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Starting a Company? Launch Early & Often

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When is it too early to tell the world about your idea? What if someone steals it? Might someone copy it?

Here’s a great quote that always puts this into perspective for me:

“Don’t worry about people stealing an idea. If it’s original, you will have to ram it down their throats.”

~ Howard Aiken

I’m of the opinion that it’s never too early to start soliciting feedback from potential customers, advisers, or partners regarding your company/product idea.

Here’s a few best practices I have used to launch companies in the past.

The 10 List

If you have an idea, make a list of 10 people who might buy it. This does not include your friends or family. Seek real potential customers: call them up (a call is better than email), explain what it is, how it works, then ask:

“Is this something you would pay for or find useful?”

That being said, here’s the trick: don’t let them discourage you! Use the feedback to modify your approach or delivery (elevator pitch).

A Web Site

I would suggest spending the 20 bucks to get a web site: buy the domain, set up a splash page, and start collecting emails. You’ll get potential customers, fans, even partners that will want to be notified when you launch.

Here’s the minimum information you should list:

  • Name of the company or product
  • Description of your solution or services
  • Email form with a subscribe button

Everything else is optional and not as important as you think (e.g., logo, About Us). Just get the web site up.

Iterating Your Idea

Try and get something put together ASAP; this might include a visual design (screen mockup or wire frame), a working prototype (even if it’s ugly), a PowerPoint or something equivalent—the concept is to get something in front of these people (The 10 List) yesterday.

Prelaunch (Alpha)

If you’ve put your idea out there and engaged people in the iteration of the concept, then you might already have a list of emails from the web site. Invite this group to an early alpha of your product or service. The trick is to make it extremely simple for them to offer feedback. Email works; consider adding something in the user interface (applications) or a comment form (services) in the on-boarding process—that would be ideal.

Launch & Iterate

I’m a big fan of getting something out there ASAP and delivering value in order to iterate on the idea, get feedback and implement changes. Here are some ways you can do this:

  • Offer the alpha version at a discount or for free, even if you plan on charging down the road.
  • Provide your service and take notes for improvement along the way.

The trick is to be honest with your customers. Remember that your goal is use their feedback to help improve the concept, marketing message, even the branding.

If you plan on charging for your product or service, I wouldn’t recommend offering early customers free service/product. Their feedback for a free service or product will be dramatically different than for one they have paid for. You want feedback from customers who have paid—it will be more honest and specific, and it will hold you accountable to deliver more value than the price you are charging. That’s how business works.

“It doesn’t take money to make money, it takes creativity and adding value to make money.”

The Big Take Away

The best ideas come from personal need. The best feedback comes from real customers, not the ones you made up in your head :-).  Share your idea with everyone. Get feedback from people who work in the industry your solution benefits.

Do you have any other tips or suggestions for why you should launch early & often? Any tips on how to get your idea out there and iterating on the feedback?

Related Articles:

David UlevitchLaunch Early & Often

Daniel SoccoDon’t Worry About Sharing Ideas

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The SaaS Metrics Dashboard: Is Your Company Growing The Way It Should Be?