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Ask HN: Is there a “product launch as a service” company?
82 points by newyearnewyou on March 26, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 58 comments
For example, I think I have a good product, but I want to hire some help to get it launched, acquire initial customers, and hopefully build momentum. This would include social media, promos, press, etc.

Lots of digital agencies do this for you, but splashy agency launches aren't usually how startups get off the ground (with a few exceptions). They're how bigger companies release new products because they have ample brand awareness and budget.

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'm torn on whether this 'conventional wisdom' is any good. Founders are the most biased when it comes to customer discovery interviews.

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...

In other words, there is very little demand for "Busting confirmation bias via Objective analysis of customer discovery interviews" as a service, even though you might think it should be profitable.

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" :-)

I recommend founders end customer discovery interviews by asking for a purchase (or a preorder/letter of intent, depending on the situation). This is the most immediate way to testing whether a customer's really willing to pay.

While I agree this is an excellent form of validation (perhaps the ONLY form of validation), this has to be done with extreme precaution.

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...

i completely agree! when we were asking discovery questions, people tend to want to talk about the pain point and that gives you an illusion of validation. as soon as we ask, so how much would you pay for this? the conversation shifts and the true priorities come out.

Take any answer to a question phrased as "would you do XYZ" as essentially worthless.

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?).

On top of this, if you want to be agile, even if there were intermediaries that would find your first "influencer" users and coordinate them for free, it would be even better to have personal contact and unfiltered feedback in most cases.

well said.

i like to go with, get someone to give you money before you build anything.

I'm deliberately threadjacking here to reply to this first helpful comment, because I cannot see any evidence that the OP ever responds to any of the replies they have sought, e.g. this one here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12967272

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.

edit: typo/clarity

There's quite a few but it depends on your product. I've done over 30+ product launches and gained about 25M users in total as an outside consultant working with companies to help them do launches.

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.

Not OP. But my startup is pre-launch and I have answers to those questions. Where can I send them?

email me or comment here.

kumar(at) engineersf (dot) com

There are, however, I think people worry too much about launching. It helps for a short period of time, but then people move on to tomorrow's product hunt submissions.

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

Customer acquisition should absolutely only be done by the founder in the beginning. This is the most important part of your fledgling business and one you cannot afford to outsource.

Really? That would be like saying coding, accounting, HR, Marketing, Sales etc should only be done by the founder at the beginning. This is not realistic for anyone but the smallest business and could falter some attempts to create a business by the founder trying do everything them self.

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.

Coding & sales should also absolutely be done by the founding team at the beginning. The other functions can be outsourced.

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.

Accounting, and HR can easily be outsourced. and even some coding and marketing in the right situations.

But not sales and product. because without either of them you have no business.

That's for B2B companies which want a very few large customers. Consumer-facing companies need ads and PR, about which the founder may or may not know something.

Not generally a good idea, but please post a link to the product to get more specific feedback. A product is not a business yet. Before you sink money into a launch you'd want to go from "I think I have a good product" to "I know I have a good product" (some people refer to this as product-market fit).

I run a company that among other things, works with mid to early stage startups (as in, some folks with an idea). We help them build the product (design, development), launch it and do marketing. My email is in my profile if you have any questions, etc.

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.

We just launched our SaaS service for bloggers last week (after 9 long months of work). After seeking an answer to this question myself in the past, I think I've learned enough to partially answer this question.

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

Just checked out what you made, looks neat. Kind of an aside: Please don't ask users to send their password over plain-text in 2017. That's terrifying.

Also, it would be good if it used https by default, the sign-up link on the latest version of chrome registers as insecure due to "This page includes a password or credit card input over HTTP. A warning has been added the URL bar.".

> Collect as many emails as you can.

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.

We used Kickofflabs to get a quick solution. We chose them because they also include a mini "referral program" so after someone enters an email, they can spread the word and get a discount or even free premium with enough referrals.

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.

Reach out to Benjamin Bryant (https://www.linkedin.com/in/bhbryant). He was behind Pebble’s launch campaigns on Kickstarter (http://kck.st/2nFRA4a).

My company does this (although I never thought to refer to it as a "PLaaS" company). While most services out there focus on promotion, launch plan, sales automation, advertising, etc. I find those activities to be mostly about execution. Most startups struggle much sooner than that, with strategy. They struggle in the planning and validation of the product idea and the business model itself. Basically, they shortcut this stuff (often because they love their idea and are already convinced the world wants it). Then they find out after launch how real the real world can be. In reality, there is a ton of work to do way before any of the tactical "go to market" stuff can happen. You have to have an impeccably clear understanding of your value prop, your audience, and your sustainable differentiation. After all, if you don't have a sustainably unique idea that clearly adds value to a well defined audience, you don't need to launch or market your idea. Instead, you need to go back to the drawing board and identify your core value creation more clearly. Also, you need to have a well vetted, living business plan that does more than simply document your intentions. For new business/product/service ideas, we use a proprietary business planning system that focuses on risk management, among other things. As part of the process, we help entrepreneurs understand their customers really well. From there we can build the business around delivering value to them. Any respectable entrepreneur should be busting their a$$ day and night to get their business going, but that doesn't mean they have to do it all themselves. It simply means they have to find a way to get it all done and they have to understand it all. No business gets off the ground by one person working in a silo. So I have respectfully disagree with he comments that the founder must do this work. I strongly believe that founders, just like everyone else, have certain strengths and weakness and the most successful ones find a way to get help in areas where they are not so strong.

I do that. Shoot me an email. Ill try and answer any questions you may have. No bs or strings.

Products are things that help people accomplish something. Without initial customers, how do you know you've built something that people need?

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.

You're basically asking if you can outsource your startup. I'm sure you've heard that in startups, the idea is worthless, it's all about execution. Execution is mostly what you just called "product launch." It's figuring out how to cost-effectively acquire and retain your customers, assuming you got product/market fit right on the first attempt. (hint: you didn't)

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.

There is one problem with this service offering (and it isn't insurmountable). Put yourself in the position of a founder who just spent the last 12-18+ months building your startup. Would you then be willing to hand over the reigns to someone else or to some firm to do the launching for you? Especially when the launch is pretty much the one and only chance the company has to get off the ground? Outsourcing really only makes sense when you can transfer the risk in a way that mitigates it. Here it feels like you would be increasing risk of failure if for no other reason that the launch firm has less to lose if you fail than you would.

I've tried starting something like this a couple of times, but want to do it full time someday. I would focus on the web building side of things, but would need someone with more charisma to do the promotional side. Regardless, I haven't really sunk the time needed or capital, which doesn't really hold well when trying to start a company :P Maybe some day.

As far as branding goes, tailorbrands[1] does an excellent job at getting a professional image setup. As others have mentioned there are still large areas that could use help with business dynamics and goals.

[1] https://www.tailorbrands.com (Not affiliated, just impressed with their offering)

Gigster offers ad-hoc engineering teams that can help you launch, promote and scale. Some of their engineers are employed at social media companies and would undoubtedly prove useful for what you're trying to do. https://gigs.to/r/zdBxq5F

We do that with my agence Mozza (mozza.io) but it doesn't work if you do nothing in the meantime. You can deleguate a part of your work and get guidance, but ultimately you can't replace the effort you and your team will put in building the right product by understand your users.

That's what PR agencies do. It's not cheap, but it's certainly available.

PR is a small piece of the pie. I would personally not recommend a PR agency to lead a launch.

A PR company is likely to have suitable strategies and contacts to launch to a local market. I'm not sure they'd be the best bet if you were launching a typical SAAS product to a general global market. For a local launch, a lot of it is teeing up publicity and knowledge of the contacts and what they want is critical. For something global, so much of the work is content production that you may be better off trying to do it yourself.

I think of PR as having a fundamentally reactive posture, even when they're ahead of the messaging. Marketing, where there are many freelancers and consultants, would be a much better spend towards creating a strategic approach.

http://producthunt.com is how a lot of startups do it nowadays, and reporters are usually in there looking—so if it's interesting it may also get pickup.

You've described a marketing agency.

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.

I think OP means a more modern HNish way of launching online to Product Hunt kind of sites. Marketing agencies are a bit stuck in the past

I sometimes question the startup herd mentality. "Why would I go to a company who have been managing product launches —amongst every other aspect of marketing— for decades, when I could find a small garage outfit that wants to do everything with NFC?"

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.

I'd say http://www.growthgeeks.com/ is my favorite source for this. They have lots of different people that can help you out.

If it is a B2C product launch, you have Retail as a Service : Airflash, which gives you access to Early Customers,Bloggers,Connects to Wholesale Distributors and Retail Access through popup stores


I've heard https://startuplister.com/ is pretty good bang for the buck.

sounds like you should do your research. All depends on what EXACTLY you want and how much your willing to spend... If someone did that theyd want money for it.

There is this:


I think pretty much every "social media" (ugh) company will do that for you

Yes, but the approach for launch vs. general promotion would be much different. Also, if there was a company with any type of portfolio it would be best.

Lest the HN bots think I am over selling my startup,

Check out www.crowdraising.co

I believe this is called an event planner?

? How so? I thought "event planners", planned shows and conferences, not product launches.

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