Launching your startup is probably one of the most important things to get right so you get as much momentum going in the beginning and have as many people as possible show up to use your product or service.
I have been starting companies now for 15 years, and one of the things that I’ve really tried to figure out is – how do you launch? And what does launch really mean?
Some people think that a launch is going crazy open in public about your idea and making sure that you get covered by lots of different media, like the New York Times, your local radio stations, tv stations, etc.
The key to me is leveraging the “newsworthiness” of launching your company, or being new… which is why it’s called “news.” You want to get as much press and attention as possible, so that as many people as possible are talking about you and show up at your door.
For me, I feel that a launch is actually broken down into 3 parts:
1. Begin with a “soft launch.”
When you are building your company, you don’t even know if what you’re selling (your product, your restaurant, etc.), is any good yet. So the last thing you want to do is have this crazy blown out launch and get everybody to show up – when you can’t even get your stuff delivered on time or fulfill the promises that you made on your website.
Soft launches happen all the time in retail environments and online with tech companies. They build a list of people who have shown interest – 100% through word of mouth – and then take those people and move them through a process of understanding what the experience is supposed to be like, getting their feedback and then tweaking it from there. That’s what I call a soft launch. Some restaurants also have soft launches when they start (as they are not officially opened yet), and have their grand opening at a later date.
As a technology company, that’s what we do. We get people to subscribe to our list (we invite 5 a day), and those 5 people sign up, use the product and give us feedback. By going through that process over a 2-3 month period, that’s how any company can start to refine what’s called the “onboarding experience” or the “first time user experience.” The soft launch is perfect for this.
Do you get press for a soft launch? No, you actually don’t want to get press at this point. You may get some people tweeting or writing blog posts about it or have early adopters sharing it on facebook, but no actual “press.” Since you are not letting people sign up directly and because you haven’t opened it up to the world – from a “news” point of view – it’s not considered press. It’s just a perfect opportunity to get people to give you feedback on the product.
If you are thinking of raising money at some point, soft launches are also a really great strategy to get investors interested.
I’m going to say this quickly as I don’t want to go off on a tangent, but there are two times to raise money:
- a) before you actually launch the product and…
- b) the product has launched & everything (traction / monetization) is working really well.
Any other time in the middle is really tough.
Use the soft launch as an opportunity to learn as well as to really perfect your product and prepare you for the next step… “The Big Launch.”
2. The BIG launch.
This could be 6 months to a year after you’ve actually started the company. Some people that are into the lean startup or the “launch early and often space” are like, “That’s too long!” But I TOTALLY disagree. I think that you can be in that iterative process of taking people who have shown interest early, walking them through, getting their feedback and continuing with that cycle for 6 months or even a year, no problem! This way, when you finally DO launch and open up your doors, you can get ALL of the press because your product ROCKS. You can get the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, all of the tv and radio stations… even Oprah is calling to have you on her show!
3. Ongoing “Newsworthy” Human Interest Stories
Think about other “newsworthy” opportunities within your business both from a company perspective as well as from a human interest perspective. Company based stories would include major announcements, fundraising, partnerships, etc. For example, maybe you have some really amazing news to share from all of the excitement around your product or maybe you just partnered with IBM or Microsoft.
Human interest stories are always great opportunities for every company or business to talk about the impact of their business or company on the market. Examples could be the “origin story” or a “customer story.” The origin story is the story of the founder, for example, how they came up with the idea. Customer stories are inspiring stories about the way people have used your product, service or company to achieve a particular outcome or result.
So either you have newsworthy stories about the business that are really exciting (because we’ve launched, now we’ve had all of this exciting coverage!) or you have inspiring human interest stories around the product (either the origin story with the founder involved and how they came up with the idea and or how your customers are using your product and getting a lot of value).
I hope you found my thoughts on how to really launch a company and how to leverage the press to be useful, and that you will be able to continue the cycle and get the most out of the process.
Do you have any other tips? I know you PR focused founders and specialist must have something to add?! Leave a comment below with your thoughts.