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Reconsidering the Big Launch

Inaka Blog wrote this on September 23, 2013 under advice, big, launch, startup, tips .

At Inaka, we spend a lot of time talking clients out of the ever-coveted Big Launch. Although the Big Launch is often held up as the surest road to startup success, we beg to differ. In fact, we think it may actually hinder you.

Why? Because a successful startup is born when its founders refuse to settle for anything less than success. And more often than not, this happens gradually and with a lot of effort, not in a one-day fix-all extravaganza.

Paul Graham explains it this way: a startup is not a projectile, not a paper plane that will go far if only you can throw it hard enough. Instead, a startup is more like a crank-powered aircraft. It will go farther than you could’ve imagined and maybe even power itself, but you have to work impossibly hard cranking the engine in the beginning until it is able to take off.

Here, we take a second look at the Big Launch and why you might want to reconsider the whole thing altogether:

Why the Big Launch Disappoints

Nobody Cares Like You Care

Many founders get into trouble when they equate realizing the startup’s potential with everyone else realizing the startup’s potential, too. They know they’re building something great, so they think everyone will be banging on the door to sign up.

This is simply not true.

Remember – your project is your baby. You give it your all, and you think about it day in and day out. Unfortunately, this is not the case for everyone else. Chances are, your Big Launch would not be the event of the year for anyone except yourself.

Good Press ≠ Many Users

Another common misconception is that a successful Big Launch will bring in good press, which, in turn, will bring in a flood of users.

This, too, is not true. Think about it this way: how many great articles have you read about launch dates without signing up?

A Lot of Work

Planning a Big Launch is a lot of work, and it usually doesn’t get the results you wanted. You know what else is a lot of work, but will get the results you wanted? What you should do instead, as covered below:

What to Do Instead

Recruit Users Manually

Usually, when founders ask someone to try their beta, they send a link that the potential user is then required to follow up on. Spoiler: many of them don’t.

The Collison brothers of Stripe, on the other hand, decided to do it right then and there. When anyone agreed to test the beta, the Collison brothers borrowed their laptops to set it up immediately. According to Paul Graham, this method was coined at Y Combinator as "Collison installation," and it ensured that 100% of these spoken agreements turned into actual beta users.

Airbnb pushed hard for their original users, too. In the beginning, they went door-to-door in New York to recruit users and help others improve their listings.

Recruit the Right Users

If you want users to stay with you, they need to be the right users. Ideally, you want users that are as excited about your concept as you are.

But how do you find these users? Have a good concept, then figure out who needs or wants it the most. If you had yourself in mind when you came up with the idea, then it’s only a matter of finding your peers. If not, do a relatively untargeted launch, and then take note of which users are the most enthusiastic. Seek out more users like them.

Ben Silbermann of Pinterest, for example, noticed that the most enthusiastic users of Pinterest were strongly interested in design. So he went to a design blogger conference to recruit more users like them.

Additionally, it helps to recruit small, concentrated groups first. Pinterest did this with design bloggers, and Facebook did this with Harvard students. Like-minded users will encourage and fuel one another.

Focus on a Weekly Growth Rate

The Big Launch could be likened to counting on winning the lottery instead of saving with compound interest. You could get it all in one fell swoop – but you probably won’t. Actually, you almost definitely won’t. So why not save money instead?

Instead of a Big Launch, focus on growing your audience by 10% a week, for example. In a year, you’ll have one million users.

Focus on Customer Service

A major advantage startups have over big companies is that user bases are small. Small enough, in fact, that startups can afford to give the best customer service. After all, the product is only one piece of the user experience.

If stellar customer service seems a bit counterintuitive – don’t worry. If stellar customer service seems like it won’t scale – don’t worry. It won’t scale, you’re right, but if you make your customers silly-happy, they will promote you for free, and you will only get more and more users. In the end, yes, it may be that you will have too many users to give everyone hand-written notes – but isn’t that the point?

Closing Thoughts

One last word from Paul Graham: "It's harmless if reporters and know-it-alls dismiss your startup. They always get things wrong. It's even ok if investors dismiss your startup; they'll change their minds when they see growth. The big danger is that you'll dismiss your startup yourself."

Don’t count on the Big Launch. Put in the hard, slow work, and it will come.