Many people will tell you the best way to launch a product is to do so early and iterate constantly. I’ve said the same thing, and generally agree with that sentiment. You don’t want to spend a year building a product without any serious customer feedback, without putting your feet to the fire in the wilds of the marketplace.
But one of the downfalls of iterating and releasing constantly is that you lose the opportunity to package a launch into a more full-blown marketing and press campaign. Releasing new features every few weeks doesn’t necessarily allow for the time and energy to be put into marketing and selling those features effectively. That doesn’t mean you should abandon the iterative process and the “release often” mantra, but think about building towards more major releases while doing so:
- Quick product launch to start
- Iterate & release
- Iterate & release
- Iterate & release
- Release Version 2
So while you’re iterating and releasing updates, patches, fixes and new features, think about how you can package all of that and additional things into a new version of your product. This gives you the chance to align marketing, PR and business development initiatives simultaneously.
Standout Jobs launched in late January. Since then we’ve released a bunch of new features, fixed a bunch of issues and overall improved the system. For awhile we were releasing every 2 days to fine tune a bunch of things, and once things “calmed down” we got into a weekly or bi-weekly release schedule. But at the same time, we’ve been working towards “version two” of the product. It’s taking the combined effort of what we’ve done to-date, adding significant new functionality into the mix (based a great deal on customer and marketplace feedback), and giving us the chance to reset the marker for moving forward. In some ways it will be the “going out of Beta” stage for us … which many software companies experience.
With that in mind, I wanted to share a few things we’re learning and preparing as we move towards a new version of our product (and here’s where the “Big Bang Theory” comes in, although it’s hardly a theory, more a string of ideas mashed together…)
- Don’t Get Lost in Development: It’s not about disappearing for 6 months and suddenly releasing a completely new product. We’re doing more than adding a couple of enhancements, but the development cycle isn’t more than a few months. So keep the development cycle as short as possible, even when contemplating a “big new release.”
- Align Your Brand: Now’s the time to get your brand message and corporate brand in order. Take a look at your website. Take a look at the messaging you use to sell / promote your product. Is it all aligned and making sense with what you’ll be releasing in the next version? If you are going to change those things – i.e. the design of your website, or the brand messaging – then it’s the perfect time to do it, because you can release all of that simultaneously with the new product version.
- Fine Tune Your Business Model: Many companies release quickly (often with a free product) and look to implement a business model after the fact. Iterative releases aren’t ideal for launching business models, because the sum total of the changes made may not be enough to justify charging people. But when you release a “new version” and package it properly, you give yourself the chance to also introduce a good business model that layers on top of the previous success you’ve had with your free product.
- Prep the Marketing and Public Relations Machines: If you’re launching a new version of your product, launch it big, and make as much noise as possible. That’s my take. When you’re iterating and releasing constantly, you’re building momentum, you’re maintaining touch points with customers, prospects, etc. But when you’re launching a new version, it’s time to bring out the trumpets and blast ’em. So have a marketing plan and PR campaign ready to go. You want plenty of news going out about the release, you want lots of chatter and then you want to maintain that momentum going forward.
- Build Momentum Before Launching: Ideally, you’re making a ton of noise and building up lots of momentum right before you launch the new version of your product. There’s no reason for the launch to come out of left field and surprise people. Get people talking about it. Let clients know what’s coming. Generate as much buzz as you can, to improve your chances of a successful launch.
- Don’t Forget Your Customers: Your existing customers (whether using a free version of your product or not) are your best friends. Treat them well during the launch process. Get some of them up and running beforehand as beta testers. Leverage your happy customers for testimonials and case studies that you can use to promote the launch.
- Try Something New: As crazy as things are in your preparation towards the big launch, now is the time to try things out in a different way. Or maybe you’ve had some things you wanted to do for awhile and never got around to in the process of constant iteration. I’ve had a few “backburner ideas” sitting around that I’ll try to implement in conjunction with our new release. It’s good timing to package those things up, and experiment a little.
- Clear Your Schedule: Don’t overload yourself immediately after a big product launch. You’ll be in crazy-iterative-fix-it mode for awhile, so leave plenty of time for that. And make sure you have of development plan ready to go once you can see past the trees, so you’re not caught asleep at the wheel.
- Timing is Everything: The biggest challenge with a “big launch” is timing. You’ve got developers coding like mad, business people implementing new plans, marketers and PR folks greasing the wheels and everything has to happen at the same time in perfect synchronicity. Guess what? It’s damn hard to do, and chances are some things will go wrong. As long as nothing catastrophic happens, any minor slip-ups will go unnoticed by most people. So don’t panic. Mitigate your risk as much as possible with great planning. Don’t overstep your abilities. It’s better to have a smaller, successful launch than having it all explode in your face.
I’m a big fan of iterative development and releasing often. But there’s also a place for the “big bang” release, which I feel is often overlooked by many startups. You should consider big product launches as a way of drawing a new line in the sand for business and moving forward.