Like all lean startups that also practice agile development, our company makes small releases of the product and website roughly twice a month. With each release, we gather valuable information, reach tentative conclusions, and incorporate what we learn into subsequent releases.
However, every once in a while, the time comes to launch an entirely new version of the product. This blog is about the mechanics and psychology of a major launch.
First, let me digress for a moment about the role of fear. Early in my life, I thought that the fears I felt (e.g., fear of embarrassment, fear of failure) were character weaknesses. Now I see them as strengths. These fears drive me toward careful planning and fastidious preparation for major events so that neither embarrassment nor failure becomes likely. With this planning and preparation comes a desire for perfection.
As an entrepreneur, I cannot explicitly look for colleagues who possess a similar “gift of fear,” but the team members that succeed with me do share my attraction to planning, preparation, and perfectionism, regardless of their motivation.
So, how does this all apply to launching a major release of a product? Product releases have dozens of interrelated moving parts. The proper functioning of each part relies on the unique talents of your team. Seamless interconnections between the parts rely on communication between the individuals on your team. And all of the parts and their interrelationships are highly visible. If anything fails, the opportunities for embarrassment and failure are huge. Now you see where planning and preparation, and thus fear, play roles.
Let’s talk about some of the parts, how they interrelate, and how to avoid failure to launch well.
- Add enough new features so you can seriously claim (from a press release perspective) that this is indeed really a new version of the product
- Select features based on plenty of customer feedback. To do this, read my article on the art of triage.
- Make sure you update all your help screens to match your new features
- Buggy software is a great way to lose all your customers. Thorough testing is a necessity. At Offtoa, we spend 2-3 months doing system testing on a new major release of a product after development has finished with it and before we release it to the general public. Is this overkill? Perhaps. But like I said above, we don’t like to be embarrassed!
- Use your loyal customers to help with testing. We bring on board such beta customers toward the end of our own system testing. We don’t expect them to find anything wrong, but if they do, any damage is well-contained.
- Usually, a major new release of the product coincides with refined messaging and new differentiators. So, a newly designed website is almost always in order. Certainly content will need to change.
- A major new release of the product is also a great time to freshen up the website with a similar look and feel.
- Since a new product release always implies new differentiators (or else why are you building a new release?), you should be spending considerable effort on a new marketing campaign.
- As a guideline for software companies, I spend equal resources on marketing and development in preparation for each major new release.
- Target 1-2 specific vertical markets.
- Make sure you fully understand the pains of your targeted vertical markets and the messaging that drives home how your product relieves that pain. This is essential to conversion rates and low customer acquisition costs.
- If you are using Google AdWords (or equivalent) to drive traffic to your website, you’ll need to use all you have learned from earlier campaigns about which search words attract the most qualified leads from of your targeted vertical markets.
- Make sure you have built customized landing pages for each AdWords campaign to help convert leads into customers. Once again, earlier campaigns should have helped you hone the messaging.
- Construct and disseminate press releases to appropriate media outlets to help drive both customer traffic and analyst interest.
- Instrument (e.g., with Google Analytics or equivalent) your website so you understand how leads become customers.
- Contact your current customers in advance about the new release so they have plenty of warning.
- Create a transition plan to seamlessly transition your current customers to the new product without any pain felt by them. You need to convert all customer data.
Twenty years ago, software development companies released all new functionality in huge new releases. Today we have learned the value of both minimally viable products (MVP) as well as small incremental releases. However, even with this new knowledge, major new product releases are still necessary on occasion. And these are fraught with risk. Avoid failure to launch well, which hurts the credibility of your company and your product, and consider these tips when you are about to embark on your major release.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr. Al Davis has published 100+ articles in journals, conferences and trade press, and lectured 2,000+ times in 28 countries. He is the author of 6 books, including the latest, Will Your New Start Up Make Money? He is co-founder and CEO of Offtoa, Inc., an internet company that assists entrepreneurs in crafting their business strategies to optimize financial return for themselves and their investors. Formerly, he was founding member of the board of directors of Requisite, Inc., acquired by Rational Software Corporation in 1997, and subsequently acquired by IBM in 2003; co-founder, chairman and CEO of Omni-Vista, Inc.; and vice president at BTG, Inc., a Virginia-based company that went public in 1995, acquired by Titan in 2001, and subsequently acquired by L-3 Communications in 2003.
If you’d like to learn if your great business idea will make money, take a look at Will Your New Start Up Make Money?
Fear photo is a screen capture from the public domain film ”Carnival of Souls.”