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"Don't Launch." ~Eric Ries

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Eric Ries says to startups: DON'T LAUNCH.

Here's a common question I get from startups, especially in the early stages: when should we launch? My answer is almost always the same: don't.

First off, what does it mean to launch? Generally, we conflate two unrelated concepts into the term, which is important to clarify right up front.

  1. Announce a new product, start its PR campaign, and engage in buzz marketing activities. (Marketing launch)
  2. Make a new product available to customers in the general public. (Product launch)

In today's world, there is no reason you have to do these two things at the same time. In fact, in most situations it's a bad idea for startups to synchronize these events.

We repeat: do not synchronize announcing product with making product available.

Thanks Eric Barker for sending me the link to this article:

Marketing launches are for finding new customers and partners.

They can also be used for raising money, but be careful:

If you are having trouble raising money, sometimes a little PR can help. But don't be too sure. When VC's and other investors see PR activity, they are going to expect to see significant traction as a result. If you launch and see only mediocre results, it may actually make it harder to raise money. Sometimes, it can be easier to raise money pre-launch, if the launch is not imminent and there is some fear on the part of investors that they might lose the deal when the launch drives awareness of your company to all their peers.

Traction is more important than being written about.

A marketing launch establishes your positioning:

If you don't know what the right positioning is for your company, do not launch. Figuring this out takes time, and few entrepreneurs have the patience to wait it out, because the business plan does such a good job of explaining what customers are going to think. The problem is that customers don't read your business plan.You have to know your business model. Most startups launch before they've figured out what business they're in. Pay attention to your fundamental driver of growth. If the product needs to be tweaked just a little bit in order to convert users into customers, you want to figure that out before the launch. If the viral coefficient is 0.9, keep iterating until it's 1.1 before you launch. And if your product doesn't retain customers, what's the point of driving a bunch of them to use it? Spend your time with renewable sources of customers and iterate.

Eric Ries offers very clear guidance:

So don't combine your product launch with a marketing launch. Instead, do your product launch first. Don't chicken out and do a closed beta; get real customers in through real renewable channels. Start with a five-dollar-a-day SEM campaign. Iterate as fast and for as long as you can. Don't scale. Don't marketing launch.

How do you know you're ready for marketing launch?

  • When you have a strategy for the launch, which means knowing why you're doing it. Make sure it's solving a problem you actually have, and not one that you think you might have some day.
  • Know what the success metrics are for the launch. If you know what the strategy is, you'll know how to tell it was a success. Write it down ahead of time, and hold yourself accountable for hitting those objectives.
  • Know what your fundamental driver of growth is. Make sure the math for your model makes sense. That way, you'll be able to predict the future. When customers come in from your marketing launch, you'll know exactly what they are going to do and how that benefits your business.

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