How to launch a new product as a stand-alone founder (with a 6-step plan 📝)
📔 LESSON OF THE WEEK
How to launch a new product as a stand-alone founder (with a 6-step plan 📝)
There’s nothing better than finally bringing your concept to life for the world to see. Product launches give founders an opportunity to feel a real sense of pride in what they’ve achieved and, often, this is when it starts to feel like the hard work is paying off.
But, product launches (with all the planning, prep, and delivery) come with their own unique kind of stress and challenges. In practice, the final build-up to launch day is a lot to take on, and doing that as a stand-alone founder means that you have to be on your A-game.
Having recently gone through this myself (Mane Hook-Up 2.0 launched on June 28th 🥳) I can say that, in the final days leading to the launch, I felt a bit overwhelmed….
But I’m really grateful to have been through the process and come out the other end. Among the many lessons I learned, the most important one was organisation is KEY. Having a clear sense of direction months ahead of going live not only saved me a lot of precious time, but it kept me sane. So, this week I’ll be sharing all of the things I either implemented or wish I knew before getting started…
THE 6️⃣ STEP LAUNCH PLAN: without further or do, here’s my six-step plan to launch day success. Enjoy!
📝 1. Pre-launch — this is typically the administrative prep that helps you to determine what a successful launch looks like (e.g. timelines, launch goals, vision). In theory, this is not the most exciting part of the plan, but it is the most vital. The materials and documentation that you produce during the pre-launch phase will ultimately guide you throughout the process and provide you with vital information to direct anyone else that contributes to the launch.
1.1 Make an epic to-do list & keep track of everything with a project management tool — whether you’re six months, days, or weeks away from launch day, remember that to-do lists are your best friend. When you’re working on a product launch as a team of one, organisation is everything, and an hour well spent 6x weeks in advance can save your days of headache further down the line. I was fortunate enough to come across this thorough product launch PDF. It was the basis of the Mane Hook-Up launch plan and helped me to draft this six-part plan.
Creating lists breaks a complex launch plan into phases. Turning grand tasks into smaller (not to mention, more manageable) chunks that drive focus and more concrete outcomes. My go-to project management tool is Monday.com but there are some other great alternatives out there like Trello, Asana, and Meister Task (all of which have free versions). Regardless of the platform, the objective of using a project management tool is to create, track and stick to hard deadlines.
1.2 Create a detailed launch timeline — remember to outline key dependencies to make sure that nothing vital falls behind schedule. If anything, remember this one rule: give yourself more time than you think you need.
1.3 List launch goals and a high-level vision — think about what you’re trying to achieve with this launch. More adoption? Engagement? Market dominance? Pick an objective, or a set of them, and then decide what you’ll measure to determine if the launch is a success.
1.4 Outline all legal documentation — never underestimate the importance of legal compliance. Whether you’re launching an MVP or a scalable product, having all of your legal documentation in place is a must. Often for SaaS platforms, this involves writing up privacy policies, having cookie banners, and making sure all sign-up processes are GDPR friendly. Not always an easy task for those who are a team of one. But there are some great terms and conditions generators like Termly and Website Policies that you can rely on. Equally, you can find some great contractors on Upwork or Fiverr.
1.4 Develop your messaging and value proposition — gone are the days of creating a product and sharing it with the masses to see if it sticks. People want to use products created by authentic brands that are genuinely interested in providing solutions to ongoing problems. And, more importantly, doing so in a way that is relatable. So message development and value props are just as important as your product and shouldn’t be considered as an afterthought. Carve out a decent amount of time to dive into this — maybe a few days — and put in the work. Need some help? The HelpScout team have written a great article on how to write a value prop and also linked it to a detailed value prop canvas that you can copy.
1.5 Brainstorm product limitations & missteps that could hurt the launch — having a smooth product launch doesn’t really mean not coming across objections or issues, it means being prepared for them. By understanding the limitations of your product and taking any missteps into consideration ahead of time, you’re simply planning for potential outcomes. For example, when re-developing Mane Hook-Up I made a conscious product decision to focus on serving independent afro hair stylists. This meant that the features and functionality built for salons, have a few limitations and that’s something that I had to prepare for should any salon owners potentially come across them. I found this exercise really reduced the anxiety I felt around launching as I already knew a) why this had happened and b) what the product roadmap looked like in terms of improving the functionality. Ultimately, I can now answer the tough questions instead of dodging them.
📈 2. Mapping out metrics — when you’re launching a new product, you’ll want to understand if it’s performing pretty quickly. This step is key to helping you determine what to keep, improve and drop going forwards.
2.1 Figure out your North Star metric — your North Star metric is the topline data that your product or business efforts are centred around. All of your energy will be channelled into moving the needle on this one (or a few) particular numbers and this can really help stimulate growth. If you need some examples, Lenny Rachitsky has written a great article about how to choose a north star metric and shares examples from some of the best in the business (think Airbnb, Dropbox, and Calm).
2.2 Decide on your SSOT, SVOTs & MVOT — Data can get messy when you don’t think about how it’s collected and processed in the long term so, you’ll also have to consider what “single source(s) of truth” (SSOT), “single view(s) of the truth” (SVOT) and “multiple views of the truth” (MVOT) will be. SSOT is a data storage principle where you decide to always source a particular piece of information from one place. For example, in terms of the total number of customers and stylists, the Mane Hook-Up database is my SSOT. The SVOT is defined as a view of data that everyone agrees is the real, trusted number for particular data. This improves accuracy and makes sure that all of your data is structured, coherent and accurate for everyone to view. Finally, your MVOT is the support and management of that data allowing you to create dashboards and reports to be used across business functions. I’m not a data expert so I’ve also found some great articles on Forbes, LinkedIn and the Harvard Business Review that go into more detail if you’re interested in learning more.
2.3 Automate data collection and reporting — there are a host of tools that can help you to automate the way that data is collected and processed, making it easier for you to create reports and get a view of what’s happening. The real question is, what tools are best? That’s really down to what product you’re building and personal preference. But here are a few that I’ve used and stick by for SaaS platforms: Mixpanel (for reporting from multiple sources), Heap (for event tracking), Google Analytics (for website tracking) and Google Optimisely (for website experiments).
2.4 Create a schedule to evaluate the results — as a founder you should be checking your numbers weekly (at a minimum) to get an idea of exactly how things are going. Making time for a detailed check-in monthly and quarterly to get a view of what your growth looks like is also really important. Now’s the time to make sure that is scheduled in and becomes a key part of your routine.
⚽ 3. Kick-off — these are all of the calls and meetings with the people responsible for delivering different aspects of the launch (e.g. developers, content managers, PR agents). Beyond staying on top of your own workload, you’ll need to be prepared to stay a step ahead of everyone involved.
3.1. Define each person’s role/responsibilities & create sound processes — as a leader, you want to make sure that everyone involved in your product launch understands what their role is. Often it’s the act of feeling the full weight of responsibility that makes people step up in the quality of their work and delivery. So, make your values clear from the get-go. For example, if you’re a non-technical founder (like myself) and you’re want to make sure that quality is at the heart of all the work produced, put QA processes in place. Find someone trustworthy to run through your developers’ code and add that to the launch process. Doing so will make it very clear that a developer’s role isn’t just to build a product, it’s to build a quality one. Setting expectations like this at the beginning of the process can save you a lot of time going forwards and solidifies the standards that you’re reaching for.
💬 4. Feedback process — stress testing and collecting feedback from various people ahead of the launch is pretty imperative (especially for SaaS platforms and websites). I turn to friends, family members, and business partners for this phase as they’re already committed to helping me. Which also means that they’re likely to test thoroughly. If you own a SaaS platform this step/process is really integral as it’ll help you catch any unexpected bugs and deal with them before putting your product in front of new and returning customers.
4.1. Personally stress test the product — I do this to catch anything that is glaringly obvious that can be fixed pretty quickly (e.g. password resets not working, customer login bugs, etc). It gets tricky when different types of users can create an account as you then have to open test accounts and bear in mind that some actions (like signing up) can only be done once. To make this more manageable, you can personally test the features that affect your value prop and leave the rest to your volunteers. For example, as Mane Hook-Up helps people to book hair appointments, I focussed on stress testing everything around the booking process.
4.2. Get 6-10 people to stress test the product — as scary as it can be to hand over a slightly unfinished version of your product, you’ll be grateful for it in the end. The more volunteers you have, the better as this increases your chance of catching any irritating bugs ahead of launching. To keep everything organised, I recommend a) giving all of your volunteers a list of actions to take, e.g. create an account, book an appointment. And, b) use a document or tool to collect their feedback. This can be as simple as a Google Sheet or a more comprehensive tool like Productroad.
4.3. Create a beta testing program (if applicable) — finally, if you’re lucky enough to have some early adopters ready to test out your new features or product, create a sense of structure so that you can collect feedback with ease. Similarly to the step above, you can use Productroad (or something along those lines) to do so.
📣 5. Content, PR & go-to-market (aka. GTM) plan — creating a product is only half the job. You also have to make sure that you’re reaching the right customers and that your value proposition resonates with them. That’s where the actual launch and go-to-market plan comes in. If this is a first for you take a look at this article to get some inspiration.
5.1. Prepare your pricing explanation (if applicable) — for some of you, a new product launch also includes a new pricing model. And planning how you communicate this is even more important if you’ve increased your pricing or if you’re moving from a freemium to a paid model for the first time. Hopefully, the value of your product will speak for itself and customers will be happy to part with their money. But, bear in mind that what’s happening in the world has a huge impact on how people receive these messages. For example, removing a freemium tier in the midst of COVID (when people have been more price sensitive) is possible but tricky depending on who your audience is. In this case, you might want to warm your current customers up to the idea by giving them plenty of time to prepare before the switch. Showing that level of courtesy can go a long way and help you to keep customers, who otherwise, may have abandoned ship.
5.2. Practice your elevator pitch - knowing how to communicate the value of your product quickly and effectively is a skill that all founders need to hone. Whether you’re speaking to friends or a journalist, you need to be able to summarise exactly what your product does, who it’s for, and why they should care in 30s or less.
5.3. Work on onboarding and help content — as nice as it would be for your users to instinctively know how to use your product, that won’t always be the case. If you want to speed up your product activation and adoption, providing users with helpful content along the way always helps. This can be as simple as creating short YouTube tutorial videos, integrating a help centre (like Zendesk or Intercom), or going all in and preparing a detailed product tour. Regardless, you’ll have to spend time planning and producing that content long before your launch to make sure it’s ready to go. I looked at my competitors for inspiration when it came to creating the onboarding content for Mane Hook-Up and opted for short video tutorials for stylists and a help centre for customers booking appointments. Which reminds me, if you have two or more types of people using your platform, make sure the onboarding/help content is right for them.
5.4. Create pre/post-launch assets & start outreach — finally, work on the assets for all of your content. You can either use some easy design platforms (Crello and Canva are two of my favourites), or head to Fiverr to find someone who can do the work for you.
🚀 6. Launch day — finally, the big day is here! And you need to be ready to pull all of the leavers and execute.
6.1 Coordinate with your team and make sure everyone’s role is clear — even as a lone founder, you’ll likely have a few hands on deck for a new product launch (e.g. a developer, designer, friend or family member). To make sure you stay calm (and sane) on the day, make sure you have a clear plan in place for who is responsible for what and when it needs to be done. This will stop people from overstepping into areas that aren’t responsible for at a pretty crucial time, giving everyone the headspace to crack on and deliver their part.
6.2 Have a timeline for delivery — now that you know who is doing what, it’s time to focus on deadlines. I made the mistake of not giving my team deadlines for on launch day and instead of going live at 1pm, Mane Hook-Up went live a few hours later. Now, that doesn’t sound like a big deal but historically I know that the sweet spot for high traffic and engagement was between 1-2pm was, and I missed it. When we did finally go live, I had more traffic going to the website than usual but it didn’t drive as much engagement as I’ve had from previous launches. This proves that timing can be everything — so make sure you’re on top of this way ahead of the day.
6.3 Double and triple check everything before you officially go live — giving your product a once over never hurts. Sometimes, moving platforms or switching from test to live sites can bring up unexpected bugs so it’s always worth having one last look before you start broadcasting to the world.
6.4 Get your announcements ready — the moment you’ve been waiting for! Send the emails, post the Instagram story, send the links to your family and friends and take a breath. You did it 👏🏾
I hope that all of this information was helpful! If you have a product launch coming up and want to pick my brain, feel free to reach out on Twitter. I’ll be more than happy to help.
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🧰 FOUNDERS TOOLBOX
As a tool and app junkie, I’m regularly looking for anything that can streamline a process, cut down on time, and overall, make my life as a founder easier. For anyone who needs them, here are a few tools that found a special place in my toolbox this week.
Online networking with Lunchclub
For those who would rather network on a 1:1 basis, Lunchclub is a great app to use. Not only doesLunchclub pair you up with professionals and entrepreneurs that you can get advice from, but it’s also a great way to constantly have new conversations plugged into your routine. With covid pumping the breaks on in-person events, I’d say this is a great alternative. Also, as an introvert/ambivert, I personally prefer speaking to one person more casually than a group of people. There’s less pressure and you have more time to really get to know the person you’re speaking to. Bonus: it’s free.
Getting press coverage for your product or business is probably one of the more challenging tasks when it comes to being a founder. Not many of us have personal relationships with journalists that we can rely on when key features are released or new products are launched. But Lightbulb is really breaking down this barrier by creating a space for entrepreneurs and press to chat with each other. They’ve created a Facebook group which, for £5 a month, gives you access to journalists who will put in requests for interviews, appearances, and quotes. Giving you a chance to at least begin building relationships with people who might be interested in what you’re creating.
Help Becoming a Founder to grow by sharing it with a fellow founder or friend 🔥 🔥
🐤 TWEET TIPS
Coming up next time…
And that’s a wrap for this week. Here are some of the things that are coming up next!
Switching developer teams (woo this one was A LOT) 💻
Finding support without a budget 💰
Forming partnerships with like-minded brands 🤝🏾