The conventional wisdom in the last ten years for new startup products are that you should open discussions with initial customers yourself.
This kind of early customer development lets you prove your hypotheses around the product having demand before investing in expensive promotional spending.
I have listened in on quite a few customer discovery conversations where founders took the lead and been amazed at what they think they heard. Small signs of enthusiasm turn into 'they loved it!' while negative comments are often ignored (classic confirmation bias).
However, outsourcing it to a digital agency and waiting for a report is bad for different reasons (expensive, likelihood to ignore the findings, hindsight bias, etc.)
As an advisor to quite a few local startups, I still haven't found what the 'right' approach is...
There is some kind of lesson for both founders and "founder advisors" somewhere in there. I think it goes something like this: "The market is an irrational, complex beast and people who post-rationalize don't even know what is going on until WhatsApp has already been acquired by Facebook for a gazillion dollars" :-)
Most customer discovery interviews are agreed to under the guise of "sure, I'll share some of the issues I face and give you some feedback on your concept."
When you turn the tables at the end and ask "wanna buy now?" you can instantly destroy any semblance of credibility and rapport you may have built over the course of the interview.
There is a very nuanced way of doing it that (in my experience) very few founders have the capability of doing...
It's all reported behavior and can/will differ vastly from actual behavior - especially in regards to willingness to pay.
Instead focus on behaviors they are already exhibiting (e.g., what are you buying now in this space/category, and why?).
i like to go with, get someone to give you money before you build anything.
I get it why there can be helpful info on discussions like this, for others...
But when the person who asks never goes into any detail, I am sorry, but it just wastes so many people's time. Furthermore, the earlier Ask HN, indicates there's lots to be done, prior to any launch, and that many services that are geared to product launches, would probably not be affordable to this person, because they seem in too early a stage, being quite generous as to their other circumstances.
This sort of thing really is probably best done by paying LinkedIn to search the detailed skills / services in a database like that, instead of trying to make HN a personal, but not at all personalized (for nothing about the specific needs is given, at all) commercial meet and greet / help wanted board.
The questions that always help me suggest the best tools are as follows:
* Have money to spend or not?
* B2C or B2B
* Age Segment targetting
* Trigger Frequency of potential customer
* # of players in the space
* Have you been through 4 product iterations or are you trying to have a big splash without a designated purpose?
* Do you have your own email list?
If you can answer some of these questions, I can recommend the best tools and if you have any questions about tooling/analytics, I can point you in the right direction and tell you where I've failed in product launches as well.
What's more important is nailing a distribution strategy. Focusing and executing on distribution is difference between Airbnb and everyone else.
Source - https://growthhackers.com/growth-studies/airbnb
Getting assistance can be good/bad based on quality of said assistance. I can't see an absolute rule here about the founder being hands on or not.
The reason is because of the feedback loop between sales, product, and coding. You learn very important lessons in the early stages of a startup about who your customers are, what they care about, and what is technically possible to deliver. You're at a huge advantage if you can turn those lessons into product features within the hour rather than within the 2-week iteration.
But not sales and product. because without either of them you have no business.
I recommend nailing down exactly what you think an MVP should look like and iterating on early customer feedback.
It's important to stress that we are there to help startups augment their teams at later stages, but by no means can we replace the culture and passion of a dedicated team working night and day to make your dreams come true.
We can build you something fantastic, help you grow a user base, but at the end of the day the road to most effective profitability and vision is in the hands of the founder.
Here's a few takeaways:
1. Definitely prepare for launch DURING development, and ideally start on day 1 (or ASAP). Set up a pre-launch page and explain your upcoming product. Collect as many emails as you can. This gives you ample time to ensure that you don't launch to crickets when the big day comes.
2. If you are not famous or well known, it will be 10-100x harder to gain traction, but not impossible. Luck also plays a bigger part if you are unknown and/or have little to no connections.
3. No one will understand your product/service better than you. You need to outline all the benefits your service provides via blogging, landing page, explainer video, etc. We hired a video creation company to create our explainer video, but ended up re-writing the script ourselves and basically produced the whole video (other than the graphics, music, and voiceover).
4. You can hire a PR company, but they are very limited on what they can do especially if working with a limited budget. In this case you still need to give them interesting things to write about, since like I stated above, no one will understand your product/service and its benefits better than you. PR results OBVIOUSLY can be hit or miss and don't guarantee any results.
5. Long-term growth is usually a fairly standard procedure, and most successful companies follow a similar common formula. Have a blog and regularly post blog posts that would interest your potential market. In our case it's bloggers, so our blog will contains posts that bloggers find interesting. Blog content also drastically improves SEO. You can use your arsenal of blog posts and share them when the time is right/relevant (on Quora, Reddit, HN, Linkedin, etc). Over time, organic word-of-mouth growth kicks in (along with compound growth), but until then, you have to do things yourself. Remember: a bunch of little wins = Success. Finding these little wins is hard and time consuming and no one will likely do it for you, especially in the beginning.
To answer your question, I think there's just too many moving parts to outsource all of it to a "growth/traction company" but doing it yourself is very possible as long as you put legitimate time and effort into it.
If you're curious about what service we launched, it's at http://blogenhancement.com
How would you go about doing this? I'm at the pre-launch stage myself, and this is proving to be a harder than I thought. I've only tried Facebook Ads as of now, with limited ROI.
To get traffic we used all sorts of sources, like Twitter, Reddit, Linkedin. No spam, and we made sure to follow all the rules (mention it in proper context etc.) We also got featured on Betalst.
Have you tested it with users? If so, and they haven't paid you money for it, why not?
It's not a good product if no one uses it.
I'm sure there are agencies that would gladly take your money to do the things you listed, but they won't produce a working business model.
Rather than thinking of it as the product launch, you should think of it as your first experiment to test product/market fit.
 https://www.tailorbrands.com (Not affiliated, just impressed with their offering)
Whether or not a startup can justify the expense is really between you and your investors because it will likely be a very significant outlay. There's a reason most people DIY as much as they can.
Sometimes established industries aren't always bad. Nor does their age mean they're only doing what they did on day one. These companies only survive if their clients survive. Age denotes success.
Check out www.crowdraising.co