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How (not) to botch a product launch

Rich Jones

Feb 13, 2017 10:30:00 AM

Earlier this week we launched our new product, Of course, you didn't hear about it because we completely flubbed the launch. Somebody submitted it across social media sites before we wanted them to and it got to the front page of HackerNews, at which point the server completely melted and the post fell off into the abyss. Crap. Oh well.


How to Botch A Product Launch
It went something like this.

Here's what we should have done instead.


Launch Strategy

First of all, it's my opinion that if your business has a critical dependency on a successful, buzz-heavy launch, then you're doing it wrong. You can't just launch a website, cause a buzzstorm and suddenly have millions of users who love your product. Maybe this has worked for a very, very small handful of companies, but it won't work for you, so just put that idea out of your mind. Even at its best, launch buzz is really just a bonus to make you feel good, a small reward for all your hard working building a product. Check your traffic stats 3 days after a successful launch and realize that it didn't have quite the impact that you were expecting.


How to Botch A Product Launch Analytics Graph
Get used to seeing this shape.


The goal of your product launch should not to become a household name overnight. If you're just launching, you're not even ready for that anyway. Your goal should be simply to be noticed by a small group of people who can become users, who will engage with your product and give you the precious feedback that you need to iterate and improve. That's it. Launching is step 0.


Figure out who your target audience is and how they consume media. Focus on quality over quantity - 50,000 views from people who have no use for product is less valuable than 500 views from people who can use it.



How to Botch A Product Launch Hype
I appear have stumbled onto a cache of firework mishap animated gifs. Apologies.

Timing is the most important aspect of a launch, and it's also the hardest to control. This is also tightly tied to your target demographic, as different demographics consume media at different times and in different ways. For instance, if you're launching a product to help people find fun nightlife, launch on a Friday! If your product helps people manage their email, launch midweek. (I've found that mobile apps do better on Friday, too.)

Pay attention to the news cycles in the weeks before your launch and figure out the volume and the signal:noise ratio at different times of day to predict the optimal launch time. Pay attention to your competitors as well.

If you're working with bloggers/tech media to cover your product launch, remember that you can't rely on them to release their news about your product at exactly the time they want you to. They're on a different schedule than you are and their motivations are different. I'd recommend trying to reach potential users in more direct channels rather than relying on the tech media and just viewing any media coverage as an added bonus.

Testing and Scaling


How to Botch A Product Launch Traffic
Traffic porn.

Before your launch, make sure you can handle the sudden surge of traffic!

I'd strongly, strongly recommend deploying a caching system, (I'm very partial to Memcached), and make sure that your database server is tuned properly to handle massive amounts of parallel connections.

To test your readiness, I'd recommend the service Blitzio, which uses the Amazon cloud to simulate thousands of simultaneous users to your site. It'll give you some basic reports and some pretty graphs, too. It's pretty cool, and has a free tier. Make sure you test the pages with heavy database load as well (dashboards/activity feeds).

If there are problems, profile your application and figure out how you can improve it, then try again until you're satisfied. When in doubt, buy more RAM.

Tell A Story


How to Botch A Product Launch Story
A good story, too!

Once you're sure you can handle the traffic, make sure you've got your story straight. Having a landing page up isn't enough - you have to answer the question, Why? Give visitors something compelling to talk about.

The internet will probably immediately summarize your product as **Other Service** for **Demographic** ("AirBnb for Dogs!," "GitHub for Gardeners!," "PadMapper for Jobs!," "oDesk for Open Source," etc). You can either roll with it, try to fight it, or try to change the conversation. I'd recommend the later, and the way to do that is by telling a good story.

The might can go something like this: A person has a problem and the current array of solutions didn't help, and something bad happened as a result. You came along with a new approached, changed the game, saved the day, and as a result, a good thing happened.

Be controversial. Don't troll, but it's good to be bold about the problem you're trying to solve. You're trying to make the world suck less, right? So point out why it sucks and why you're making it better.

Capturing Visitors

The final thing to check is that you have a way to continue communicating with the people who expressed interest once the buzz dies down. Don't require them to sign up to see the site, but give them a convenient way to sign up if they want to (and let them know that they won't be spammed or have their contact information sold.)

If you're just launching, I think it's good to personally engage with all the new users you can. Say hello, do some research about them if you can, and ask them what they think about the service and how you can help them more.

This is what running a business is actually all about. Welcome!

Did I miss something? Leave it in the comments below!

Written By:

Rich Jones

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