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Launching Products Pt. I — Pre-Launch

I (and many, many others) believe the key to any successful product is to get a small passionate community excited about your idea first, understand why it is they are excited, find out if it extrapolates to a larger audience and worry about anything related to growth and/or scale from there.

Thus I think the focus at day 0, for any consumer-focused enterprise, should be to tap into (a) passion and (b) community.

I find the most fascinating thing about the internet to be the way it facilitates the almost perfect combination of these two things. Think about it- you can /r/____ almost anything- and you're more likely than not to stumble up on a vibrant sub-community/sub-culture of people sharing, discussing and engaging with that particular topic. Human being seem to have an drive need to connect, to find others like them and to create a sort of "tribe" and the open, free and distributed nature of the internet facilitates this almost perfectly.

Given that this is the case, I think we can make 3 core assumptions:

  1. These communities tend to be open, and not the walled gardens of the past
  2. When you (person A) like a topic/subject- you engage with it
  3. And if you're presented with more of that topic/subject, you're more likely than not to engage with it (shocking insight, I know)

And if these assumptions hold true, it comes down to finding the places where people who are passionate about the topic cluster- whether online or offline, and then engaging them in a way that taps into this passion - to start. Once you've tapped into the passion, and turned them into a free user, you can begin to position your product as one that is integral to their love of the topic. And once you've done that, for at least a small subset of people, you can monetize the product and try to convert that subset.

Post paid conversion, if you spend enough time understanding this core group of people- why they use your product, what job/function in their life/interest it satisfies and, indirectly, why they are willing to pay for it- then you can use those learnings in order to scale the product in a way that is relevant to more people like your early core users, and build new extensions and features on top of the core platform to attract different customer segments and people who need different jobs done (going by this JTBD framework).

You could broadly segment the approach into three parts:

  1. Pre-Launch
  2. Post-Launch
  3. Post-Monetization

1. Pre-Launch

So to begin, let's talk about first finding these people- the ones who are passionate about the topic the product solves.

Finding communities online is particularly easy- it's just a Google search away. For example, when tonebase expanded into Piano, just by searching "Piano forum" we got over 100 results that are all communities and sub-communities of people talking about, thinking about and engaging with the topic.

You can even get granular as "Advanced Piano Forum Brazil" which returns threads on relevant groups that are advanced Brazilian piano players having in depth discussions regarding their instrument, passion and in some cases, livelihoods.

Once you have found these communities the roadmap looks something like this:

1. Insert yourself into the communities - each one, one by one (every forum, slack channel, facebook group, etc.)

  • One account on each. Depending on your approach there are two ways to do it:
  • Create the same username, somehow related to you or your business and be yourself (probably the right way to go)
  • Different accounts none of them particularly related to each other from an immediate visual perspective (less honest, but looks less like you trying to spam across different boards/forums)
  • The key is spreading an account and building a relationship across as many communities as possible well BEFORE you plan on launching the product. You could think of this as the PRE-LAUNCH phase.

2. Provide value - engage within this community. You can't fake this, you have to do it

  • Answer questions, give feedback (if it's relevant), post new threads, DM a few people
  • Identify the key players in the online community- there are usually only a handful of core people who regularly post, engage, etc. even though many may be active. Identify and form meaningful relationships with these people
  • Focus on adding value - don't get in arguments, generally cultivate a reputation of someone who is passionate about the topic (you should be anyways...) and speak intelligently. The key is to approach the interactions in the same way you would a cocktail party that you need to get something out of.
  • Identify the key players in the community, even if they are not the most active
  • Be a gracious, curteous

3. Use your established position/presence in the communities in order to suggest a SUB-product.

  • Not your end product, but a sub product that is relevant to that particular community, and one that has YOUR branding on it and that will still generate leads for your end goal.
  • The reason you advertise a sub-product and NOT your end product is because there is NO sure fire way to lose the faith of an entire community than to appear to be a spam account created only to promote a product
  • It is also easier to promote a sub-product like a Chrome Extension, Audiobook, Blog, etc. on the communities than it is to come out and say HEY HERE'S THIS DOPE NEW THING YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT - which can easily backfire unless you have enough credibility within the community.
  • Try your best to capture emails/contact information with this sub-product. Don't push it, but subtly guide people with the value you provide with the sub-product to engage with the overall brand and to give you their contact information.

4. Once you've introduced the sub-product across communities, track engagement with it VERY closely.

  • Whatever sub product you are offering, track its uptick and usage. Ideally the sub-product has some relevancy with the core product (in tonebase's case, maybe it's a Chrome extension that every time a user opens a new tab they (a) see the tonebase logo and (b) see a new really great performance video by a top-level pianist, violinist, etc. (depending on the community targeted)).
  • By analyzing engagement with the sub-product you should be able to identify two things:
  • What your standing in the community is
  • What the uptake will be when you eventually rollout the new product amongst the community unless you change the tactics you are using to engage the community
  • (1) What your standing in the community is:
  • This is important.Just like offline networks, people are more likely to listen to the figureheads of the online community.
  • I spent a lot of time when I was younger inhabiting various forums for Video Game development and 3d Design. There were always the legends who, with simple keystrokes, could get 1000's of people to view, comment and engage with the thoughts, ideas or - in some cases - products they were putting out.
  • But that was because they had, through virtue of the value they had added to the community, really set themselves apart from the casual user, and almost everyone who joined the community, within a few days of usage, would end up knowing these people.
  • (2) What the uptake will be when you eventually rollout the new product amongst the community unless you change the tactics you are using to engage the community
  • Basically if your post gets zero engagement this means either you're doing a shit job engaging and becoming a part of the community OR that there is no interest in your idea. In the former case- work harder, and in the latter case it acts as decent product idea validation (especially if the sub-product is relevant to the core product).
  • Generally this will also show you how responsive certain communities are to external posts vs. internal discussions as some communities simply do not respond to posts directing outside the group vs. internal discussions and it is good to know this before you devote too much time to becoming a part of the community.

5. Once the engagement with the sub-product has reached a generally acceptable level, push the core product WITHIN the sub-product heavily

  • If the sub-product is something that can be iterated on and added to (i.e. not something people would download once and then it's impossible to change, etc.) then after a period of time (the length will of course vary) you can begin to heavily promote the core-product within the subproduct to drive traffic
  • Similarly, if the sub-product is able to capture leads you can start an email marketing campaign targeting those who are now using the sub product to try and drive them to the main one
  • For example: If the sub-product is a Chrome extension, you might start showing a popup every time someone opens the extension OR every time a new page opens (if your extension is the new tab page) that directs people to sign up for your product (since you branded the sub-product from the first interaction users had, this should not come as a shock)
  • This will obviously be combined with other marketing channels, etc. Facebook page, yadda yadda but this writeup is core-ly focused on the product side of things. All the "pre-launch" marketing is geared towards driving awareness and letting as many people as possible know about your idea and that you exist

6. Cycle the promotion of the sub-product within the communities until you've hit a local maxima at which point you begin to promote the overall product within the communities as well.

  • If the sub-product you built for the community and suggested is actually worthwhile, adds value and is interesting AND you've kept up the engagement within the communities by replying to posts, engaging with users and having a presence there that matters to the core users of that community- THEN at this point it will not seem spammy for you to suggest the cool new thing that you've found.
  • At this point you should also (again, if you've continued to build your status within the community) see a general uptick in the response when you start promoting the core product itself within the community
  • You may or may not choose to come out as the creator of the product now - its a judgement call depending on if you (a) came clean when you promoted the sub-product and (b) how people are engaging with your presence on the community in general. If they're vibing with you and you think posting the product as the creator would only benefit the engagement (and allow you to answer questions, etc.) then go ahead. If not just post it on there as a value add and don't push it too hard

All this, in conjunction with some solid marketing email flows, building of your social media presence and community - if you're expanding through verticals (relevant to tonebase) then considering having a separate community of your own for each vertical, and all the rest of the initial awareness campaigns you can run should result in a solid first core set of users when it comes to launch time.

Launching, creating launch communications, PR strategy and all the rest are things I'm not going to get into mostly because (a) I don't know what the hell I'm talking about and (b) If you really establish a core initial base here, things like PR or paid advertising at this stage are just a waste of time.

UP NEXT: Post-Launch