Ask anyone in Silicon Valley and they’ve got their theory about how to launch a startup. There are plenty of startup founders (Slack, Atlassian) and industry watchers who will proudly boast that you can launch a unicorn without marketing. But then there are the 90 percent of startups that have to dig in and build their customers and grow their enterprise click by click, demo by demo, free trial by free trial.
Here’s our advice for the 90 percent:
1 – launch with a cross-functional team – According to a feature in the Harvard Business Review, 75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional. That stat caught our eye because the heart of every successful startup launch is the launch team—which by its very nature is cross-functional. That’s product, support, sales, marketing, and the CEO/founder coming together to introduce a new solution that solves a real pain point. The dependencies, tradeoffs and decisions that need to be made to meet the goals of launch can be made faster and more effectively with a cross-functional team. And with an experienced marketing pro chairing the team, your startup can banish dysfunction.
2- tops-down support is essential – if you want your launch to happen fast, be sure to include the CEO or co-founder on the cross-functional launch team. The CEO is a member of the launch team, not its leader. The leader is your head of marketing or CMO. You want the CEO there to reinforce the importance of goals, deadlines and accountability, and when tough decisions need to be made, it’s easier when the CEO is at the table not coding or pitching new customers. Without the CEO engaged, the CMO will likely have to spend more time socializing options and hunting down decisions and less time getting everything done.
3 – banish pixel polishing – part of the Steve Jobs legacy is his famous (and infamous) attention to the details of Apple product design that bordered on obsession, a habit we call “pixel polishing.” Now Jonathan Ive and Elon Musk are celebrated for their same rabid focus on product details — admirable but a huge obstacle for a startup preparing to launch. A startup team in launch mode doesn’t have the time or the money to afford to do any pixel-polishing. Just say no to pixel polishing and yes to “good enough.”
4 – beware nomadic board members– when board members start chiming in to “help” give feedback on messaging and marketing strategy, that’s often problematic. In fact, when we see board members dropping in to the startup’s offices frequently prior to launch, it’s usually a red flag. That often signals that the CEO is not strong enough to manage his board out of the way of his team. In launch mode, feedback can be hugely valuable. But, it’s better to get feedback from early customers, not board members.
5 – bring PR to the table early — there are strategic PR firms that can participate “upstream” with startup founders to nail down the positioning and messaging that’s core to launch. They can bring their experienced outsider perspective to build a solid story that will attract attention and followers among media, analysts and industry influencers. Then, there are “downstream” PR firms that are waiting to be handed the story. Hire the former, not the latter. Launch is too important not to invest in hiring an experienced PR team that will challenge assumptions, build and test the message and advocate their point of view at the table.
6 – it’s never too early to build content – when a launch is delayed, it’s usually one of three reasons: product issues, customer problems, content delays. You can never have enough content and the way to avoid delaying the launch because of late or missing content is to start launch planning early. No, you don’t want to start drafting content before the messaging and customer targets are baked. But since iteration is a way of life in startup marketing, start drafting content early to hit your deadlines.
7 — website UX trumps brand – if the founder starts talking about favorite brand colors and fonts, that’s another red flag. The most important thing for your launch website is designing the information architecture and content to drive conversions. Yes, design is integral to a successful site. Yes, building your brand is a process that starts with launch. But you need to focus on content and conversions first, or you’ll wander off into discussions of fonts and colors. See dangers of pixel polishing above.
8 — anticipate the trough — before you launch, be sure to have at least two months of demand gen programs defined, funded and queued. Otherwise, you run the risk of allowing all of the visibility, brand awareness and site traffic from early adopters to vaporize. To leverage the blood, sweat and tears of launch and leverage early market momentum to build early sales, avoid the post-launch trough with smart planning.