Launching a startup isn’t easy. But what you quickly realize is that the real work comes immediately thereafter.
Our launch of Standout Jobs at DEMO was a big success. We generated plenty of buzz, brought in some great customers and the product held up to the initial onslaught of traffic, users and feedback. And for about 1 day I felt like everything was under control. Oops…
The honeymoon ended pretty darn quickly.
Although launching Standout Jobs (or any startup) requires a lot of things to happen at once, you do have the benefit of being able to focus primarily on product development beforehand. If you’re not launching at an event like DEMO, then you have even less to worry about because the initial push of buzz, marketing, preparation for a presentation, etc. is lessened. So the focus remains on product development. Raising capital is also a major concern for many startups out of the gate, and it can certainly be a sizable distraction from product development. Nevertheless, there’s focus.
As soon as you launch, you immediately realize that you’ll be running on even more paths than before.
- Sales. Well that’s true, sales would be nice. Before launch (or B.L.) you don’t have to think about sales. After launch (A.L.) it becomes a major concern. If it’s not actual sales, it’s acquiring an audience. Same thing – B.L. it wasn’t an issue, A.L. it’s a huge issue. And chances are you’re not a salesperson. Neither is your co-founder or anyone else on your team. Most startups don’t start with great salespeople. It makes sales that much harder.
- Marketing. You can’t have sales without generating leads. And you generate leads through marketing. I bet that many startups launch without really thinking about how they’ll do this. It’s not easy, because now we get into areas that most founders aren’t experts in. How are you going to market your business? Google AdWords? Direct marketing? Direct mail? What sort of outreach are you going to do and how? If you launch big and successfully, you’ll want to capitalize on that to have several concurrent marketing campaigns ready to roll.
- Maintaining Buzz. Launching at an event like DEMO is great for generating buzz, but it dies quickly, unless you have a plan for maintaining it. That means focusing on more PR into the mainstream media, pushing the blogosphere and concocting crazy viral schemes to get people talking. One of the worst things you can do after launch is ignore the buzz machine. Hopefully as a startup founder you have some experience in the world of social media and you understand the importance of blogging, social networking and social bookmarking sites. If you don’t, um…figure it out. And quickly. When we launched Standout Jobs nearly 300 people bookmarked our site on del.icio.us which resulted in some great traffic.
- Business Development / Partnerships. Before launch, you may have given this sort of thing a bit of thought – looking at potential partners, resellers, etc. – but since you didn’t have a product to show them, or any traction to speak of, you probably didn’t pursue these opportunities. As soon as you launch that all changes. If you launch big, biz dev and partnership opportunities will start to come to you. And that’s great. But you also have to go look for them. That means thinking about your business strategically in the larger ecosystem of your industry. So while you’re trying to build up your own customer base, market to potential customers and maintain buzz, you’re also looking at partnerships that can help increase sales, marketing and buzz. And in my experience, business development and partnership opportunities can take up a lot of time.
- Product Development. This is where you probably have the strongest handle. You know the product is nowhere near complete. Maybe you launched in Private Beta, and are working like mad fools to launch for real. Great. Product development is extremely important. But if you think product development is the most important thing at this point, you should look at your priorities. And rest assured that all the other things that start to happen will immediately pull focus away from product development. It becomes absolutely essential A.L. (that’s after launch) to have a great product roadmap and the infrastructure in place to handle bug management, feedback and feature development. Think: source control, bug tracking, quick iterations.
- Customers. Oh ya, and hopefully…you have some customers. Woohoo! Customers rock! But they also bring with them a few cans of worms that you might not be ready for, especially if this is your first startup. For starters, you better be ready to handle customer support. Businesses live and die by the quality of support and service they offer. And it doesn’t matter if you’re selling to businesses or consumers – be prepared to manage support quickly and effectively. I’m obsessive about support because I know it will win me many more customers in the long run. Customers also generate a lot of feedback. How you handle that feedback is critical. You can’t let it distract you from your product roadmap, but you can’t ignore it either. And customers will often behave completely differently than you’d expect. They’ll use your product in ways you didn’t think of, and that may mean adjusting your plans going forward.
Finally, you need to have systems and plans in place to handle selling to your customers. For example, you might be offering a free trial. But that means you have to convert customers from free to paying. Do you have a plan for that? Do you have the tools (be it an email management tool, CRM, etc.) to manage that? You’ll need the infrastructure in place to handle that.
Before launch, your focus is much narrower. You’re building a product, developing as quickly as possible, and potentially raising money simultaneously. And without a doubt, it’s very difficult to do both at the same time. But such is the life of a startup.
After launch, all hell breaks loose. At least I hope it does! Suddenly you’re running on multiple paths, and many of those are areas where you have little or no expertise. That makes it even more challenging. The best thing is to be aware of the fact that this will happen after you launch. And you should take the time before launch to prepare as much as possible.
- Setup the proper infrastructure (for development, customer support, sales management, etc.)
- Outsource those things you really need help with – such as public relations, marketing and potentially even sales.
- Prioritize what you have to get done after launch, and don’t put product development as the top priority (at least not by itself.)
- Focus on getting things done and not on the overwhelming amount that you want to accomplish right this second. You can’t get everything done in an instant; just make progress every single day towards your goals. (Oh, having goals is a good idea too!)
Launching a startup is a huge endeavor. And you should consider it a great milestone! Take a breather right after you launch, and admire the work you’ve put in to get to that point. Then stop patting yourself on the back and get down to the real work … because it’s only just begun.