A few days ago, my startup HubSpot, launched a new app called Press Release Grader. It's not our core product, but a free tool for marketers and PR folks to analyze a press release and provide suggestions.
The launch has gone exceptionally well for us (and by that, I mean, the uptake in the community is much, much better than we were expecting). Would put some stats here, but it'd seem a bit like bragging and the focus of this article is not on press release grader or its specific results, but things I learned from putting it out there.
Warning: As noted in the title, I have an uncanny knack for the obvious, and I like to focus on the fundamentals (which is a polite way of saying that you're unlikely to find any brilliantly insightful lessons here).
7 Uncannily Obvious Lessons From A Product Launch
1. It's Not Too Early To Release: I'm a really, really big fan of the "release early, release often" mantra. But, even I fell prey to the "let me just get a bit more done" mind-set. I could have released the product a few weeks earlier, and I should have done exactly that.
2. Be Ready To Iterate: I intentionally cleared my schedule of other major distractions so I could focus on the software and iterate, iterate, iterate. In the days after the release/launch, I iterated like crazy with multiple production updates a day. Not a day should go buy that the software doesn't get better for the users. Continue this as long as you can (maybe even weeks and months).
3. Provide Simple Feedback Mechanism: You don't need anything fancy. Just a place for users to click a link, type in some feedback and send it to you. That's it.
4. Respond To Feedback: This goes back to #2. You should be ready to fix the "obvious" bugs and add the enhancements based on user feedback (as long as they make sense). The magic of immediate user responsiveness is underestimated. I've had a couple of noteworthy bloggers write about Press Release Grader simply because of the rapid response-time. It's just good, clean living.
5. Track As Much Data As You Can: For a web product, I'd suggest that at a minimum, you track all the standard web data (this can be done via a web analytics tool) + any "inputs" that the user is providing.
6. Don't Waste Time Coding Reports: Although you should track/store as much usage data as you can, don't waste time creating fancy (or non-fancy) reports just yet. Just capture it. Some simple mechanism to get a sense of usage is fine, but don't try to build ways to look at all the data you're tracking. It's a distraction. Focus on what will make the users happy. You can work on reports later.
7. Watch It Spread, Nudge It Along: You should be spending half of your time not just on coding, but on promotion. This includes watching who the product is getting picked up by across the web and who's writing about it. When people do write about it, thank them and offer to do something about their ideas and feedback. This works wonders. Even if you've got the luxury of business people (marketing, PR, etc.), stay involved. There's no replacement for being "plugged in" to the community.
On point #7, here are places I check to see what's being said: Google (mostly blogs), Twitter, delicious, StumbleUpon and digg. (I have a wee bit of an advantage because I've got some internal tools to help with this stuff).
What lessons have you learned from releasing a product out to the wild? What will you repeat and what will you change the next time?