Product Launch: A Day One Guide
As a product leader, I have spent my entire career in startups and small teams. I’ve been through the Day One product launch numerous times. Day One is highly anticipated whether you are launching a new product or overhauling an existing one. It’s both the moment of truth and the beginning of a marathon. I recently went through a product launch of a new product, and I thought about my last 10 years of launching digital products. I’ve summarized my learnings into a “Day One Guide”.
A former colleague liked to say, “let it fall off the table” – meaning, this feature you think is important, let it fall out of scope. A successful launch is defined by what you let fall off the table – the more you pile up on the floor, the more ideas you had (which is good) and the more ruthless you were (even better). Typically you have to choose whether to have a launch on time, or on scope, and everyone ultimately has some kind of deadline. We all get to cut scope, and make creative decisions around how to solve multiple problems with fewer solutions. Doesn’t that sound fun?
It is critical to define early on the guiding principles behind this decision making. For me, these principles typically fall under categories such as brand, functionality, KPIs, or “crazy stuff”. Your project can be guided by all four, but I like to rank order.
We can get “crazy stuff” out of the way first. Sometimes the decision making is guided by less rational product managers, people with a God complex, or the whims of a madman. Hopefully you are not throwing millions of dollars into product launches defined by these principles, but it does happen (a lot).
This is the category for launches that are first and foremost designed to move the needle on a metric. If one part of the puzzle is going to move the needle less than another, cut it. While we always judge our success on the qualitative metrics, more mature products are going to over-index on the short term gains.
This is how I categorize projects that are all about delivering a specific bit of functionality. This could be a new feature, but it can also be a new product. The goal of launching this new product is to make it work, first and foremost. The team will figure out if what they made work has enough business value to continue investing in it later. But, the guiding principle of the product team is primarily something people can use.
This is the more ambiguous category, but the one I like the best. Brand is the one that I believe makes the most sense for a company’s first product. However, it really should be the guiding principle for every product launch if you can convince the people around you. When your guiding principle is focused on the company’s brand, then deciding whether a feature falls off the table is based around your informed, sometimes subjective opinion of whether this feature will drive brand love for the product. Being driven by this principle gives the product team the freedom to focus solely on the customer, independent of whether you are driving the highest KPI, or fulfilling the full vision for the functionality, or doing someone’s crazy work.
Prioritize & Launch
The nice thing about focusing on brand pre-launch, is that you get to focus on the brand post-launch too. Instead of piling on an aggressive roadmap post-launch, of ideas no one really knows that matter, you can put all of your effort into responding to customer feedback and building your roadmap week over week based on that feedback. Then, roughly 60 days post-launch, you will have collected and crunched enough data about what drives business value to focus on the improvements that matter.
There are certain pieces I find should never fall off the table, particularly if you take a brand first focus to product development.
- Customer communications systems to respond to feedback
- Automated messaging system to send communications based on user behavior
- With that, automated surveys sent to users after they have experienced your product
- Robust analytics
- Tools to quickly organize all of your feedback, hooked into your inbound communication systems
- Dedicated people to respond to App Store reviews, email support, and forums within 2-6 hours.
Once you go live and data starts pouring in, you have to start parsing it. I find the data strategy evolves as you get more insights over time, but you don’t want to sit on your hands for one minute post launch. Every possible leading indicator for positive engagement and conversion gets dropped into a dashboard and monitored week over week, until I gradually find the metrics that matter based on the results we achieve. It’s important to quickly find the segments of users that matter. This can take a few weeks, depending on your scale, but I like to break the segments down across the customer journey.
From the moment a user shows strong intention – for example, starting a free trial, how many discover core value? How do you define core value? For those who discover core value, what percentage become your super users? How do you define their actions? You can build hypothesis for how to define each of these segments well enough, but the real work is figuring out why a trialer doesn’t discover core value, or why those that discover core value don’t become your super users. This is where your customer communication tools and analytics need to be set up and ready to segment your users. Send them emails, and get on the phone with them and discover more deeply what their experience was like.
A product launch is the most fun a product manager can have. Everything that was once theoretical has become real. All internal debates become null and void. And, if you get a solid influx of users, you should have plenty of data to work with to improve the user experience and find that product-market fit.