3 questions to ask when preparing for a product release
1. Is it really needed for our MVP and how can you prove it?
As we approached the end of November 2012 Scott and I were preparing for a beta release to a number of trusted partners. We wanted to keep as tight a feedback loop as possible. We had put our product in front of friends we had that were students, random students we had stopped, and to our early partners throughout the previous 3 months and felt that we shouldn’t build any more without releasing our product. A regular comment made during our discussions of what should be in the product and what shouldn’t was “That would be early optimization. We don’t know, and can’t do enough research now to know if that is needed.” There were times I came to Scott requesting a feature or that he came to me thinking we should add a feature. Inevitably the conversation would boil down to one of us asking “Is it really needed for our MVP and how can you prove it?”
You will always make incorrect product assumptions, and we made our fair share of product mistakes, but making big assumptions that aren’t based on real needs that are validated by your customers can be extremely painful for a startup. You have to get a well validated product out quickly, then figure out what you messed up on and course correct. A wonderful book that I recommend call the “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries states, “The goal of a lean startup is to move through the build-measure-learn feedback loop as quickly as possible."
2. In what way could we build hype for this product?
By the end of December of 2012 we felt that we had enough validation to really begin pushing our product in January of 2013. We could have done a better job with our product release. We contacted the local student newspaper, they did an article about us that took weeks to come out, we posted on Facebook, and put up fliers all over Brigham Young University. That’s it, and that’s bad.
I have since learned a few important lessons in this arena. Here are two principles to keep in mind:
- Scarcity - Josh James (co-founder of Omniture and current Founder of Domo) has done a great job of creating scarcity. Last I heard his product at Domo was still in “invite only” mode. He has hundreds of customers and markets a lot, but he maintains the “invite only” status for his business. By doing this he creates scarcity. He makes his current customers feel cool, and helps people not using his product to want it even more. If you’ve ever been in a relationship you have probably seen the scarcity principle at work! Thomas Edison said “To my mind the old masters are not art; their value is in their scarcity.” Although I don’t completely agree with him I think he is on to somethings.
- Wait list - This goes along well with scarcity, but the ways I have seen it implemented have had different basic underlying principles. Sometime ago a very cool app concept for trading stocks was scheduled to be released. They new they had a hot product that people would want. Leading up to the release of their app they invited people to join the waiting list to get the app first as well as a discount on their product, or something like that. This isn’t exactly earth shattering, but what they did next impressed me. After signing up for the wait list I was told that I could work my way up the ladder of people ahead of me on the wait list for everyone I invited that ended up getting on the wait list. Well you know what happened next. I pitched my Facebook friends that best I knew how in the hopes that I would move up the ladder - the app loved it because I gave them free, fantastic marketing.
3. When should we start working on SEO?
Everyone knows that SEO (search engine optimization) is important, but there are few businesses that will show up at the top of the search terms they want to target out of the gate or even months down the road. SEO can be a long and difficult process, so when should you start working on SEO? Now! During these early days I often told my business partner that I thought we ought to be working on SEO to which my partner said “Jordan, there’s now way we are going to be showing up at the top of search results any time soon, and there are so many other things that have higher priority.” He was absolutely right about us not showing up at the top of search results any time soon, but I was right about needing to start back then. I didn't need help from the tech side of our business to get started on important SEO strategies. I should have started back then. A long term strategy is essential to working out the kinks in SEO. You have to start early.
LOOKING BACK: This was one our biggest mistakes thus far. We should have started the SEO effort much earlier. If we had started earlier we would have realized many things then that we found out much later. We also would currently be light years ahead of where we are today with our SEO. In a future journal blog post I will go into SEO in greater depth, but for now I will simply say that you should focus on setting up your site correctly so google can easily index your content, work your tail off to get good quality links pointing to your website, focus on getting users from search to stick on your site and not bounce - google knows when users bounce and rewards websites that keep the users that come to them.
One last thought on SEO. There are very, very, very few true experts in this field. It takes experience and most of the professed “experts” I’ve talked to were just blowing a bunch of smoke. My advice? To quote Richie Norton, "If everyone waited to become an expert before starting, no one would become an expert. To become an EXPERT, you must have EXPERIENCE. To get EXPERIENCE, you must EXPERIMENT! Stop waiting. Start stuff.”