Product Launch and My Pre-Launch Checklist

I am preparing to launch a new web service in the next few weeks. I don’t have an exact date yet, but I have been putting together my pre-launch checklist of things to do, as well as a detailed launch plan. When looking for resources about the best way to launch a software business, I found many useful articles, but not very many consolidated resources which laid everything out in an easy to digest manner. I wanted to document the entire process to help structure my own thinking, as well as giving those who come after a roadmap to follow. After I launch, I will be reporting on the success of each segment of my plan.

Background Reading

First, there are several useful resources out there already, which had a lot of useful tips. They give some great insight into some of the strategies I am considering for getting good PR on the day of launch.
Product Launch Promotion by Marshalk
Balsamiq preparing for launch
How not to get PR from top sites (Video)
How Jason pitched to TechCrunch

There are many more, and each of those contain some great links as well, but I find myself repeatedly returning to these articles to re-read them to glean some additional wisdom from their words.

Optimize the site for the media

After reading the above links, I put together a media kit with logos and screen shots, and included a pre-launch FAQ for the media answering some common questions. I also updated my about page to be less generic, and to tell a more interesting story. I’ll come back and update this with links to those pages once my site is live. (*UPDATE 2/23* Site is now live)

Find a compelling story

In business, the best way to engage people is by telling a good story. I spent some time thinking about my unique compelling story, and then wrote about it – on my company about page. This story will become an important part of my media pitch as I launch, and will help make my company interesting and unique, even though my product is not consumer focused.

I restricted my story to a small paragraph, relatable in 5-10 sentences. I asked myself these questions to get a good feel for my own story, even though it isn‘t finalized:

  • Why should <insert target audience> care about my business?
  • How does my product or service substantially differ from the competition?
  • If a customer was in love with my product, how would they describe it to their friends?
  • What is my over-arching vision to make the world a better place with this business?
  • What personal challenges did I have to face in starting this business?
  • What was my breakthrough or ah-ha moment?

I’m working on a few versions for different audiences, and not everything applies every time I write such a story. I find wrapping up a few answers in a concise and clear narrative helps me convey my vision, and structure my thinking around what is truly important. I think Jason covered this well recently in his article on startup marketing ideas.

Finalize the site and product

Just before launching, at least a week after all final development fixes and design tweaks, I need to complete a final once over of the site (I have fewer then 10 final tweaks and bug fixes). Currently on my list:

  • Install proper SSL certificate
  • Run through all user test cases
  • Re-check the design in all the major browsers (Firefox, Chrome, Safari, IE6-8, Opera)
  • Complete a final security audit
  • Send out a survey to the dedicated test users (even if they are only family and friends!) and include a few new users who haven’t seen the product yet.
  • Install Analytics
  • Setup RSS feeds for mentions of my site, or target keywords on blogs, twitter, and other social sites.

Segmenting the marketing channels

I don‘t want to just submit to a variety of startup sites, but also sites which my customers actually read, or other places where I might have a unique value proposition. Thinking like this, my target “markets” are news sites as well as other sites which might link to me or talk about me. I segmented this large group into various areas where the audience might find something interesting about my site or business model, even if they were not potential customers. For my site, I brainstormed the following segments:

  • Startup sites – sites that cover new website launches
  • Small business sites – sites for tools for small business (my target market)
  • Design sites – sites which cover well designed websites (My site was designed by a professional designer)
  • Security sites – sites which cover internet security (My product is an internet security product)
  • Atlanta business news sites – My business is based in Atlanta
  • Cloud based sites – My site is a cloud SaaS service
  • Drupal related sites – My site is based on Drupal and utilizes multiple Drupal modules

Once I segmented this into a few categories, I started looking for places to submit my site. For startups, there are already some good lists. I found about 75 to look through using this list of startup related sites and this list of where to submit your startup. I couldn’t use every site on the list (not every one was a good fit) but it is a good starting place.

To find blogs and sites for other niches, I used technorati for blogs , google for the various target markets, and competitor link profiles where we met the same criteria (using Yahoo site explorer)

I plan to build a list of about 100 outlets, more than half related to sites my target customers are likely to read. I am expecting a response rate, with a compelling pitch, of about 10%-25%, which leaves me hoping for 10-25 write ups. The criteria I use to evaluate whether to pitch to a site is how highly relevant my product would be to their readers or users. I generally spend at least 20 minutes browsing the site, reading articles, and making sure I have something to add to their content before adding the site to my list. This is time consuming, but I think it will improve my response rate and the quality of any traffic generated from any press I might receive, as well as prevent wasting my time or the editors time.

Refining the pitch

Each market segment I defined will need its own unique compelling story, and each site submission will need a unique pitch customized to the site/person I am responding to.

I am writing one compelling story for each market segment I listed. For instance, my compelling story to a design focused site will be very different from the story I tell a security focused site. I judge a pitch highly when it doesn’t sound generic or fake, but is something I would like to receive myself. I want to be honest, vulnerable, and open with the publications, to set up a potentially long term relationship rather than a quick win.

My final pitch is not yet complete, but I will be sure to post a few samples after launch, along with my success rates.

As a way to quality check myself, I created a high level outline of what each pitch should contain.

  1. A personalized sentence or two, related to the specific site I am submitting to. If they have related material, how my site adds to the overall conversation or context of the market
  2. 5-10 sentence compelling story of why my product is great for their audience
  3. Link to my homepage
  4. Offer for interview or other details in the future
  5. Contact details

What am I missing?

Am I missing anything? Are there good resources I should read before finalizing my launch plan? If you have good ideas, post them in the comments and I will happily link to anything I end up using in my planning.

Update in 2012: I am now running an affiliate program for my startup. If you’re looking to make some extra cash, I pay 20% of all my sales. I would recommend new startups also look at affiliate programs. I don’t have a good ROI number yet, but I will add updates as more information comes in. Additionally, I have also started Crosswords Puzzle Maker, the easiest way to make awesome crossword puzzles online.

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    13 comments… add one

    • wow nice. Thanks! I added this to my list of sites to review when I want to start a business… if I ever get there.

    • Great post and advice. I’m putting together a similar blog post and will definitely be using this as a reference point.

      One major thing I’d add: have a day (or week-long) marketing strategy. Have a blog post ready at launch. Submit to digg/reddit. Submit to hackernews. Create a Twitter account (if you haven’t already) and announce your launch from it – and retweet it from your personal account. Create a Facebook page. People don’t come just because you built it, so you need to have some plan to get people’s attention.

    • I’m very impressed with the market segmentation approach. It didn’t immediately occur to me that if I built a product on a CMS (or other product backend) that it might be worth hunting down particular blogs for that product, but I guess it makes sense as it promotes the technology.

      May I ask how you got on with your pitch-to-blogger-story conversion rate? 10-25% seems like a good initial estimate – do you base this on any previous launches? I’m intrigued as I always imagined the conversion rate would be lower, even with the level of targeting.

    • Great list! I will (hopefully) need this soon with my first startup, I’m subscribing to your blog now… ;-)

    • @Robby thanks for the feedback. I don’t have a very impressive social media strategy for startup just yet. I wasn’t sure if the time investment was worth it since my target customer is small business, but I do think it’s pretty important. I’ll do some brainstorming and update this list with a social media strategy as well.

      @Michael Thanks! Most CMS’s have “showcase” sections, or for some modules they have showcase technologies. Sites which are on there are generally just well designed sites which show off to other users what can be done with the technology.

      I got my 10-25% estimation from reading other peoples stories, as well as researching some of the bigger communities, where they state a 5-10% submission to publish ratio. I am not sure if it is too optimistic or too conservative. Either way, I’ll be sure to publish my actual rate post go-live!

    • Denny Ferrassoli December 1, 2010 11:35 am

      Hi Charlie, thanks for posting this, I’ve bookmarked this post and subscribed to your blog so I can further review this when it comes time for me to launch my project.

      I had one question: What tool(s) are you using to track/analyze your launch?


    • Hi Denny, I just use Google Analytics. I’m a numbers guy, so I have a series of custom reports I use on this blog I will also roll out to my new site when it launches. I find Analytics is enough for my needs, although I could conceive of using another tool in the future if I wanted to track some data I couldn’t easily see.

    • Great post Charlie thanks for sharing.

    • just drop an email/details of the products to be launched and will probably list it

    • Good content. Here is another helpful resource

    • James,

      If you want something a little more rubber meets the road check out my marketing guide called AwareLabs:

      It has 200 practical tasks for launching a website. Same principle as your list, just more execution less concept.

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