Business Intelligence is the new hottest resource in the startup community– Google Analytics, A/B Split Testing, Survey Software and more. Like other forms of information, there is certainly no shortage of business information. Overall, that’s a good thing– more business information should allow startups to avoid missteps and scale faster.
But it’s also easy to get too much information, especially while you’re launching a new business. That can end up being distracting and paralyzing.
While you should certainly take advantage of easily accessible and actionable data, if you’re starting a business in today’s world where more information is always available, you need to tread carefully.
Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re launching a new business in ensure you launch fast and successfully:
The abundance of information could be paralyzing
There’s always one more report to pull. There’s always one more survey to send. There’s always one more “how to” article to read. There’s always one more tweak to make and there’s always one more feature to build.
Sure, data should be gathered to strategically guide your business through the launch process, but it’s easy to take business intelligence too far. When launching a new business, some people get so excited by the possibilities that they forget that eventually, they need to, you know, actually launch. It’s easy to fall into a self-perpetuating cycle of gathering information and tweaking your product but never actually launching — Founder’s Paralysis as I like to call it.
Who can blame them? It’s exciting to build something new, and it’s scary to release your project into the world. Why not prolong the feeling of “building something new” without taking that emotional risk as long as possible? Well, frankly, because that defeats the purpose of launching something new in the first place. Eventually you need to launch, and if you’ve already gathered data and made subsequent tweaks and improvements, chances are you’re more ready for launch than you think you are, and more data-gathering and tweaking is nothing more than a roadblock.
Don’t focus on launching a perfect product
What is “perfect”? Does that imply you’re going to launch and then never make any other improvements? Of course not.
What you think is perfect may not even be what your customers think is perfect, which is what really matters. If you think you’re getting good information while you’re in pre-launch, wait until you actually launch– that’s when you’ll get real actionable data to build an even more amazing product.
No matter how much business intelligence you gather and how much tweaking you do pre-launch, you’re going to quickly realize that the second you actually launch, there are more features your customers would like to see, more marketing claims people want to hear, and more bugs to fix. Again, business intelligence is important. Without it, you’re launching blindly while guessing what your customers will want. But there are diminishing marginal returns to gathering information pre-launch. There will always be something you need to improve, but you’ll never identify everything until your business is live. So rather than delaying the launch process, you’re much better off launching sooner rather than later and making improvements based on real-world feedback.
Don’t focus on launching a complete product
Launching a 100%-complete product is impossible, because no product is ever 100% complete. Look at Facebook, arguably one of the most successful businesses of all time– some of their most iconic features did not exist until years after they launched. Features today you might not even be able to image Facebook without, like Facebook messenger, photo tagging and status updates. All of those features came well after they launched. Now they are arguably essential features, but were they essential for launch? No.
There’s a difference between essential features eventually and essential features for launch. Waiting to launch until you implement all of your ideas means you’ll always be moving the “GO” line forward, and you’ll never get off the ground. Make sure you understand the difference between what’s needed for launch and what’s needed eventually.
Even if launching a 100% perfect and complete product was feasible, you’d be giving up tons of future press opportunities
Ok, let’s say you dismiss the first three warnings and despite the extremely challenging path, you launch an absolutely perfect product that needs no fixes and no improvements. You think you might’ve beaten the odds, but you unknowingly just put your business at another competitive disadvantage– a lack of future press-worth events.
Adding new features and improvements is a great opportunity to reach out to your followers as well as journalists– you can and should be loud with these sort of announcements. As any marketing expert would tell you, if you have any legitimate reason to have a conversation with your customers or the press, you should take advantage of that opportunity. Launching with ALL of your features eliminates that completely.
So where’s the balance between launching in a timely manner and launching thoughtfully and methodically?
How to launch fast yet deliberately
No two businesses are alike, so no two launch plans will be identical. But by following the general launch path of other successful startup, you can drastically improve your odds of a successful launch yourself. Of all startup launches to mimic, I can’t think of a more savvy launch plan to follow than the one Ryan Hoover used to launch Product Hunt, which was done in deliberate steps–
1. Prove the concept
Ok, so you have an intriguing idea you’d like to pursue? The key word here to recognize is “you”. There needs to be a customer base beyond just “you” in order to build a business. It’s never too early to talk to potential customers about your idea. Forget about someone stealing your idea. Whether your idea is a product, a service, an app, a website, whatever– you need to discuss your idea with others — preferably future customers — in order to get an initial sense of viability.
There’s plenty of quick and easy ways to get an initial sense of market viability–
- Purchase an ad on Facebook or Twitter that simply sends people to a landing page or coming-soon page, and see how engaging people are as far as click-through-rates on the ad or email sign-ups on the landing page.
- Use survey software to gather information from a targeted audience.
- If possible, build a rudimentary version of your idea and test market reaction with a very small audience.
Ryan’s idea for Product Hunt was to essentially be a daily leaderboard for new products people haven’t heard of before. He envisioned it as sort of a reddit-style type platform, but he also knew that building a platform with the capabilities he wanted would take time– time that he didn’t want to invest before validating that people even wanted this. Remember, you invest both time and money into a startup– you’re not reckless with your money, so don’t be reckless with your time.
Ryan decided that he could easily validate his concept by using Linkydink to curate a list of cool new products and distribute it via email newsletter to some family and friends he thought would be interested. After getting great feedback and seeing his list grow purely from word-of-mouth, he considered the idea validated and felt comfortable moving on to the next step– investing some time into building a preliminary web platform with basic functionality that would eventually become ProductHunt.
If there’s no serious red flags at this stage of simple market viability tests, the next step is to prove that your business delivers value that people would use. The only way to do this is to launch your idea in the most lean, stripped down version possible and present it to a few select people to gather more feedback and market data.
2. Build basic product and gather more feedback
Reid Hoffman, Founder of Linkedin, said it best– “If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you launched too late”.
Before you start building the first version of your product, think of a few people in your network that would really, really appreciate what you’re making, and build it for them and only them. Try to include these people in every step of the building process, from design to functionality. This serves two purposes– first, by including others in the process, they will be more engaged, provide better feedback, and will eventually be your loudest supporters when it’s finally time for your public launch, and secondly, by gradually introducing people into the building process, it will reduce any anxiety you might have when the private and public beta launches happen and virtually eliminate the risk of Founder’s Paralysis.
After proving his concept with a successful email list on Linkydink, Ryan enlisted help from his friend Nathan Bashaw. Together, in only five days, they built a very basic yet functional version of ProductHunt and gradually released it in three steps– the private beta, the quiet beta, and the public launch.
3. Private Beta and gather more feedback
Once you’ve built a very crude version of your concept, re-introduce it to your initial test audience plus a few more people and share with them the story behind what you’re doing. Work with everyone to get constructive feedback.
At this time, it’s important to keep two things in mind– first, make sure to keep things private and within your core test community, and second, take all suggestions seriously and implement the changes you want to make quickly. At this stage, your biggest assets are excitement and agility– keep yourself and your test community excited by allowing them to see the concept evolve and improve fast.
Once Ryan had a basic version of ProductHunt built, he only sent it out to his original email list and asked them to engage on the platform and provide feedback. Ryan was building up suspense for the public launch by limiting access while at the same time making his community feel special by treating them like VIPs.
4. Quiet Beta and gather more feedback
It’s important to keep the momentum going. After your private beta yielded actionable feedback and you’ve implemented the most important improvements, it’s time for quiet beta, where you hand-pick more people to get involved without getting the general public involved.
During their private beta, ProductHunt only had about 30 users, and although there were still bugs to be fixed and user-experience improvements to be made, Ryan knew that he needed to seed the community with more quality members before launching publicly. He hand-picked more people to invite which allowed him to gather more data and make more improvements. A week later, during his quiet beta, he had about 100 active users.
5. Public launch and PR campaign
Up until this point, the launch plan has been very calculated and methodical — hand-picking people to introduce to your startup, gathering feedback, making tweaks and building up excitement within the community. The public portion of the launch is no different.
Assuming you’ve worked out all the major kinks and have improved the user experience, the most important thing about a public launch is to be loud. Very, very loud.
Some ways to help announce your startup to the world include–
- Send out an email to the community thanking them for their help, letting them know that the business is ready to go public thanks to their help, and ask if they could help spread the word.
- Get press involved. If you personally know any journalists or bloggers, take them out for a drink and explain your business to them. Face-to-face is always the best option.
- Social media. Pour your heart out and literally ask for people to share your story.
It was at this point that Ryan felt comfortable launching to the public– he had worked out most of the bugs, was receiving consistent positive feedback from his community, and was ready for the next step.
Ryan leveraged the power of the community he already built, but he also leveraged connections he had. He met with a journalist at PandoDaily and introduced them to ProductHunt. The next day, ProductHunt was featured in PandoDaily, and by the end of that day, ProductHunt had acquired it’s 400th user.
For someone who doesn’t have connections in the media, it’s a lot harder to see press happen this early on– but that shouldn’t stop you from trying, it just means you might need to get a bit more creative with your marketing efforts.
6. Brute force growth
So your business is now open to the public, but it’s not quite time to celebrate just yet. Now’s when the real work starts. You’ll often read about overnight success stories, where a business acquires tons of press, tons of customers and immediate fame, however this sort of success is an outlier. Paul Graham wrote a great piece on how early traction usually comes from doing things that don’t scale— an article I highly suggest everyone read.
ProductHunt’s brute force growth was no different. Although they had acquired valuable press and quick momentum when they launched, Ryan kept his focus on improving the user experience. This was a key decision– as many startups that land press find out, a spike in traffic and awareness means nothing if you’re not capturing those people and keeping them engaged in the long-term. The only way to do that is to continually gather feedback and improve.
As you can see, launching a startup takes a lot of finesse, from hand-picking your initial community and gathering feedback, having a solid grasp of growth and making calculated decisions. There is certainly no perfect way to launch a startup, but there is one similarity in all successful startup launches– constantly building momentum.
What are you waiting for?