In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about what startups should and shouldn’t do before launching a product.

The startup world is very competitive. Everyday, new products and services are launched. A great way to ensure that your launch goes successfully is to conduct a pre-launch marketing campaign.

In this episode, Steli and Hiten share their thoughts on what pre-launch is, how to do it the right way and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:22 Why this topic was chosen.

01:03 An example of a wrong way to launch a product.

01:12 What you need to understand before launching a big PR campaign.

01:54 The right thing to do pre-launch.

02:40 Why the pre-launch process is super critical.

03:26 Why you shouldn’t rely on your own website or advertising.

03:46 About ProductHunt’s ship feature and how it can be helpful.

04:50 How there’s a lot less focus on the marketing side of launching a product.

05:40 Why it’s important to learn about the value proposition of a product.

06:17 How conducting multiple tests at the pre-launch stage can help you have a better launch.

3 Key Points:

  • The pre-launch process is super critical.
  • There’s a lot less focus on the marketing side of launching a product.
  • Use those early interactions with your users to inform your marketing team on how to marketing the product when you launch.



Steli Efti: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.



Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah.



Steli Efti: And in today’s episode of The Startup Chat, we’re gonna talk about the pre-launch. How to do it right with or without the hype. This even rhymes, I didn’t this realize this when I was writing this down. What I essentially wanna quickly talk to you about is like the kind of best practices of how companies and startups are launching their products. We had an episode where we talked about how to do the launch right, and you recently launched a pretty significant and very successful product. But what I wanna talk about today a little bit is like, what do you do before the launch? Back in the day, companies would invest all this time to do like a really big bang launch, I’ll call it, where they had the product and the marketing and the PR and everything, all happen at once, in one big day. We then learned that that’s a bad idea for various reasons. The biggest being that you need to disconnect and understand that launching product or feature and testing it and getting it in the hands of your users and customers and learning what works and what doesn’t, and collect feedback about how to talk about it and all that, can happen before you do a big PR or marketing push and launch. That has kind of, I think that that’s been something that has improved in our industry, in the startup world in the last few years, like going away from this big event where companies, where startups would spend tons of money and cross their fingers that this one day would define them as a startup. We’ve gone away from it, which is a big improvement. One thing that I’m seeing today though, more and more again, is the … what’s the right thing to do pre-launch in terms of limited alpha, limited beta? And then, how do you create anticipation? I see some startups now that are much better at like quote unquote hyping what’s upcoming, and doing a lot of social media around, “Hey, we have something coming up next week, a new feature, you guys are gonna love it.” And, just like, teasing, teasing, teasing and then launching. You know so much about it, you’re involved in so many launches and pre-launches and all that, so I wanna just do a quick rundown of like how startups, what startups should and shouldn’t do before the launch.



Hiten Shah: Yeah, this is such a good topic. It’s really important to be conscious of it, and understand what you should do before a launch because it’s a different world. I think when we grew up, so to speak, in SAS, it was much different. There was a lot less products out there, customers had different sentiment about product and were honestly willing to try new products much easier, and give you feedback and talk about your products to other people. The bar was just lower. Now the bar’s pretty high on like what they’re willing to use, what they’re willing to do, whether they’re willing to share it with other people. The pre-launch process is super critical and the most high level thing I’ll say about this, is we have many tools available to us, whether it’s social media, media, dot com, blogging on our own sites, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, all these tools that have a tremendous amount of reach and can give us reach even before we launch a product. We’re not just relying on our website and advertising in order to get people to get excited about our product or use it early or sign up for it early. And then on top of that, we have Product Hunt’s ship feature, which has this specific feature inside of it called ‘upcoming,’ where you can basically put your product on there and get a lot of early access users from their community, which are actually product people, for the most part, and people who are really interested in products that will give you feedback early. That’s the kind of feedback you want. You want the feedback from those people, so you can essentially make your product good, create that feeling of early, feeling like people having exclusive access to it, because they do. It’s early, you haven’t launched yet, and they’ll give you feedback, and you create those kind of early evangelists that are so critical to your kind of early stages and later stages of a product. So you can get feedback and learn from them. To me, what I do is I share early and often with a small group of people. Small could be tens of people, small could be thousands of people, depending on the type of product.



Steli Efti: I love that. I think a lot of times when we talk about the pre-launch phase and customer development, I think a lot of the assumption and a lot of the focus goes into product feedback, and usage, and bugs, and you know, analytics, and like how people use the product, and how do they use certain features, and what they understand and don’t understand, and what kind of value it creates for them or not. There’s a lot less discussion and focus on the marketing side of it, doing customer development, talking to your users to understand how they think about it, what they truly value, what language they use to express their experience with your early product, right? And like use those early interactions to inform your marketing and sales team, basically, the customer acquisition side of things, on how to talk and market the product once you’re doing the launch, right?



Hiten Shah: You know, that’s so important. What we tend to do when we do these pre-launch things is learn about the value, learn about the value proposition, learn about the words people use to describe the product, people’s expectation of the product. So it is actually, you’re totally right, I would say that only about 50% of the work is product, product generation, product improvement. The other 50% tends to be understanding people’s expectations of the product. What do they expect? What do they want? What do they need? What are their problems? What are the most important things for us to actually focus on as a product team, or just a team in general? Then, being able to get down to value propositions. So in our case, like we tested dozens of versions of our homepage before we launched. We used the users we had as well as user testers to go figure that out. Why? We weren’t doing any marketing. Well, that’s the first entry point to a website. When we put a new product on or get press or whatever way we’re gonna do marketing, people need to hit our homepage and our landing pages, and they need to understand what we do. They need to understand it so well that they want it, and they wanna sign up and continue, right? Those things don’t happen in a void. You need feedback to nail that stuff. We wanted to nail that. In fact, a lot of that was more important to us than nailing the product.



Steli Efti: I love that. And it’s so crucial, and I think it’s overlooked. On the marketing side of things, I think, sometimes marketing teams and sales teams, they tend to be kind of getting the information from the product or engineering team on what the pre-launch phase is and how the limited alpha or beta is going, and what users are saying, or how successful or unsuccessful things are, or what needs to be worked on. But they’re not right in the middle, in the midst of it, soaking things up, trying things, testing things, so that when it’s launch day, they know they’re gonna hit the nail on the head. They know they’re gonna hit the target because they’ve had the chance to iterate, improve, and test and learn. One thing that I wanna run up this quick episode on when it comes to pre-launching, is the question of teasing, or hyping, or creating buzz, whatever you wanna call it. Many SAS startups I’ve found have gone away from it, or have maybe never even done it that well, but they are publicly launching once they’ve done all the customer development or the research or the limited internal testing. Then they’re like, at some point, ready to announce and to promote and market, but not many are teasing or actively trying to create anticipation for it for people that have not yet used or seen or heard about the product. But I do see now, more than ever, in the last year or so, a few startups, even more established startups that are really good at the marketing side of things, that are doing, that are investing a lot in this, what I would call teasing, in the teasing part of the pre-launch phase. I’m curious if you’ve seen the same thing, what your thoughts are. Is this good? Is this bad? How do you do this well? How should startups think about creating buzz, anticipation, or teasing something before they’re opening it up to the world?



Hiten Shah: I think teasing’s important. You get to tell a story. You get to tell your story. I don’t think it’s important until you actually know what problem you’re trying to solve, and what category you’re going after, what type of people you wanna attract. I would spend a lot more time doing that privately, unless you need to go public a little bit to help you figure that out. But the second you figure that out, the teasing’s super important. It’s super important to get people to understand you exist and you’re solving this problem, and what your journey is. The journey aspect of a business, a startup, is super important. It’s super important for people to resonate with your story. It’s super important for you to tell a story. Even like your marketing site tells a story, whether you believe it or not, right, whether you think of it that way or not. So teasing, to me, is all about story. It’s all about starting that narrative early, and making sure people are resonating with it, and testing it by writing. I love that. I think that it’s definitely something that’s … Honestly, it used to happen a long time ago. I remember this company Amoeba, they were a chat tool that allowed you to chat across many different platforms with one tool. Google ended up buying it many years later, but that team would blog a lot from like the earliest days to help people understand what they were all about, what they were doing, why they were doing it, all that stuff. It’s so powerful, and it was so compelling, like I became a fan of the company, a huge fan. They were like, I think they are a very prime example of what I would do today and what needs to be done by pretty much everybody.



Steli Efti: I love it. All right, that’s it from us for the pre-launch mini-episode of The Startup Chat today. Make sure if you haven’t checked out the “How to launch your product” episode, make sure to check out that one as well. And until next time, we’ll hear you soon.



Hiten Shah: Later.