Mishandling a startup launch is a common occurrence for novice founders. The most common mistake is to give disproportionate importance to the launch event and invest too much time, capital and effort to do it “just right”.
This is not surprising, given the glamor that corporate media and various advertising campaigns attach to launch events. Moreover, we have a strong tendency to polish everything we present publicly to the best of our ability. After all, it is our own reputation that is at stake (or so it feels).
Still, launching a new early-stage startup project is fundamentally different from the stereotypical launch most people have in mind.
The crucial realization that helps a founder get the right perspective is that a great launch event is not a growth engine, but rather a growth enhancer. In other words, if your offering fits the product market, a good launch would accelerate your growth. However, if it doesn’t fit the product market, a great launch event wouldn’t make much of a difference in the long run, no matter how much resources you invest in it and how much publicity you get from it.
The problem is, before you start, you don’t know if you have a product-market fit in the first place. So the reality is that you will probably have to launch several times until you finally feel a pull from the market. Obviously, investing heavily in every launch would quickly run out of resources, which would be deadly if it happens before your product-market finds fit.
“If you’re not ashamed of the first version of your product, you launched too late” – Reid Hoffman, Linkedin founder
In a sense, for a start up at an early stage, a launch event is more of a test of an offer’s viability than a promotional tool. The goal is to present your idea to potential customers to see if they find it useful and to use the feedback to improve your offer.
So, keeping this in mind, here are a few good best practices on the subject of early-stage startup launches:
- Do presales if possible – this way you could collect actionable feedback even before you start.
- Don’t think you have to launch a complete, polished product. If you have to choose between launching quickly and launching something polished, always choose the first option. The sooner you start, the faster you would improve the quality of your offering based on the feedback you receive. You need to get your minimum viable product there.
- Don’t be afraid of negative feedback. Feedback is what you’re looking for – find it and use it to improve.
- Use soft launches – this reduces the feeling that a launch event is the end of a product’s life and the (social) pressure that comes with it. Launch, attract customers, get feedback, repeat, relaunch with new features, repeat.
- Use closed alpha and beta versions. This creates the shared realization that you are not presenting a finished product to the world, but a work in progress. This, in turn, would encourage feedback, which is a great benefit. Plus, you can create a sense of exclusivity that your early adopters would appreciate. This would increase the chances of them becoming brand advocates later on.
- Last but not least – a closed alpha or beta would give you the opportunity to hold a second official launch event once you are sure you have a product-market fit. This would increase your chances of making good use of all the publicity you can amass.