The time has come for you to launch your start-up after months of hard work. Your product or your website services have been tested with early adopters. They seem quite happy and have given you feedback that has been incorporated into the product. You can’t wait to launch, make a big splash and hope that customers will flock like bees to honey to get their hands on your product or sign up for your web service. It’s every entrepreneur’s dream for their startup to take off and grow rapidly like Pinterest has grown with more than 12 million users and is rapidly growing every day, Photo App sharing Instagram with 27 million users and growing, OMGPOP’s Draw Something with 35 million downloads and 15 million daily users, which is now part of Zynga. Here are my four key take away (4KTA) points on this topic based on my experiences.
1. Launch Plan – Like anything else, it all begins with a plan. A plan to come out of stealth mode and tell the world about your company, your technology and solution, how it’s already successfully solving real pain points and being used by select and happy customers. Standard product launch plans can be obtained from any basic marketing book and articles. In your case, however, it's not only a product launch but also, a launch of your company. You should already have a VP or Director of Product marketing on your team to lead and manage the launch plan. He should have domain expertise and has been through this process previously in other startups. If you are a VC funded company, your investors may have already asked you to have one on your team. Having an experienced marketing person on your team already knows what needs to be done. It's very different when launching a startup and its product compared to someone launching a product for a well known company like Google or Cisco. They have resources, known brand, capital and relationships with analysts, media, and blogger community. In your scenario, this person needs to be highly creative, has relationships with media and analysts and can do it with little amount of capital and resources.
2. Launch Team – Your launch team will consist of your vice president of marketing, product manager, market communications and public relations firm (PR), chief technology officer (CTO) and chief executive officer (CEO). In many startups, marketing person is also the product manager and leads the launch process. The role of CTO during launch is to lend credibility to company’s technology claims with his past technical accomplishments, if any, his role as key architect and developer of your breakthrough technology. The analysts prefer to learn and validate about your technology from your CTO. Similarly, CEO’s role is to lend credibility to overall company with his past role either as CEO of startups or a key executive in the industry. The marketing team with PR firm reaches out to media, analysts such as Gartner Group, Dataquest, and Forrester Group, industry pundits, bloggers, and industry magazines in your market segment and articulates company’s messaging and competitive positioning combined with a compelling value proposition.
3. Launch Strategy and Positioning – The main elements of your launch strategy are readiness of marketing assets, Media communication schedule, and launch date. The marketing assets include company overview, product data sheets, FAQs, white papers, customer use cases, press releases, Team Bio, company and product presentation slides, competitive landscape, any related industry articles or analyst white papers, company website and blog sections. The marketing team with PR firm will confirm communication schedule with media, analysts, and blogger community. For the launch date, a number of companies like to launch products during trade shows. My preference is to launch either before or after any major trade show. The reason being big companies dominate trade shows due to huge marketing budgets for big booths, lots of freebies, and parties. Hence, to rise above all this noise could be challenging. Instead, rent an inexpensive hospitality suite and invite your customers, prospects, analysts, and media folks to showcase your product demo. We used the similar strategy during Ukiah Software’s NetRoad FireWALL and TrafficWARE product launches. Now to launch your social media company, you develop your web service and invite few friends to test it. Hope they like it and if they do, they will invite their friends and hope someone in the blogging community may notice it and blog about it. You hope that this viral effect will turn into an exponential user growth. For positioning, it’s important to learn about the industry, the market and the players, market climate, user trends, technology innovation and even the economy that can affect how your startup does and the competitive threats and opportunities it may attract. So positioning is key and it needs to be crisp, clear and has to stand out.
4. Launch Communication and Continued Execution – Complete your interviews per your communication schedule, do a press release on launch date and make sure your website is updated with all the material, press release, product information and a news section to post any articles linking to the original articles that will appear in industry magazines, online blogs. This can help you create the buzz and get your cash register going. Review your launch strategy and tactics after few weeks to see how you did against what you had expected. If some tactics worked better, amplify them and invest more in those messages for improving results. Being in front of market is an on-going process. So submit your product and services for industry awards and tout it in your blog and issue press releases. We used similar strategy in Ukiah Software and received awards such as Top 10 companies to watch in 1999 by Network World and Top 25 Hot Startups of 1998 by Data Communications Magazine, 1999 and 1998 Hot Product Awards by Data Communications Magazine, 1999 Product of the Month Award by Telecommunications Magazine and Network World’s Blue Ribbon Award.
In summary, my four 4KTA points for launching your startup are Launch Plan, Launch Team, Launch Strategy and Positioning, and Launch Communication and Continued Execution.
Naveen Bisht is a serial entrepreneur and Board Member, Chair – Programs, The Indus Entrepreneur (TiE ) and member of TiE Angels Steering Committee, based in Silicon Valley, California.