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Startup Launches RIP

Robert Scoble had a post a couple of weeks ago called Where of where did the great startup launch go? (Startup events have killed it) and in it he critiques the DEMO conference.  I agree with a lot of what Scoble has to say in this post but I fundamentally disagree with the idea of a “launch” being a single point in time event, particularly one where the “launch day” signifies the day the product is first released into market.

DEMO, if you’ve never heard of it is billed as “The Launchpad for Emerging Technology”.  Here’s the description from the Demo website:

Its time to launch your product. But where? Choosing the right platform to make your product’s first public appearance is critical. Sure, you have lots of choices, but none offer the access, interaction and validation of DEMO.

For nearly 20 years we have built an unmatched track record of selecting, coaching, promoting and making successful some of the most game-changing products the world has ever seen. Will your vision make the cut? Submit your application today to find out. There is no fee to apply. The cost for those selected is $18,500.

You get one shot – make it count, launch at DEMO.

I have never launched a product at DEMO so I’m not going to get into whether or not DEMO is an effective event, but I do have some pretty strong opinions about product launches in general based on my experience of launching 6 different products (for the record – 5 successes, one stinker).  Here are some of my thoughts:

1/ Early customer experience is really important – If I had to choose between testing my product out with a set of early adopters and holding off on making my product available until after I had announced it to the press, I would pick the former.  To be fair, I assume many of the products that launch at DEMO (or similar launch events) already have at least some customers, but I have talked to startups that think they need a big bang launch when they first introduce the product to market.  I would rather work with an early group of customers, make sure I’ve got the product right for my markets, tune my pipeline so I knew I could handle the wave of traffic I’m trying to generate with a launch AND THEN spend some money on a launch.  Remember cuil?

2/ Turning up the volume on PR before you’re ready is risky – As a marketer the entire concept of “You get one shot, make it count” terrifies me!  Who would bet their whole company on one crummy marketing event?  Not me.  I’d much prefer to introduce the product to the market over a longer period of time where I can test my tactics and messaging and then adjust to make sure I’m doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t.  The big PR launch can come later when I know I’m ready.

3/ Relationships take time – Scoble hits the nail on the head in his post when he makes the point that you’ll get more media attention if you can establish a relationship with people.  That isn’t going to happen in a single meeting and certainly not in a carefully scripted “I pitch, you listen” type session.

4/ You can “launch” whenever you want – At Janna Systems, we had more than a dozen deployed customers (this is enterprise software we’re talking about), and we were on a 2nd or 3rd version of the product (depending on how you count versions) before we did our first official product launch.  The advantage of doing that is our product was ready, we had a great group of deployed customers willing to speak on our behalf, we had industry analysts who loved us and we already had relationships with the media folk we wanted to cover the story.

If you want to totally geek out on product launch stuff – Dave Daniels writes a blog called Launch Clinic that focuses on product launches.  It’s not geared solely to startups but there’s a lot that’s applicable to both large and small companies.

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  1. Great post! I love that people are finally starting to talk about not pouring big $’s into product launches before the product is ready. For too long marketers have been on the hook for what is essentially a failure of development rather than marketing.

    • Hi Paul,
      Thanks for the comment. The fact is that marketing and development need to be working together on making sure that the product is the right fit for a market. Once you have that then you can work at optimizing your sales/pipeline process and THEN you can start spending on marketing. If you spend before that, you’ll just attract more people to a product that isn’t good enough or you’ll end up wasting a lot of money in a leaky funnel.

    • Hi Judy,
      The answer is probably different for every company and it depends on what you want to get out of a “launch”. If the goal is the raise the visibility of the product within a certain market, then you would do that after you are feeling good that you’ve got a product that’s a good fit for a market and that you understand and have optimized your pipeline to handle the influx of leads in the most efficient way possible.

      • Launches are what PR firms want you to do to justify their existence. Events like DEMO are a ripoff and everyone knows it. That’s why half the companies that present are either large businesses with a new product or companies founded by people who made a lot of money on their last company. It’s all about ego.

        • I can’t comment on DEMO in particular but I have worked at companies where the driving force to do a particular marketing event was more about bragging rights than an actual measurable outcome. As long as people are willing to pay, the events will exist to take their money.
          Thanks for your comment,

  2. I think the best way to tell is DEMO is worth it or not is to ask people what companies were there last year. I can’t name any.


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