Launching something new can be intimidating. You don’t know how people will receive it. Will they love it? Will they hate it? Will they say, “Oh yeh, there’s a bunch of people doing that. Have you seen X?” The reality is that until you launch, you don’t know what your potential users might think. You probably have a whole Trello board full of ideas, but until you ship, you’re just iterating in a black box. You build something, come up with some insight, and then rework what you’ve already built in order to get things “perfect” for the coveted launch day. The scope starts to creeps, flows are redesigned to cover an endless array of edge cases, and features are polished far beyond what an initial user might care about.
Usage is like oxygen for ideas. You can never fully anticipate how an audience is going to react to something you’ve created until it’s out there. That means every moment you’re working on something without it being in the public it’s actually dying, deprived of the oxygen of the real world.
I‘ve met so many founders who’ve spent an endless amount of time iterating on their products before a real user ever got to experience it. When you’re a startup, time is against you. You’re burning cash and you have to assume somewhere else in the world someone is building what you’re building — and it’s probably better. If you’re not talking to potential users or letting them experience what you’ve built, you’re not learning what actually matters fast enough. Don’t get me started on founders who happily cite they’re in “stealth mode.” I’ve launched dozens of new features and 1.0 products, but I still make these mistakes all the time — though I like to think I’m getting better about it with each subsequent launch.
On February 17th, we launched Mailjoy on Product Hunt where we received over 700 upvotes and ended up #2 for the day. I was ecstatic, but the real story here is that we actually launched nearly a month earlier without the fanfare of a traditional tech launch.
About two months ago, we had a pretty good idea of how we wanted to position the product and what it would have to have in order to perform well on Product Hunt — our initial v1.0 target audience. We came to the conclusion that it would take two months of work to get there. Rather than waiting, we broke down the development timetable and identified two versions of the product: one was a lightweight, functional version we could launch to get some feedback on, and another — aka our Product Hunt release — that had the features we were pitching to people. This post covers the first version.
How we actually launched
On January 18th, we quietly launched Mailjoy to a portion of my network through email outreach, Facebook, and Twitter. I had two asks: One was to share with people who might be a good fit for this. The other was to share the website more broadly on social. We ended getting over a dozen shares across different channels which drove 100’s of visitors to the site.
What happened by launching early
It brought us early customers
Our first customer came from a share by a friend. By launching early, we found someone who cared enough to take a chance on us right away.
It helped us prioritize our roadmap
As much as we learned what converted visitors to become customers, we learned what was lacking and caused people not to convert. This helped us reprioritize our roadmap before the Product Hunt launch.
It made us tweak our messaging
I like to consider a marketing site the showroom that entices people to take a test drive. If the showroom’s offering isn’t appealing, do people really want to go for a test drive? Probably not. We quickly learned what copy we were missing, as well as how potential customers viewed the product based on how we marketed it.
It identified bugs we needed to fix
Our code wasn’t perfect and we had bugs. That’s OK. Visitors and users gladly pointed what wasn’t working. P.S — We quickly fixed things.
It drove awareness
Brand building takes time. 9.9 times out of 10, startups aren’t an overnight success. One of our goals for launching early was to get the word out that direct mail isn’t dead, and that we’re creating a product that brings it into a digital world.
It changed our mindset
Before you launch, it’s all about building. After you launch, you’ll keep building, but now you have customers to support (hopefully!) and have to start thinking about how to grow what you’ve built.
How to launch faster
Set a launch date and make it happen
A funny thing happens when you set a hard deadline, you quickly realize what is and isn’t important. If you keep this date open ended you’ll end up rationalizing additional development, fixing non-critical bugs, and doing other things that seem important but actually aren’t. All of this just kicks the can down the road.
Define a minimal, delightful experience
Complexity is the enemy. Wherever possible, keep things simple. The goal is to create a product that solves some user’s core problem. Your first iteration should solve it and do little more. Stressing over some complex edge case? Defer it.
Start today so you can move faster tomorrow
You don’t have to view an initial launch as the defining moment of your product. People will see what you’ve built, and either become invested in it or move on. Get it live, and then just keep building and shipping things that make your users happy. You’ll hopefully find more people like them over time, which will make each successive feature launch even more impactful.
With a successful launch on Product Hunt now behind us, we have more customers, received more feedback, and once again, are reprioritizing our short-term roadmap for things that drive the most growth and solve usability challenges. I fundamentally believe that shipping as soon as possible is the key to maximizing your learnings, and, ultimately, growing faster. What I described here with Mailjoy is just one way to launch, but the key is that getting something out in the wild is far more important than the process of how you launch.
Remember, done is better than perfect. Good luck!