We’ve gone through several launches in the past two years, from launching the company to launching mobile apps and features, and most recently our re-design to focus on Q&A. If you’re an entrepreneur you can likely identify with pre-launch stress. Your workload is doubled. You have dreams about the launch and what could potentially go wrong. And your developers are in the office until all hours of the night trying to get everything ready. For anyone who’s new to a startup or hasn’t gone through a product launch/redesign, here are our insights on how to stay sane & productive during a launch.
Make sure all hands are on deck before, during and after. Before one of our big launches last year we set a launch date that was the Monday after two out of four team members got back from vacation. We both ended up cancelling for different reasons, and it was a good thing we did. While our developers were putting the finishing touches on the functionality all weekend I was worrying about communicating the new product and getting my other to-dos out of the way. Glad I wasn’t doing all that while sitting on a plane. The day after we launched the company in 2009 we were on a place to DC – trust me, you don’t want to be travelling on business while trying to field a million e-mails and respond to technical issues. Book off the week around launch and make sure you don’t schedule meetings or plan trips during that time.
You will encounter technical difficulties. Whether a feature doesn’t work, or the servers are overloaded and the site is slow, something will go wrong that will have users complaining and your developers pulling their hair out. All you can do is communicate that you’re working on any bugs, and ask people to be patient. You’d be surprised how understanding people can be once you explain that you’re a 4-person team.
There will be haters. While there will be some people who absolutely love the changes you implement, there will also be others who want things to stay just as they were. Some people hate change, and communicating the reasons for your changes will be especially important for these people. Make sure you explain why you’re changing something, how it will benefit them, and how to use it. Get all your communications ready in advance – blog posts, e-mails to your community, FAQ, etc – so you can effectively communicate the changes.
Make it easy for people to share their feedback – and set aside time to respond. Like many startups we’re all about implementing changes that are crowdsourced from the community. That means we really do want to hear when people love or hate something. In all of our launch communications we included a link to our GetSatisfaction page, and our support e-mail address. I set aside a lot of time every time we launch something new to respond to e-mails and questions, and you should too. And respond to every single person. Thank them for their feedback, even if you have no plan of ever implementing their feature suggestion. Every time someone writes to you it means they’ve taken time out of their day to make a connection with your company – don’t waste that opportunity.
Don’t miss a PR opportunity. When you’re at a startup you don’t have a huge marketing or advertising budget. Take advantage of any feature additions by reaching out to relevant media/bloggers to give them a heads-up. Sure, not all of them will find it interesting, but I promise that some will, especially if you give them advance notice. Reach out to key journalists the week before you launch to give them a heads-up, which gives them enough time to write something for your launch date.
You have a network – use it to spread the word. Startups are a very powerful network of people willing to help other people. We truly believe that there’s power in numbers, and 10 entrepreneurial minds are better than one. When you launch something new don’t be afraid to reach out to your friends, fellow startup employees, and your most active users/customers. They already know and like you, and they’ll be happy to spread the word. And don’t forget to return the favour the next time they launch something.
Hopefully this helps anyone who has a big launch coming up. Oh and there’s one more thing I forgot to share: stock up on the junk food and coffee. You’ll need an abundance of both.