Over the years, my co-founder and I have launched 5 products. We’ve also helped hundreds of other companies launch their products. Sadly, I can’t say that each launch was successful, but I did learn what not to do in the process.
From each launch, we’ve gotten a better understanding of how things should be done, and I can confidently say that I have a formula for every product I launch. Here are 7 things I learned from launching 5 products:
Lesson #1: Collect emails, even before your product launches
One of the first products that I ever launched was Crazy Egg. The launch was very successful, but it wasn’t because I knew what I was doing. I just got lucky.
Before we even launched Crazy Egg, we created a landing page that showed off the product. The page had an email opt-in box for people who wanted to be notified when the product was launched.
Because we didn’t have any traffic coming to the website, I bought $10,000 worth of banner ads on all popular CSS galleries. Within months, we collected over 20,000 emails from people who were interested in using Crazy Egg.
When we launched, roughly 500 of those 20,000 people signed up for our product. We should have had at least a few thousand subscribers convert as our product was a freemium one. The problem was that a lot of the emails on our list were stale as we hadn’t had any contact with our prospects in over six months. The big lesson I learned from this experience is that we should have created an email drip sequence to keep all of the people on our list up to date with our progress instead of sending them one email about our launch.
Before you launch your product, make sure you create a landing page where you can collect email addresses as it is never too early to start your customer acquisition efforts. You can easily do this through LaunchRock.
Once you set up your landing page, make sure you follow up with your potential customers on a regular basis. You can keep them up to date with the progress of your product, educate them, and notify them about your launch.
Lesson #2: It’s never too early to get press
The one thing we did right with most of my launches is that we got press before the product had even launched. We did this with Crazy Egg and KISSmetrics, but we didn’t do this with Fruitcast, KISSinsight or Product Planner.
You want to get press before you launch because if journalists cover your product as it launches, they will also most likely be open to covering it post-launch. That means you can potentially get twice as much press.
You just have to be strategic with what stories you give to each journalist as they typically won’t cover the same stories you gave to other journalists. For example, you may want to give Mashable the scoop on the product you are building and what it does from a 1,000-foot view first. Then, you may want to give TechCrunch specific details on your product, e.g., telling them about the hot features of the product and even giving them screenshots of it.
The cool part about getting press before the product launch is that it will generate interest from people and companies who will want to work or even partner up with you. Plus, you can display “as seen on” logos on your website when you launch as it helps with your credibility and conversion rates.
When dealing with journalists, ideally you would want to do it yourself instead of going through a PR agency. There is nothing wrong with agencies, but if you can build those relationships yourself, it is much easier to get press stories over and over again.
Just think of it this way: I’ve been able to get every product I’ve launched on TechCrunch because I’ve built great relationships with them over the years.
Lesson #3: There’s nothing wrong with beta
I know a lot of people look down on the word “beta”, but I don’t see anything wrong with it. If you let the right people into your beta, you can get some really passionate users who will continually evangelize your product throughout its existence.
The key with beta programs is that you have to let in the right people, like influencers and bloggers, as they can easily spread the word about your product. Plus, you also want to look for qualified users. For example, you don’t want to let in a small business into your beta when you are creating an enterprise solution for the Fortune 500.
A good way around this is to survey your potential beta customers, similarly to what we are currently doing on My Analytics.
Before you let people in, make sure you have a decent beta with very few bugs. As you work out the kinks, make sure you get feedback from your customers as quickly as possible and continually iterate your product as fast as possible. If you have a ton of errors and take a long time to update your beta, people may get frustrated and stop using your product.
Some people didn’t like our first version of KISSmetrics, and we didn’t iterate fast enough. Because of this, many of those people didn’t try our product again even though our current version is a whole new product that people now love.
Lesson #4: Be careful about the pricing of your product
The launch of Fruitcast was pretty good as it was something the market really wanted. It gave podcast owners a simple way to monetize their podcasts. We had a cost-per-listen model that allowed us to insert any audio ad into a podcast on the fly and charge advertisers every time the ad was listened to.
There was one big problem, however: we charged way too much per ad listen. Our prices started at a dollar a listen, which was attractive to podcast creators, but way too high for advertisers.
We didn’t listen to the market, and we didn’t do any price testing. As a result, the business flopped, and we lost around $100,000. Worst of all, the potential advertisers who hit us up when we got all of our press during the launch slowly disappeared as we couldn’t make the numbers work.
You should survey your beta testers to figure out what price you should charge. Make sure you are optimizing for maximum revenue versus maximum number of signups. In addition to that, you need to be careful which users you price-test because someone who didn’t even use your product is very unlikely to pay for it versus someone who used your product on a daily basis.
If you are looking for a price testing survey, check out Qualaroo.
Lesson #5: You’ll always have competitors
With a few of our products, we thought we were the only ones in the space. Boy, were we wrong. Even if there are no direct competitors, there are other players who are at least somewhat similar. And sooner or later, there will be direct competitors.
Plus, if you are too slow to launch, like we were with a few of our products, other people can quickly beat you to the punch. That’s one of the downfalls of getting press before you launch as it can give other people the opportunity to copy what you are doing.
Not only were we late to launch a few of our products, but people also innovated faster than we did, which allowed them to become larger than we were.
It pays to be the first in the space, so try to launch as quickly as possible. That way, when journalists talk about your competitors, they will usually mention you as well since you were the first player in the space. This will help boost your web traffic and increase your overall revenue.
Don’t worry about having competitors. It’s actually a good thing because it encourages you to innovate and move faster. Plus, the market you are in is probably big enough for multiple players. Just consider how Pepsi and Coke both manage to exist in the same market. That means you have no excuse when it comes to making money.
Lesson #6: Have clear messaging
This is actually one of the hardest challenges we had with KISSmetrics. Although the product is great and it solves a major problem, explaining what it did in clear and simple terms was a challenge for us.
Over time, we worked out a lot of our messaging issues. When we launched our product, however, we had to explain the function of the product continually to reporters as they didn’t always understand it. Even when we explained it, we didn’t do it very clearly because the published stories weren’t always 100% accurate. To top it off, because we didn’t have a clear message, our conversion rate was lower than it should have been.
Now when we launch products, we come up with the messaging beforehand and test it out for conversions. Before the product is even finished, we set up landing pages with different messages and have a “signup button” on each page that doesn’t really do anything. The signup button is what we consider our conversion point. We drive traffic to each of our landing pages from Google AdWords. Whatever messaging has the highest conversion rate is what we typically use as a starting point.
After we have copy that we think will resonate with our potential customers, we run a User Testing campaign to get feedback on the overall message.
The biggest lesson I learned with creating messaging is that simplicity usually wins. Try not to use technical jargon and avoid creating your own new language. Use words that everyone is familiar with. If you can’t find a way to do this, create an FAQ section that explains terminology you are using.
Lesson #7: Always keep the momentum going
Launching a product is the easy part. The hard part is to keep the momentum going. You have to continually evolve the product, market it, get more press, and do business development deals to grow your user base quickly.
We actually made this mistake with Product Planner. It wasn’t an important product to us, but it could have been much larger than it is now. We could have even created a revenue stream from it. The launch was great, and people loved what they saw, but we didn’t continue to innovate on it. Instead, we just let it sit there.
Lastly, don’t expect your launch to go perfectly. Yes, you may get a ton of traffic, but you probably won’t make hundreds of thousands of dollars right away, which means you can erase the idea of being an overnight millionaire.
Have realistic expectations and be prepared to adapt to whatever situation is necessary.
If you use the lessons I learned from launching my products, it will not guarantee that your launch will be successful… but it should increase your odds of success. A word of caution: if you are creating a shitty product, which sadly I’ve done in the past, the launch formula above won’t help you.
So, the next time you are launching a product, try the above tactics and let me know how it goes.
Do you know of any other tactics that can be used to ensure a successful product launch?