If you want to give your new business a decent chance at success, you need to generate traction: clear, measurable evidence that people are interested in what your company offers. And that won’t happen on the first day.
So why do startups make big, flashy announcements on their launch day? Because that’s the way it’s been done for years. But that strategy can actually do more harm than good.
When no one knows who you are or what you do, you have to buck conventional wisdom and take the plunge quietly, without fanfare. It took me almost 20 years and a dozen startups to realize that my launch problem wasn’t that I was doing the wrong advertising; my problem was that I shouldn’t have been advertising at all. Not yet, anyway.
Now that I see all the problems that come with a big, flashy day one launch, whether it’s a new company, a new product, a new project, or a new feature, I can’t help but see them.
Here’s what those problems are and how to avoid them.
Here’s the truth about how pre-launch advertising works:
- The startup writes a press release announcing their formation or product launch and what they are going to achieve.
- Entrepreneurial publications that post press releases on their website and social media perhaps use a landing page with a beta signup or email list signup.
- A group of people close to that startup congratulate the startup for existing.
And then, that’s it. The expected result is that the press explosion will generate enough groundswell to start a rocket of viral interest in the startup’s offering, and that interest can be captured in a beta program or email updates to interested parties.
But I can’t count the number of times founders asked me what they did wrong, because no one joined their beta program or email list.
They got no press, because no decent media outlet with reach will write a story about a company or product launch unless a secondary human interest story is attached. Or maybe they got the press, but that press had a couple of hours of shelf life and didn’t produce any results.
They didn’t make the cut on their crowdfunding campaign or Product Hunt or whatever. Or maybe they did it because they have a lot of personal contacts they could bother. But beyond the boost from their personal contacts, they got no viral traction.
Speaking of personal contacts, whether or not they got a big boost on social media, depending on the number of those personal contacts and the level of harassment. But whether the rise of social media was a trickle or a waterfall, very little of it translated into capturing customer interest.
The only mistake these startups make is setting unrealistic expectations. There is absolutely nothing wrong with letting the world know that you have started something. In fact, in my house we celebrate endings AND beginnings, because beginnings are important.
But what I teach and preach is that you have to know the clear difference between the attention you get for starting something and the attention you get for accomplishing something.
Congratulatory attention can be dangerous at first because, on the one hand, it is easily interpreted as success.
This can happen internally, where the team can feel like they’ve accomplished something just by letting the world know it exists. This can quickly turn into a false sense of confidence. All they need to do is show up and do what they said they were going to do, and they will get it done.
It can also happen externally, and that’s much worse. Congratulatory attention can lead to putting a lot of attention and effort into meeting the expectations of a public perception that you will have to constantly worry about meeting. Suddenly, your startup finds itself in a very small bubble of its own creation.
When you start something, you have to let a lot of people know, but these people have to be the right people. They must be people who are in a position to help. That’s not the whole world. You shouldn’t be looking for viralization, you should be looking for traction.
Without first getting traction, you’ll have no idea if the offer you’re asking people to fall in love with is the same offer that will actually be successful for your startup.
Therefore, pre-launch advertising could end up selling potential customers a fake invoice.
Once your startup has customers, and once those customers start paying for something they find value in, your product will look and act completely different than the idea you dreamed up to launch your company.
If you invite everyone to come and see that pre-pull product, you’re going to end up with all kinds of noise.
You don’t want everyone to use the first version of your product. And you don’t want just anyone to use the first version of your product. This is true beyond your demo, your alpha, your beta, your MVP, whatever you want to call your pre-release system.
Even once you get to version 1.0 of the actual, launchable product, with all the features in place and all the kinks worked out, you still want to be selective about your first batch of real, random, paying customers.
Because of the noise.
When you launch, you want to serve the customers who will be the most valuable in helping you shape your market. You are involved in selecting this valuable customer segment – it is those customers who you believe will find the most value in your product.
Find them and sell to them first.
The launches themselves are loud. Things go wrong, expectations are all over the place, customers get irritated. If you have a random collection of low-quality clients using your release version, that noise may be enough to bring you down.
Traction means different things to different businesses. But I like to think of it as the subtitle of your press release.
ABC company announces the launch of product XYZ: the company exits beta with 100 paying customers.
ABC Company announces the launch of product XYZ: the company partners with MegaCorp in a nationwide distribution agreement.
ABC company announces the launch of product XYZ: the company touts a proven 50% savings on device production costs.
I’m not saying that a startup should remain silent forever. I’m not saying to just tell your friends and family that you’ve started a business. But all the advertising you do should be targeted.
So when does it go big? When you have numbers. Announce deals, such as big sales, milestones, partnerships, and anything that validates the value of your product to real customers. Now you have a reason for people to act.