Launching Products: an Entreprenuer's Course in Focus and Flexibility

by Jill Foster on September 15, 2009

I am in the process of launching a new product.
I’m not new to this, in fact, I’ve been fortunate to be a part of many product launches over the years. But this is the first time I’m launching a product without a large company behind me. No one told me what to build, how to build it, 13 ways to change it, how to monetize it, how to promote it, how we can’t promote it and 27 other things that we must do, cannot do, other people should do, etc, etc.

And wow, is it exciting!

Despite all my experience, there’s a thrill and a fear that is hard to explain. Instead, I’m going to share a few thoughts on how to stay focused and what to expect during the frenzy of launch time.

#1) Set goals as soon as possible so your team has something to strive for.
We started development on our project, Thankfulfor, in late July and even though we weren’t sure if we could do it, we decided we wanted it to be ready to demo at a local event in DC on August 27th. This gave us a hard date to work towards, forcing us to make difficult choices. Going back to our 37signals approach we cut out the “nice to haves” and just focused on the “must haves”.

In almost any product launch, you reach a point where you have to make tough decisions and either slip your date to get more features in, degrade your quality to cut corners or defer some features until later. We decided on the latter.

#2) Visualize your end goal.
We envisioned everything we wanted ourselves and our users to be able to do once we opened up to the public i.e.:

What was an acceptable beta experience?

What elements would we need to keep the buzz going?

How would visitors stay engaged with us and vice versa?

Where could they go with questions or for help?

Asking these types of questions helped us prioritize the “must haves” list and our communication vehicle needs. While our developer continued to write code, my partner and I quickly created email addresses, put the finishing touches on the blog, designed our Twitter page, made sure our analytics were in place, FAQ’s and more.

#3) Daily checkpoints help keep everyone on the same page.
When you’re counting down to a big milestone, you need a lot of team communication and checkpoints to make quick decisions. Fortunately, our bootstrapping team is much smaller than the 20-50+ person teams I used to work with, but checkpoints are just as important. As we got closer to the big day, our communications became much more frequent until finally we had to make the big decision – go or no go?!

#4) #Thankfulfor….flexibility!

(Image Magic of Elegance by Khalid Almasoud)

As much I had planned and desired to fully launch Thankfulfor at the event, at the last minute we decided we would still demo, but wouldn’t fully launch to the world. We had a few bugs and critical pieces to finish up and test, so instead, we password-protected the site, demoed the real thing, but put up a page connected to our email list where any visitors could sign up for our launch announcement. That way we could stay in touch with all the people who wanted to use the product after they met us at the event.

The demo was a success.

We made it interactive, had fun, talked to a ton of people who were genuinely interested in our product and were able to garner some press and buzz that we may not have been able to get otherwise. Most importantly, we received useful early feedback that will help us shape the product in the future.

Delaying the launch by a couple of weeks was frustrating but ultimately the best thing for everyone, specifically those wonderful people who are going to be our first visitors.

As I said when starting my story on this post, launching is a process and it’s most fun when you stay fluid and flexible instead of latching on to a specific vision which can be filled with emotion. As I write this, I know that in a several hours we will have another go/no go decision to make and by this evening, Thankfulfor could be live. Or it may take another day or more and the champagne will just have to wait.

Think we’ve popped the cork on the champagne yet? Check the link and see!

More from:
Jen Consalvo and her series launch at WomenGrowBusiness on bold entrepreneurship.


Guest contributor Jen Consalvo writes the Women Grow Business series on all things related to launching product (pre and post launch). She is co-founder of Shiny Heart Ventures, a new technology startup focused on building community driven products that remind people of the joys of life. For almost 14 years, Jen has led teams in a range of product areas such as digital imaging, social platforms and personalization. The majority of her career was at AOL, planning and building products used by millions of people globally. Also find Jen at jenconsalvo.com, bodysoulconnect.com and twitter.com/noreaster.

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