Startup pre-launch buzz

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We are going to launch a startup or a new product. Which are the potential strategies to get an initial interest on our product before we launch?

Before we view them, we should take into account that a startup is like a marathon, so you shouldn't expect to be extremely popular on your first days. It's going to be a really long way of iterations and improvements.

1. Create a Shareable Launching Soon Page

This is a must to-do. Collect emails even if you have nothing, even if it's just an idea. You are going to talk to lots of people before you launch, so you should capture all that interest.

There are two options. Saying what you are going to do so people interested on the sector sign up, or not say anything and depend on your personal brand.

Hipster was a good example of a stealth start-up. Hipster managed to gather 10,000 addresses in just two days after its public marketing launch. And it happened before anyone knew what it does. The cool name and slogan (“Something cool is coming to San Francisco”) turned out to be the perfect marketing mix. The story was picked up widely and quickly by bloggers and media alike. People wanted to know what it is, and they left their email addresses in bulk and shared the links happily with their friends to be among the first to see the service.

Elements: intriguing name; fitting slogan; fitting background image; call to action.

Hipster is dead by the way. So 10,000 addresses in two days don't make your startup successful.

However, that only happens if you many contacts. I prefer to tell what we are going to do. That's what we used in TouristEye and we got 3,000 emails. This is a wireframe of what we used.

It's important you show a clear value proposition that interests people. (What problem will you be solving?) and a big call to action to enter the email.

Remember to validate the email addresses on the browser. People mispell a lot their emails. There are JavaScript plugins.

You can use a service like LaunchRock, KickoffLabs or Prefinery to avoid spending time on the logic. I recommend working just on the design.

2. Share content on your blog or twitter

You want to be a reference of the sector, so you should start from the beginning sharing interesting content. It can be a blog or just a Twitter account with interesting thoughts and articles that make people think that you are going to solve their problem.

Ideally you should create content that people love to share. For example, people love videos, lists of top things, amazing photos or good quotes. However, don't think you can create a viral. You can not build it, it just happens.

You can also create a document or infographic with really good content. It follows the same idea of becoming a reference in the sector.

3. Early access in they invite their friends

The idea behind that if they share a link to your Launch page and their friends add their email, they will be able to use your product earlier.

This has been a really used strategy on the last years. I'm not sure how well it works for the average new startup. I'd say it will only work if the product is really new, not just a variation of something that currently exists.

It will also depend on how you plan to open your product. It will be awkward if you just open the product to everyone on the first day. People may be not be happy about it. They bought the exclusivity.

Of course, this strategy makes more sense if you are building a product that it's social, and you want your friends and collegues to be there.

Tip Something that sometimes works great too is giving a limited number of "exclusive" invitations to your first users. That way it will work like a club, that you need someone inside to enter.

4. Sell a half-baked product for half the price

Minecraft is an online gaming phenomenon, and its adoption has been mind-blowing, with 2,932,884 licenses sold in the beta phase. People are willing to sign up early, especially if a discount is offered because the product is not yet ready. When Minecraft is finished, it will sell for €20.00. Right now, at 25% off, you can get it for €14.95. Discounts for early adopters are a no-brainer.

5. If you launch the iPhone app, capture the interest of Android users

You should launch on only one platform first (we launch in two and I regret it). That doesn't mean that you should forget about the other potential users. They have arrived at your webpage because they are interested on your app. Maybe it's not yet for their mobile phone, but if you are successful you will launch it. Capture those emails, capture that interest.

6. The OpenFeint Bluff

The developers behind OpenFeint, the social gaming network for iPhone, started with a bluff. They sent a press release to TechCrunch and got the blog to cover the story, which claimed that they were almost done and would be releasing the product soon. Only after many people signed up did they decide that building out the concept was worthwhile; till then, they had not written a single line of code. So, they worked away at it for 45 days straight. The company later sold for $104 million.

I've seen the same approach with another company that pre-sold a service before even building it. They sold like $100,000 with just a landing page. It's like a Kickstarter project.

Don't do it at home ;)

Talk to the users in the list

Joel Gascoigne, who launched his start-up Buffer that way, has this to say:

Treat your idea as a hypothesis that needs rigorous testing, and treat the emails as people who are happy for you to get in touch to discuss your product idea further in order to validate that it would solve a real problem for them and that they might actually pay. I don’t think the idea of having a conversation with the people who give you their email comes into the minds of new start-up founders enough.

Ask questions after they enter their email

The main objective of the launch soon page is for users to leave their email. After that you could show them a form to get feedback on why they are interested. I've done this with our book about TouristEye. I asked questions to know which topics would be more relevant and to know if people were willing to pay for it and how much.

Articles I've used
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