experience, and defending the idea, and making connections to people who otherwise wouldn't be interested in talking." He says that people remember enthusiasm and conviction, which, if you've taken away anything from this series, you know is more important than the raw idea.

Or as Lee Linden from Karma (You'll be using this soon) advises, "Just do something simple that makes some sense and gives you other opportunities. People sit in jobs waiting for the magic idea. In reality the thing that gets you started is passion for a space. You don't have to have the one magical idea."

Nobody really likes seeing their product fail because they couldn't find a user base, and then seeing some punk come along later and make a killing with the same idea. It smarts. But as Tennyson wrote, 'Tis better to have love and lost...

Because launching too late is worse. Yes, you will have let the other guys "take the arrows," but if they've managed to stay upright, they'll be well ahead of you--ahead in building a network of interconnected users, winning distribution partners, closing corporate accounts, etc. You'll have to work ten times harder to achieve market share and position. (One example that comes to mind: CX. See Good sync product, doomed market.)

Timing the market for any idea is incredibly hard, and luck plays a large part. So the smart thing to do may be just to launch early and risk the flop. This idea is to live to launch again.

Startup Secrets is based on personal interviews with people building companies and from their blog posts and news stories. Subscribe to Startup Secrets on Twitter or come back to Rafe's Radar every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a new one. See all the Startup Secrets.