Six product launch lessons for first time founders

Product launch lessons from school of hard knocks. Lessons I wish someone had sat me down and explained when I originally started on this path.

Lesson One. Launch is a terminal event.

No, it is not.

As founders we often treat launch as the finish line on a long run. If we make it to launch, all will be well and taken care of. The pain will stop, we can stop running, shower, change, eat and go home with our medals.

Here is the bad news. You have just hit one milestone. There are miles to go before we sleep.

Launch is neither the beginning nor the end. It is a series of overlapping sequences. A typical sequence may include pre-build, pre-launch, launch and post launch.

Anticlimactic and sometimes heart breaking, I know, but that is how the game is played.

Lesson Two. One launch sequence is not enough.

You need more. You need more because the objective of a launch sequence is to generate a stable flow of orders.

A stable flow of orders is a difficult ask in the world of founders.

Why? Because it’s like going missing in the Bermuda Triangle.

We remain in an infinite collection of launch sequences till we achieve stable flow, or we run out of funding and runway, which ever comes first.

This generally requires tweaking our product/services feature mix, target segment, messaging, medium, pricing, reach algorithm and more. The combination of possible tweaks take time to test and validate.

Sometimes we get lucky on our first try, sometimes we don’t. Count on the don’t.

Lesson Three. Rave parties over reunions.

Given a choice of launch formats, which one would you choose? Conferences over up close and personal events?

Ask yourself which of the above formats starts conversations with your customers?

For me rave parties are an analogy for conference circuit.

While the conference circuit has its place in terms of education, intelligence gathering and finding out what competitors are doing, the format is not a good choice for broke and hungry founders.

It’s the first thing that came to my mind as a founder. It’s the first thing we budgeted for. It’s the last thing that generated any sales for us across three decades, two continents and five different startups.

Let me correct that. It didn’t generate any sales at all for us.

Seek opportunities for one on one conversations, not events. The same rules apply on any launch or pre-launch expenditure. Optimize for conversations.

Will this lead to conversations with customers or prospects? If yes, proceed. If no, reconsider.

Why? See lesson four below.

Lesson Four. What do bankers pay for?

We built many products for the banking industry over 18 years. Some did well some did not.

The ones that did not do well, the ones that fell flat, the one that were total disasters, were products that we built without doing field interviews with our customers.

Products that generated millions of dollars in revenues, were built on a foundation of field interviews.

Why field interviews? They helped validate our customer profiles. Not just who, what or when but most importantly how much and under what conditions.

Make sure that you have validated profiles of your customers before you commit to a launch sequence focused on them.

How do you validate a product concept?

First find the smartest people you know and call them. Run the first version of your product through them. Use cases as well as customer profiles.

Then create a list of prospective customers and call them.

Don’t try to sell the product, just ask for help and guidance, right up front. You would be surprised how willing people are when it comes to giving time to a struggling founder.

In your conversations ask about purchase motivations, price points, key features, road blocks, competition and deal killers.

Listen, don’t force answers you need to hear. Seek answers you didn’t expect at all.

Lesson Five. A good launch sequence relies on relevant content.

If your content is not aligned with customer profiles, to their pain, challenges, and issues your launch sequence will misfire.

This is the hardest piece of the puzzle.

Much before the launch date, much before you start putting together your product, start work on your content plan.

A good content plan is designed around specific pain points and customer segments. This is where all the hard work you have done earlier comes in play. The issue is you don’t need one variation, you need more.

Remember, not a terminal event, a sequence. You need enough to feed the sequence.

Lesson Six. Drip feed versus one day flood.

When it comes to generating coverage and exposure given a choice between a one-day flood or a drip feed model, opt for the drip feed model. Rather than generating and posting coverage and exposure right at the start or right at the end opt for a model where you spread it out.

If your launch sequence is 90 days make sure your exposure and coverage plan is in alignment with those 90 days. Don’t do everything at the start or in the middle or in the end. Spread it out. Why?

Because the step between conversion and customer is bridged by familiarity. Consistent, positive, relevant exposure breeds familiarity. In the sales and marketing world customers buy from people they like, people they trust.

To build trust you need familiarity. To build familiarity you need exposure relevant positive applicable exposure. Relevant to your customers. Not to your product features or technical attributes.

Remember the flow equation. Exposure leads to conversation leads to connections leads to conversions leads to customers leads to orders.

Stay relevant, start conversations.

Additional reading and resources

  1. Product launch lessons — extended cut — 36 minutes. Here is full version of the talk on product launch.
Six product launch lessons — extended cut

2. The multipart twitter thread on product launch that led to this talk.

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