Over the years my co-founder and I have launched 5 products, and we’ve 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 over the years.
From each launch we’ve gotten a better understanding of what should be done and I can confidently say that I have a formula for every product 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, instead I got lucky.
Before we even launched Crazy Egg we created a landing page that showed off the product and had an email opt in box for people who wanted to be notified when the product launched.
We didn’t have any traffic coming to the website, so I bought $10,000 worth of banner ads on all the 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 convert, as our product was a freemium one, but a lot of the emails on our list were stale as we hadn’t emailed them in over 6 months. The big lesson I learned here was that we should have created an email drip sequence in which we kept all of the people on our list up to date with what we were doing versus 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 setup 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 I 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 even launch because if a journalist covers your product launches, they will most likely be open to also 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 each journalist, as they typically won’t cover the same exact story as other journalists. For example, you may want to first give Mashable the scoop on the product you are building and what it does from a 1000 foot view. Then you may want to give TechCrunch specific details on your product, such as telling them about your hot features and even giving them screenshots of it.
The cool part about getting press before your product launches is that you’ll start getting hit up by people and companies who want to work with you or even partner up. Plus you can list “as seen on logos” on your website when you launch as it helps with credibility and it can potentially boost your conversion rates.
When dealing with journalists you ideally want to do it yourself versus 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 we’ve built a great relationship with them over the years.
Lesson #3: There’s nothing wrong with a 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, such as influencers and bloggers as they can easily spread the word about how awesome your product is. 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 potential beta customers, similar to what we are currently doing on My Analytics.
Before you let people in, make sure you have a decent beta with very little bugs. If you have a ton of errors, people may get frustrated and not use your product again.
And during your beta phase, make sure you get feedback from your customers as quick as possible and continually iterate as fast as possible because if people don’t like what they see they may not use your product again. With KISSmetrics, some people didn’t like our first version 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 different product that people love.
Lesson #4: Be careful on how you price 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 in which we could 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… 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. Because of this the business flopped and we lost around $100,000. And worst of all, the potential acquires who hit us up when we got all of our press during the launch slowly disappeared, as we couldn’t make the numbers workout.
You should survey your beta testers to figure out what price you should charge, and 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 with as 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, but boy were we wrong. Even if there are not 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, similar to how 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 idea to copy what you are doing.
Not only were we late to launch with a few products, but people also innovated faster than us, which allowed them to be larger than us.
It pays to be the first in the space, so try to launch as quick as possible. That way when journalists talk about your competitors they will usually mention you as well, as you were the first player in the space. This will help boost your web traffic and increase your overall revenue.
And don’t worry too much 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 like how Pepsi and Coke both exist. 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, it wasn’t too easy to explain what we did in simple words.
Over time we figured a lot of our messaging issues out, but when we launched our product we had to continually explain to reports what we did as they didn’t always understand it. And when we did explain it, their stories weren’t always 100% accurate because our messaging wasn’t clear, which wasn’t their fault. And to top it off, our conversion rate was lower than it should have been because we didn’t have a clear message.
Now when we launch products we come up with the messaging before hand and test it out for conversions. Before the product is even finished, we setup 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 and 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 and if you can’t find a way to do this create a FAQ section that explains the 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 quickly grow your user base.
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 perfect. 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 above, it will not guarantee that your launch will be successful… it just increases your odds of success. And if you are creating a shitty product, which sadly I’ve done in the past, the launch formula above won’t help.
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?