Keep Calm and Launch Your Startup

You’ve been in the garage for months, crafting away tirelessly one iteration after another, far from the public eye. You got some users to give it a spin, maybe more than a few. That’s it – you are finally ready for prime time. Your launch announcement is a huge milestone, which could signify a shift in your company’s growth. It’s up to you to seize the opportunity and make it count. Here are some tips to help you do that.

Test early. Your announcement should never be the first time you’ve put your product in the hands of a bunch of strangers. You’re going to get more users than ever over a short time period, so don’t leave it to chance: take control and test early, know your users responses and act on them. Prior to launch, conduct small scale marketing within a ‘closed garden’, such as a defined geographical area. Onboard users you do not know in person, and offer them no special treatment beyond what a regular user might expect. A good way to do this is through hyper-locally targeted ads (e.g Google, Facebook) or email marketing, anything that works below-the-line without risking major exposure. Make all your mistakes in advance, on a small scale.

Build social proof in advance. Social proof has many forms: testimonials, brand name clients, user base size, ratings, reviews, social media followers, partnerships and even video views – all of them project an image to potential users, shaping their judgement and decision about you. Everyone wants in on the party that’s already packed, so work to build social proof in advance: Pick up the phone and get those testimonials. Give excellent service to users and ask them to rate you. Invite everyone to follow your page, and ask them to invite their friends. Secure a big partnership while still in the garage. Many social media metrics (a.k.a ‘vanity metrics’) can be grown with a relatively low ad spend, and can be well worth it for your brand image. Always put your social proof upfront and make it part of your story.

Generate leads from day one. Still coding? That’s no reason not to already be acquiring future users, or ‘leads’. The math is simple: 10 email addresses collected today, become 7 real users later (conversion varies by product and list quality). Encourage early sign up by offering free product, prize giveaways, an exclusive beta – anything works, as long as they leave their emails with you. Here are some fantastic examples from stripe, and others. Emailing your leads upon launch yields a very high sign up rate, and gives you plenty of room to write up your product. Reminders are great! A second email can generate a response almost as high as the first one, so always follow up, to make the most out of the leads you’ve collected.

Hone your messaging. Get your messaging razor sharp before launch. Don’t guess which messages resonate best with users, just A/B test: Prepare two different emails and send them to 100 people each. Write two online ads and run them against each other. Do the same to test different landing page variations. In each case evaluate the success in terms of clicks, sign-ups or downloads, to learn what worked best. Results are instantaneous and you won’t need to spend much. Facebook, Google and other advertising outlets offer free coupons at various occasions, so if you stumble upon one, you may not need to spend at all. Suggested analytics know-how for A/B testing: Goal Setting, and custom campaigns for web,or for android apps.

Ready? Now make your announcement. Write your press release and build your media contact list. Identify several reporters per publication with an interest in your field – in case your first choice falls through, just move on (hint: those who covered your direct competitors are likely your guys). A week before launch, email one reporter per publication with three lines about your announcement and why you thought this should be interesting for them. When targeting several publications, setting an embargo date keeps one from running the story before others. Make this email count – no fluff! Tying your announcement to a milestone such as user base reached, funding acquired or feature release helps. When you hear back (Jolly!), follow up with your full press release, your logo and product imagery. No answer? You can always try again, but don’t be too pushy – move on to the next reporter. When the fit is good, the interest will be mutual.

Tip: Go where your industry’s enthusiastic audiences and early adopters are. If you’re in the sports industry, for example, go for sports magazines rather than TechCrunch.

Ride the wave. While you dream of next day hockey stick growth, reality is closer to this:      New users per day

Your announcement will produce a spike in user acquisitions, which will soon subside. If things go well, you’ll now be growing at a steady yet higher pace than before. Make your spike higher, and you may land higher up when things stabilize. Here’s how:



Social media: Post and actively encourage sharing.

Blog: Blog your news (only after news are announcedt).

Viral content: Add an interesting sharable piece to your announcement such as a video or a valuable infographic.

Email your startup champions and existing users: Investors, partners, supporters and early users are all part of your success. Ask them to share your news and make it easy, using services like click to tweet.

Customer support: Prepare to handle your support queue and be responsive. Ask users who approach you to spread your news as well.

Re-Posting: Post your news to relevant places (e.g: Reddit, Digg, Hacker News)

Campaigning: If possible, spend some marketing dollars at announcement time. Target early adopters who are likely to read about you – Facebook lets you show ads targeted at people who like TechCrunch, for example. Letting early adopters see you in more than one place, means they’ll remember you more.

Remarketing: Remarketing lets you show ads around the web to people who have been on your website, meaning they have already shown interest in you but might not have signed up yet. It is amazingly effective. You’re going to get a lot of website visitors, so get a remarketing tag and capture them (Google, AdRoll).








Finally, some recommended reading:

A fantastic startup post-launch checklist

Great advice for Getting your first 1000 users

Golden tips on getting your first 10,000 users before you even launch

Another Startup launch checklist, covering both the business and product side.

What other advice or experience can you share for creating a successful launch?

Contributor: Tali Saar has extensive experience in integrated marketing, web and mobile app marketing, PR and social media. She has lead several launches during her years at Google for products such as AdWords, YouTube and search. Since then she has been helping various startups lift their business off the ground. Tali is a mentor at UpWest Labs. Follow her on Twitter @TaliSaar