Launching a product or startup should never be left to chance. Whether you are a startup from startup weekend or a big company launching its latest product there are many factors that differentiate a good launch from a great launch and it comes down to having a good launch plan.
I was at a tech event earlier this week with Vancouver Growth hackers and met two startups that were about to launch. I asked them a few questions about how they’re launching and they seemed like they have an idea on how to launch, it was good plan but had quite bit of room for improvement to be a “WOW launch plan” like the ones I’ve seen on Warrior Forums. This article is dedicated to all the entrepreneurs who are on their way to a launch.
Launches are by far my favourite part of startups and businesses because you can feel the excitement and energy involved with it. Having helped launch dozens of websites, ecommerce stores, social movements, events, crowdfunding projects and startups, I’ve been noticing some common themes involved with successful launches and here are my observations:
Start Early And Lay Out Your Timeline
Launch work starts months before the launch date. Just as how years of work are put into preparation for launching a space shuttle, entrepreneurs should be putting in months of preparation work prior to a launch; the bigger the project the longer the lead time should be. Successful product launch teams make the most of their lead time by outlining month to month objectives, tasks and deliverables; they set up systems, recruit people and have ways to keep everyone accountable. Failure to set these objectives often leads to procrastination and a chaotic and exhausting final month prior to the launch. It is often a good idea to have someone (usually not the visionary) to be the project manager to keep track of deliverables. At TEDxEastVancouver, there’s a project management team whose role is to keep track of deliverables and check on team members and provide support where needed. There are tools out there that make the planning and preparation more streamlined like Trello and Slack. You can read more from my startup tools article.
Build up hype and momentum
Remember how Star Wars Episode 7 launched? They revealed a 360 virtual reality video teaser on Facebook and YouTube almost a year before their official launch followed by video trailers in the months leading to the launch. They were using start of the art 360 technology and got people everywhere talking. When it finally launched, people were lining up to get tickets. Successful entrepreneurs know the value of building up hype months prior to a launch. While you may not have the budget to record a trailer or put up posters all over the continent like Lucas Films, there are other affordable ways to build up hype and momentum.
- Try to get some speaking gigs at conferences and industry events. Many conferences have a call for speakers period where you can submit an application and be a speaker. Having been on a TEDx conference team twice in the past, you do not have to be charismatic like Malcolm Gladwell or Seth Godin, I have seen some introverted speakers who received a louder standing ovation than their extroverted counterparts. Speak about the topic and pain that your market is experiencing and depending if the conference director permits, you can mention about your upcoming launch. Make the most of the time prior to those events and conduct Q&A sessions to know more about your market. The more you know, the better you can tweak your marketing plan once you launch for maximum sales.
- Start attending industry events or events related to your niche
- Speak at meetup groups
- Contact bloggers who reach people in your target market and offer them to use your product free of charge in exchange for a review or feedback.
- Conduct AMA (Ask me anything) sessions on Reddit
- Answer questions on Quora
- Set up an affiliate system (refer to next point)
- Conduct seed launches to fine tune your product- Facebook and Tinder started off by conducting small launches in different university campuses before making a global public launch to everyone. With each small seed lunch, they were able to get some feedback and gain more ambassadors
It is also a good idea to engage your superfans and get them on board as an ambassador as word of mouth is much more effective than paid advertising in the age of social media. The videogame industry especially MMORPGs is good at this where game companies are able to get thousands of potential gamers onto a discussion forum before a product is even out and there the fans joined guilds/factions and cultivated a sense of belonging and pride for the upcoming product. And as gamers have networks in other games, they recruit their friends from other games to participate in the forum, snowballing the game’s prelaunch reach. A good example is the game Star Citizen, where their supporters went to the extent of creating YouTube videos of them expressing their excitement on the game and commentating on the trailers the developers released.
Build up a list
While you’re conducting your speaking gigs and AMA sessions to build hype about your upcoming product launch, it is important to collect contacts and build up a list. As with the saying “The money is in the list” and entrepreneurs do what they can to build that list from offering a free chapter away in return for their email or collecting business cards for a book giveaway draw.
While some may argue that they have a lot of followers on social media and it’s extra work building up a mailing list. It is true that having a mailing list is more work but you can reach a lot more people with your message and getting a bigger return on investment ROI than running ads on social media. (You can read my argument on how social media is like RENTING while mailing list is like OWNING an audience).
Activate/Prime Your Affiliates One Month Before Launch
As you draw closer to the one month mark, activate your affiliates and offer training and support so they are fully equipped to be ambassadors for your startup or product. Your ambassadors/affiliates are typically those who are super fans who have been the most active on your forums or thought leaders you’ve recruited from social media and other forums.
Successful launches incorporate a commission structure such that the ambassadors can sign up as affiliates and refer their contacts to sign up; receiving a commission. While some may see it as an expense, it is an expense you only pay when there are results. Unlike PPC ads where you may risk running ads with no conversion, all the risks of marketing are carried by the affiliates with an affiliates commissions system. Successful launches will also make sure there are resources and affiliate/ambassador events hosted to ensure their affiliates are properly trained (I will be sharing more on affiliate system in a future article). I’ve been part of some launches where the organizers set up a leaderboard or ladder to show who’s in the lead and offer a prize for the highest yielding affiliate. The important thing is whoever the affiliate manager is should be actively engaging affiliates and providing coaching throughout the pre launch and post launch period.
Email checklist for affiliate launches:
- Call for affiliate recruitment
- 1 month activation (list out any training, online or offline)
- 1 week reminder – Communicate key benefits and features for your product
- 3 days countdown – Suggestions on what affiliates can send in their prelaunch emails
- 2 days countdown –
- Launch tomorrow – reminders for affiliates to remind their contacts the launch is tomorrow.
- Launch email
- Regular reporting on affiliates leaderboard performance
- Affiliate wrap up and announcement of winners
Anyone can launch, but only those who put in the work planning and preparing can do a great launch that yields results. If you do not want to leave your launch results to chance, it is important to have a launch strategy that is detailed and extensive. Also remember to celebrate too, have a launch party and invite everyone out to it :).
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