Mishandling a startup launch is a common occurrence for first-time founders. The prevalent mistake is attaching out-of-proportion importance to the launch event and over-investing time, capital, and effort to do it “just right”.
This is not surprising, considering the glamor that business media and various advertising campaigns attach to launch events. Moreover, we are deeply inclined to try to polish as much as possible anything we present publicly. After all – it is our own reputation that is at stake (or at least this is how it feels).
Yet, the launch of a new early-stage startup project is fundamentally different from the stereotypical launch that most people have in their minds.
The critical realization that helps a founder gain the right perspective is that a great launch event is not a growth driver, but rather a growth amplifier. In other words, if your offering has a product-market fit, then a good launch would speed up your growth. If it doesn’t have a product-market fit, however, then a great launch event wouldn’t make much of a difference in the long run no matter how many resources you invest in it and how much publicity you gain from it.
The problem is that before you launch, you wouldn’t know if you have a product-market fit in the first place. So, the reality is that you would probably have to launch multiple times until you finally feel a pull from the market. Obviously, if you invest heavily in each launch, then you would quickly run out of resources, which would be deadly if it happens before you find product-market fit.
“If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late” – Reid Hoffman, founder of Linkedin
In a way, for an early-stage startup, a launch event is more of a test of the viability of an offering than a promotional tool. The goal is to put your idea in front of potential customers to see if they find it useful and to use the feedback to make your offering better.
So, keeping this in mind, here are a few good practical tips on the topic of early-stage startup launches:
- If possible do presales – this way you would be able to gather viable feedback even before you launch.
- Don’t think that you need to launch a complete, polished product. If you have to choose between launching fast and launching something polished, always choose the first option. The faster you launch, the faster you would improve the quality of your offering based on the feedback you receive. You need to get your minimum viable product out there.
- Don’t be afraid of negative feedback. Feedback is what you are looking for – seek it out and use it to improve.
- Use soft launches – this will reduce the feeling that a launch event is the be-all-end-all of a product’s life and the (social) pressure that goes with it. Launch, attract some customers, gain feedback, iterate, re-launch with new features, repeat.
- Use closed alpha and beta versions. This will create the shared understanding that you are not presenting a finished product to the world, but a work in progress. In turn, this would encourage feedback, which is a big benefit. Moreover, you can create a sense of exclusivity that your early adopters would appreciate. This would increase the chance to turn them into brand advocates later on.
- Last but not least – a closed alpha or beta would give you the opportunity to do a second official launch event once you are certain you have a product-market fit. This would increase the chances that you can make good use of any publicity you can garner.