There is nothing more excruciating than working tirelessly to perfect a new product only to have it bomb upon release.  It's literally the stuff nightmares are made of.

In a world of big data and machine learning, enterprise businesses and well-funded startups are able to set themselves up for success by gauging the customer's appetite for new products long before any release happens. Of course they are. They have tools to learn buying behavior. They use social listening to know exactly what the customer is asking for. They have a budget to reward early adopters, brand advocates, and social influencers.  

But most entrepreneurs will never have this luxury.

Often times, you'll see a scrappy innovator scrape together just enough money to create a solid first draft of a product, show it to family and friends, build a website and a Facebook page, and pray that people will come.  This scenario, sadly, is why fewer than 0.01 percent of apps are financially successful. 

Here are the basic reasons for most failure-to-launches:

  • The entrepreneur does not truly understand who their customer is
  • Customer behavior has not deeply informed the creation of the product
  • No tweaking happens after the product receives consistent (and even overwhelming) feedback
  • A  customer base has not been generated before the product launch
  • There is no real marketing strategy beyond short, siloed activities

In these cases, the product is launched, does not get a response, and the entrepreneur scrambles to make their money back, sometimes spending even more in the process. 

This terrifying parable should not dissuade you from bootstrapping your product, but you have to be smart about your product's development and launch plan. And being smart means being data-driven, even when you're on a tight budget. Hell, especially when you're on a tight budget.

Here are a few things to consider:

Fostering a Beta Community

Developing a strong, connected online community is a great way to develop a highly informed product and create brand advocates in the process.  Countless successful projects started like this.

Capsure, for example, was founded as a social media platform to humanize communication between users by allowing them to segment and swipe between different groups, understanding that people are likely to communicate differently within families than among friends or co-workers.

While the platform was first thought of as a sort of time capsule for private communications among family and close friends, when beta user Dani Davis began using the platform to facilitate communication with the groups featured in her TV show, Girl Starter, the founders of Capsure listened and widened their target audience based on her feedback.

"Hearing how Dani was using the app helped us broaden our original core focus, which was families," says Jeanne Lewis, Co-Founder and CEO of Capsure. "We realized the platform can be utilized for any private group communication, whether it's a business relationship or with family members and friends.... or both."

In this case, the product was refocused for a larger audience, but as you conduct your own beta testing, you might find that it resonates with a much smaller, niche audience than you expected. Finding this out is a good thing!

If you find, for example, that your product is resonating with people of a certain age, in a certain industry, who are using it to accomplish a similar task - take that information to heart.

Using Kickstarter Wisely

As many entrepreneurs have found out the hard way, you can't simply put a good product on Kickstarter and hope for it to be successful.  If you're not prepared, you will probably not receive your funding and will have to deal with the fact that people will see the "Goal Not Reached" page whenever they Google your product in the future. This is why having a beta community is so important.

For every funded project you see on the site, there is almost always a solid marketing plan in play, which includes the utilization of an engaged online community, a sizable mailing list, and a public relations strategy.  If you already have those things, you can certainly use Kickstarter to significantly grow your audience.

I know of a thriving small business in Los Angeles that did just that. It's basically a coffee shop that has over a thousand board games in it; customers pay a five-dollar fee to sit there all night and play and they usually order a lot of food. The owner didn't need the Kickstarter money to open, he used it to grow the community's interest in his shop, which is admittedly in a tricky area with low foot traffic.

The owner was heavily involved in the gaming community, so he tapped his network long before the shop opened. He put the idea to them, got them excited about it, and used their ideas to create the perfect hang out. The community was heavily invested in the project before it even hit Kickstarter, so when it did, there were already hundreds of brand advocates.

The project reached its Kickstarter funding goal overnight; more valuable were the brand advocates who created more brand advocates, all of which took pride in having a part in its success.  Since the day it opened, the shop has been packed.

Oh, and five years later, the users are STILL telling the owner what they want to see. And he's still listening.

The moral of the story, folks, allot the necessary time to beta test and use it to create a solid roster of advocates before you launch. During this process, don't let constructive feedback frustrate you. Instead, use it as a tool to get closer to your audience, letting them know you are listening to them every step of the way. It's these real relationships you build in the beginning that can carry your product to great heights.

Published on: Nov 17, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.