7 Uncannily Obvious Lessons From A Product Launch

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7 Uncannily Obvious Lessons From A Product Launch


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?

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Wed, Jun 04, 2008


Dharmesh --
You are the master of the uncannily obvious! (smile)

posted on Wednesday, June 04, 2008 at 10:59 AM by brian halligan

The CEO was hung up on how much polish we could put on the stone. It cost the company almost a year.
Agreed - get it out there and iterate using feedback. A vision is just a vision. Users tend to be better at reality.

posted on Wednesday, June 04, 2008 at 11:07 AM by Tom

Re: # 6 - reporting, maybe it's because I'm a CFO and a data junkie, but I believe you can and should dig deep into your usage data.
There's a high signal to noise ratio on usage metrics. Especially early on, when you have a mix of true believers who use your stuff all the time + a bunch of people who sign up and try once or not at all.
If you dig in and find out who your best users are you know what to look for if you want more great users.
I actually posted on this recently:

posted on Wednesday, June 04, 2008 at 12:07 PM by Mark MacLeod

Mark: I agree on the importance of analyzing the data (we're data junkies too). I'm just saying that in the early, early days after a product release there are other things that are higher priority. Store the data so you can analyze it later.

posted on Wednesday, June 04, 2008 at 12:10 PM by

Hi, it seems the overview video is no longer available on youtube.
Congrats on the launch! :)

posted on Wednesday, June 04, 2008 at 12:40 PM by Jorge Bernal

Great post. A couple points I will reiterate:
1. Simple is always good, I think when we are close to things we sometimes tend to overcomplicate them so I appreciate your brevity and simplicity.
2. In a lot of cases "perfection is the enemy of good". I believe it is better to get something out that is 75%-85% there and have some consistent product development velocity.
I will go tonight and tryout Press Release Grader and see how if we can use it as an organization.
Good luck!

posted on Wednesday, June 04, 2008 at 1:10 PM by Paul Marshall

Great post Dharmesh!
As you wanted it to be, you've got really down to the basics of what works in this new marketing world.
Good luck with the new product!

posted on Wednesday, June 04, 2008 at 2:07 PM by Eric Santos

I liked much of # 2 and # 5, I will try to tranform in reality there.

posted on Wednesday, June 04, 2008 at 11:20 PM by Dirceu Jr.

Well done. When do we get to try it?
My favorite lesson? Simplify based on customer's needs. If they don't value it, dump it (until you are strong enough to prove them wrong.. usually they aren't)

posted on Thursday, June 05, 2008 at 5:11 AM by alicia

Great post Dharmesh. One more thing that you might want to add to the list is the timing of marketing your startup. Very lately I've learned that it is an effort of itself and never should be ignored. Make sure you plan and time on how and when to market your startup.

posted on Friday, June 06, 2008 at 12:18 AM by asukutta

I'd like to comment on #1. If you release too early, maybe with bugs, with some functionality only patly working - a work in progress product - you are making those many people grumpy. And in the initial release when you promote and get a surge of traffic, that means a lot of people. And generally, people won't bother to write about the good things, but they will make it a point to write about things that won't work, so in a way it is negative publicity.
We can release more often, but we gain the 1st impression only once, isn't it? :)

posted on Friday, June 06, 2008 at 1:58 AM by Sonal Pandey

I agree with you Sonal. Some of the users and bloggers are likely to understand that it is a 'work in progress product', as you said, and tend not to be so critical about it. However, specially with the traditional media people (magazines, newspapers, etc.), you might not get another chance to make a good impression.
One thing we've done is to divide the launch in two different milestones: first, a 'private' launch with few formal invitations (and no publicity at all), and a second one, after a couple of more iteractions, with more intentional viral loops and PR effort.

posted on Friday, June 06, 2008 at 9:33 AM by Eric Santos

I'd have to say the greatest lesson I learned was to promote early. Promoting early is much like releasing early. Promoting early gives you a level of instant feedback (are you promoting effectively enough to get your product noticed). Promoting early also allows you to iterate early (if your not promoting effectively iterate).

posted on Sunday, June 08, 2008 at 2:06 AM by Alex

Point .5 Start with something someone wants to pay for. Something that solves a problem. Something that adds value. Anyone can launch a product. The number of me too products in the marketplace tells me there are a lot of people out there playing the business lottery. Its not a PR game - ask the Bloggers.

posted on Sunday, June 08, 2008 at 10:09 AM by Tom gremm

Dharmesh: Good luck with your new product. Your idea that one should release early (and often) flies in the face of what some would say is common sense, but in your case, this method seems to be working just fine. Thanks for your insights, and as always, I'm looking forward to your next post.

posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2008 at 11:27 AM by Anthony Kuhn

It's a great list that would improve the Web if more people took it to hard.
To maximize the impact of the list, you really should plan the launch in advance and create anticipation for the first release.

posted on Thursday, June 12, 2008 at 2:18 AM by Jacob from Group Writing Projects

Stumbled this for you:

posted on Thursday, June 12, 2008 at 2:21 AM by Jacob from Group Writing Projects

@Eric & Sonal I completely agree. The cliche of first impressions is no different on the web, in fact it's worse because the reviews last in perpetuity.
This can be managed by segmenting who you promote to and when i.e. don't provide general updates to the same channel multiple times. Instead get the word out early to segments supportive of your situation, then expand to more general channels as the service matures.
Breaking away from the now overused "beta" to something more helpful that communicates your actual status, progress etc will manage the expectations of visitors and generally make you more interesting.
I am all over the instrumentation - knowing what is going on is CRITICAL. It doesn't need to be fancy but it must be in place and monitored constantly. You will be amazed what you learn and react to.

posted on Thursday, June 12, 2008 at 10:26 PM by Steve Ireland

Ahh. I should of read this post last month..i put foot in mouth, I called a bunch of educators "self important bloogers" and asked "what world are you all from" 
THough we have some of indsutry greats on Board at the gaming krib, it hurt us...http://www.dangerouslyirrelevant.org/2008/04/the-gaming-krib.html 
Though a podcast followed, and actally we changed our scope a bit, they still give us a hard time- i didnt releize the blog was so big. ;( I still feel like they self important bloggers though ;)

posted on Tuesday, July 08, 2008 at 7:14 PM by Michael Vitelli

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