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Ask HN: How did you launch your product?
51 points by sourc3 on Dec 29, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 44 comments
I have been a member on HN for a while and I really enjoy the can-do spirit here and the energy to create something of value. I have been trying to build products on nights/weekends for the past 3 years. Being a software guy technology has always been the easy part for me. For the projects that didn't get traction I kept thinking that the ideas were just not "good enough". Now that I look back, I feel that I got the launches wrong.

Here is my question to you:

Is there any suggested reading you can point me to that will help launch my next product more effectively? If some things have worked for you, can you share your experiences? If you have used a company to help run the launch campaign, can you share your story?

I'm of the opinion that the "launch" is a highly overrated concept. Unless you have lots of existing traffic or a press embargo, your launch will consist of turning on the product, then watching as nothing happens. Later on, if you're lucky enough to get press somewhere, you'll get a spike of traffic that will be gone the next day.

As an experiment to this end we developed Omniref [1] entirely in public, just to see what would happen. We never hid the thing, even when it was horribly broken (we even had organic search traffic before we were ready!) It made no difference. What works is getting users, one at a time.

The bottom line is that product/market fit trumps everything. Better to just put the product out there and try to get one daily user as soon as possible than to worry about "launching". It's not as gratifying to the ego, but you learn more, and that's the whole game.

[1] http://www.omniref.com

This is spot on, and I've seen many a startup fold early on because they bet the farm on launch day.

Each time someone new stumbles upon your marketing site - you've "launched". And if they don't convert, figure out why and you'll get to launch again with the next visitor.

I love this analogy. This makes me want to bring back to life the product that we killed after our 12 person private launch didn't get traction!

Absolutely, and I know this feeling. Getting your product ready enough to launch it publicly is just the beginning. You need to become a hustler and push forward relentlessly. Built the marketing and sales plan - and execute, execute, execute. This is where the real business adventure starts.

what surprises me most is that we are almost taught to believe some magical market, the internet puts on a suit for you and becomes a generous publisher who puts our software besides console games in video game stores.

what I realize now is that there's no such magic, it's hustling, constant hustling.

You've shattered the hearts of thousands of new startups.

This is what I've feared all along, the slow and "long ramp of death". It's as if there is actual hard grunt work involved in user aquisition without burning through all the capital some wrinkly old guy gives you.


I've launched many products, but most recently I've been doing web games. Our most recent game is Cloudstone - http://armorgames.com/cloudstone-game/15364

We launched it on Facebook, Kongregate, and Armor Games.

Only one in a million products can truly spread on their own (minecraft, reddit, google...). The rest are often really good products, that can make money, but require unique ways to get users. For us, this meant giving up a percentage of revenue in order to get promoted on various platforms.

One thing is certain - it is nearly impossible to launch an effective web game by itself on a stand-alone site. Our game makes money, but there's no way we can get any decent return on marketing investment if we tried to roll our own. The traffic we received from posting the game on reddit was totally insignificant compared to the traffic we received from partnering with websites that already have users.

I haven't launched any "applications" recently. But I don't think it's much different. Most engineers severely underestimate the importance of proper marketing and user acquisition. If your entire plan is to launch a product website, post it on reddit and hacker news, and see where it goes from there, it's not going to work. This doesn't necessarily mean your product is not viable!

I would recommend not just launching a website and hoping it gets traction. Consider porting whatever you're building to multiple platforms, and consider all of the app stores that you can put your product on. They will promote your product for a percentage of the revenue. And don't feel bad about giving up that percentage - they're providing a valuable service. They're doing the marketing for you.

Thanks for the candid reply! What I am working now at the moment is using LinkedIn as the authentication mechanism and adds a lot of value to LinkedIn users.

I am thinking that getting the word on LinkedIn via posts and "likes" from my own extended network may be the way to go with this app.

might want to check this out. http://blog.kissmetrics.com/how-mint-grew/

I'm in the situation you describe right now. I blogged about it a couple months ago: http://neat.io/blog/diary-of-a-programmer-with-no-clue-about.... The resulting HN discussion has a lot of good tips: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6686290

My launch didn't go 'well' to the standards that I constantly see on HN. I got < 10 users and a lot of those were existing beta testers.

Now I'm 2 months in and I have been getting a fairly consistent number of new users each day, however its dropped in the past couple of weeks (I'm blaming the holiday season).

Here's what I've learnt so far:

- SEO is very important for discovery

- Keep your product evolving to fit the needs of your current users

- Keep current users happy

- Be ultra responsive to support enquiries - this is key to keeping happy users

- Adjust your pricing model based on feedback

- Get your site linked to on other sites even if seemingly unrelated - I get a bit of traffic from a design site that has my site in a list of 'beautiful, flat landing pages'

It would have been nice to get a whole slew of users on day 1 but realistically this doesn't happen unless you have an existing captive audience. It does dampen the expected meritocracy that comes with developing your own product.

One of the most constructive replies. If you don't mind me asking, how did you get into SEO? Did you get professional help or try to tackle it yourself?

PS: Kudos on the product, you just got yourself a future customer with the Atlassian integration :)

I initially launched the site promoting my app as just 1 page. In hindsight knowing what I know now that was ludicrous. (You need more pages, more content and more targeted content.) I went into it here: http://neat.io/blog/the-bee-website-redesign.html

I still don't really understand SEO and my site is still not ranking for the keywords I want but I'm trying to learn.

I did get one-off semi-professional help from experts that emailed me as a result of my blog post blowing up on HN but end of the day, you're going to have to dig deep and learn about it yourself. This is frustrating because looking for quality content about SEO is ridiculous. Everything out there is so dubious and I don't know what is credible and what isn't.

Today for instance I just got a tip about content placement and how it can be effective for SEO. I Googled around and found this list: http://www.mywebschool.com/blog/seo/seo-tips-for-keyword-pla... so I'm going to try and apply it later tonight. No idea if it will work or if its a waste of time or if the tips in there are good...


Oh and another thing I forgot to mention is that a lot of people asked me to make a video showcasing the app because they wanted to watch something rather than scroll through a list of features. This was a good idea, no idea if its helped with people downloading the trial but I get good feedback on the video and at least it educates people about what my app does. Video blog post here: http://neat.io/blog/creating-the-bee-video.html

This is what most likely will happen. Expect a complete dud. After you experience the 'dud' you with either feel the entire thing was a stupid idea and leave, or you will think 'wait .... that can't be right' and scramble to get users to compensate for the wash of insecurity you felt with your impotent "launch". Good luck!

Edit: This wasn't meant to sound mean or directed to you personally. I meant this as a general comment towards the idea of a 'launch'.

I didn't launch, unless you count making it available on the internet a launch.

As several others have mentioned here, I was not focused on "launching the product". I was persistent about creating a solid and valuable product, and making it available for the entire world. I researched everything I could about building websites, particularly performance and SEO. The project was a learning project for me - it was technically "launched" since the moment I bought the domain. I continually iterated after learning new things about the web, and after coming up with new ideas. The growth came from a steadily increasing SEO presence and Social Network presence. I never once saw a code or feature iteration cause an immediate flood of attention, even when I gave them a little nudge on social networks. I will admit though, that I never attempted an all out launch of anything.

The project is mainly a fun site, but it has become one of the best tools for creating animated GIFs and memes on the internet. There have been a few big spikes from various press events, or Reddit frontpagers, but the true value has come from continually making the product better and slowly gaining the trust of the internet.

I'm certainly much newer to this than many people here, but my first big project now makes enough profit to support me fulltime, if I were to choose that (I work at another company as well). The site is imgflip.com if you're wondering.

Launching is very overrated. I mainly emailed friends, family, and shared https://www.uncover.com via social media. Luckily, it got picked up by Hacker News and some other outlets. We got some great traffic in the beginning, but a "good launch" alone isn't going to make or break you. It's about the longterm value you can offer your customers.

Thanks Spencer. It is encouraging to see success stories, especially considering you are around the block from the day job.

You're welcome. Happy to answer any q's!

Did you get any users during your launches? If so, I'd consider them a success. The idea that you get flooded with users after a single launch event is a myth. I see the process like this:

1) Some kind of press release (TC, Show HN, blog post, etc)

2) Get at least one user

3) Iterate features and establish that the users actually need the product (would they be upset if you quit?)

4) repeat 1-3

Yes I did get about 10-12 users on the day of the launch. I suppose I am a bit biased reading the wildly successful launches that get thousands of users on the first day. One can only hope, right? Thanks for your response.

I've made similar mistakes (classifying a launch as failed). The key is to keep at it so long as you have some set of enthusiastic users. They will help you mature the product, and when that happens you can grow big quickly (Pinterest and Airbnb come to mind).

I think this only really happens if you have a large existing audience that you funnel into the product, or you're selling it on a platform that delivers either launch traffic, or "Trending" traffic (eg. Google Play, iOS App Store).

What's your process for launching your products?

My current project is around providing value to LinkedIn users via an app. I believe LinkedIn itself and the app store are two obvious platforms that make sense for me to focus on.

Restaurants learned this ages ago: start with a soft launch, and learn your weaknesses. Iterate. Then "launch."

Launch is only part of the equation. You add/remove features and find where your new users are and find a way to get in front of them. Its a process not a one off launch event. I used to think too much on the launch but my experience says its about the consistent marketing effort.

I launched my subscription tshirt service (https://www.startupthreads.com/monthly) on Hacker news and got a little press but it grew after finding companies each month and finding ways to reach new customers. After iterating a bunch you find out what works, as you'll never have the perfect launch strategy to start.

My theory so far is that the initial spike during launch is what gives the product the momentum. That is why I asked my question specifically around the launch.

Here is what I have tried so far after the launch with one of my products that has been sold for the code-base.

- Pre-launch page to collect emails (collected about 400, when emailed only about a dozen people signed up)

- Tried Google adwords with only 0.0005% conversion rate (which ended up being prohibitively expensive for my budget).

- Posted on HN :)

- Emailed about a dozen sites that could potentially have an article about my product.

- Contracted a 3rd party company to make cold calls.

- Sent out printed flyers to potential customers.

- Personally visited some potential customers and pitched the idea.

- PR web sites where I published a couple of press releases.

Above activities resulted in about a dozen free tier users. Are there any other avenues that you used to bring more traffic to your product after the launch?

Hustle. Schlep. Market. Tell people. Get them to sign on the line which is dotted.

There are a lot of things to launching/marketing a product, but it always comes down to hustling and marketing hard consistently over a long period of time. Think 3+ years to be an "overnight success"

I loathe launching and talking about my products so Facebook Ads and AdWords are good shortcuts. It will cost you but if the product is any good the word will spread as soon as you have a few customers/users.

You need to sell the idea first, then implement. Get some traction without writing any code, write related blog posts about the vertical market, about the topics that your potential customers will be interested in, and keep engaging with them. Talk with them.

> write related blog posts about the vertical market, about the topics that your potential customers will be interested in, and keep engaging with them

That's some pretty tactical advice for a strategic conversation.

Writing blog posts is one way of engaging with the market, the goal being to understand the people in the market better as well as establishing yourself as a participant in it.

That is a good idea. Since the product name is not yet 100% set in stone, do you think it makes sense to start a new blog just for this purpose or use the personal blog?

I may pick a name that is simple and start from there. We thought about it for a long time, discuss it a lot, etc.. then one day we decided that we are going to find the name, and searched for it relentlessly for the next hour and we find quite okay name for our startup at the time. Just pick a simple name. And buy the domain, create your blog at there.


Place all the social buttons, create twitter account, put an RSS feed, create an email list in mailchimp ( create a popup for email subscribers ) etc..

Thanks for the detailed reply! I will certainly implement this.

Focus on longevity. Work a job. Save and invest. Keep costs low. Find and contact prospects personally. Provide support. Gauge feedback. Improve. Survive. If you need help, I run a platform at webmenu.org that may help you help people. Best regards.

I posted a similar thing awhile ago, hopefully this helps.


Make growth hacking a main priority. If you can get every user to invite one other user, you'll have a huge site in no time.

> If you can get every user to invite one other user, you'll have a huge site in no time.

The ironic thing about this is that you have to have product/market fit for people to recommend the product to other people. Consider every case (there aren't many) where this strategy was successful.

This does seem to work sometimes in the case of e.g. Kickstarter, but less than half of kickstarter projects reach their funding goals so it's not a great example.

My previous attempts were geared towards small businesses which made user invites difficult.

Recently, I have started reading more about growth hacking. It may be very useful for the current product I am working on which is an app first service directly targeting end users.

Perhaps its your self consciousness at play here, but you haven't told us what any of your products were...

I did not want to create a very wordy post with all details.

I have launched 3 products (an appointment scheduling SaaS, a Twitter based sweepstakes management service, a private beta of a social product review/recommendation site) and about a dozen apps. Only the appointment scheduling venture was sold to a third party for the code base which had about a dozen free-tier users at the time of the sale.

The social product recommendation venture did not go further because the co-founder did not want to continue going forward. I still believe it's a great idea but I put it on the back-burner for a while until I can find another co-founder.

At the moment I am working solo on an app first service (subscription based) and would like to have a more successful launch this time around.

PS: If anyone is interested about the social product review and recommendation site let me know.

Hi - I would be thrilled to hear more about the social product review & recommendation app! Looking forward to hear from you!

Please email me (in profile) I could not find your contact info.

I'd love to hear/see more about the social product recommendation product.

Sent you a tweet, please check.

Couldn't find your email either - you can tweet me @alincatalin

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