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4 Tips for a Well-Timed Product Launch

Pull the trigger too soon, and your half-baked idea will turn customers away. But waiting for perfection is no less dangerous.
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Deciding when to launch a new product is a challenge for most entrepreneurs. Because we tend to be perfectionists, a new product--no matter how good--never quite achieves our vision of what it can be. We always see more features to add, more bugs to fix--something else to tweak.

Unfortunately, you only get one product launch and if you wait until the product is “perfect”, you could end up with a me-too offering--or never launch at all! On the other hand, launch too early and you risk disappointing your customer and damaging your brand.

The anxiety surrounding the “when” decision is still fresh for me, having recently completed the launch of Shop It To Me Threads. Here are four things I learned from the experience.

1. Launch earlier than you think you should.   

First, face the truth. You are never going to be happy with how your product is on launch. At any given time you’ll have numerous flaws and a long feature list of improvements--some of which could be really helpful as soon as you can get to them. But they shouldn’t hold up your launch. If you are truly invested in the product you are never finished and a slightly better version is always around the corner.

So lower your bar. Don’t wait until your product is finished; wait just until it can give a good first impression. You can always improve it afterwards, but getting the product out will let you get valuable feedback that will shape the features you build next.

When we launched Threads, for example, we still had dozens of new features in development. User feedback on the newly launched beta product enabled us to prioritize which to focus on first in order to make the biggest impact. And when we added new features our users who had the good first impression saw a product constantly getting better.

2. Set the right expectations. 

Don’t over-hype the product just for the sake of creating excitement. You have to be able deliver on what you promise--or you will undermine the credibility of your brand. Offer the user a clear value proposition, and be sure your product delivers.  

You may remember Cuil, which gave the impression that it would be better than Google at search. Or Color, which gave press the impression it was going to topple Facebook. Such grandiose statements may garner press attention, but they’ll ultimately set you up for failure:  if you can’t deliver on such promises right away, you will end up with users who are so unimpressed they won’t return. And, if your offering is still “in development,” be honest about it and invite users to share their comments and suggestions.

3. Stick to your business objectives. 

What do you really want to achieve with this launch? You can’t do it all, so pick one objective that will be a key driver in your timing decision and your target audience. 

In most cases one big purpose of your launch is to get your product out there to test and refine it. In that case, launch as early as possible--which means launch when you have enough of a product to leave people with a good first impression. It does not need to be perfect. Let the user know that you are still in the learning phase by announcing the product as a “beta.” Target early adopters and invite their feedback. You’ll get plenty--and it will help you make a much better offering.

Trying to attract investors? You need to create excitement with your product launch. Go when you have the sizzle to attract attention and have enough of the product in place so that you can tell a great story of where it will go.

If your main goal is growth, you want to be sure you have a great, well-tested product and a growth engine in place before you launch. Then, go big: You want to garner mainstream press to drive first users. You are usually only launching for growth if you are releasing an update to an existing product.

4.  Remember that this is just the beginning. 

We sometimes lose sight of the fact that the product launch is not the end. Yes, it’s a milestone, but don’t overweight it. In the grand scheme of things, the launch is just one small step in building a great, sustainable product. 

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Jan 11, 2013

CHARLIE GRAHAM | Columnist | Founder & CEO, Shop It To Me

Charlie Graham is founder and CEO of Shop It To Me, a free personal assistant for sales of clothing, shoes, and accessories, with more than four million members and close to 200 retail partners.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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