I often think the world would be a more compassionate place if everyone had been a waiter at one point in their lives. Having just launched a startup three weeks ago—after a long period of working on it part time—I now think the same is true of being a founder. We’d probably all be a little more tolerant of each other’s mistakes if developing a new product was a more widely shared experience. Because no matter how minutely you plan it, things never go 100% according to plan.
It’s natural to focus on the “upside metrics” on launch day: how many new users, signups, and sales you get—whatever. But you’ve got to keep your eye on mitigating the downsides, too, otherwise you’ll wreck your brand-new company in its first few days out in the wild. These are a few lessons I’d already picked up in the first 24 hours after launch day.
1. “Soft Launches” Can Still Be High Stakes
We had a waiting list of close to 9,000 people by the time UserMuse, a market research platform, soft-launched. That was still kind of a lot of people—way more than anybody who’d experienced the product previously. The day we actually went live, a Sunday, we turned our usual Facebook ad buys and content pushes down to almost zero so that we’d have a quieter environment in case anything catastrophic happened. We turned everything back on at midnight, Monday morning, once we were in the clear.
2. Test It Every Which Way A User Might See It
Our product is mobile-friendly, but some aspects of the experience are simply easier to use on a laptop screen. Nevertheless, 70% of our site traffic is on mobile devices, so we had no choice but to embrace that. In the weeks leading up to the launch, I’d do a full test of our entire app on my phone while lying in bed before I went to sleep. You need to experience the product the way your users will. For us, that means starting and ending our day thinking about our mobile users.
3. When The Market Talks, Talk Back
A little explanation goes a long way in shaping customer perception. In hindsight, there were things we could’ve done a better job of explaining to our users up front, which created the need for some real-time PR on launch day. It doesn’t matter how much of a time-suck it can be—responding to all your Facebook and Twitter comments, along with the user emails, is worth it. Some of ours were harsh (let’s face it—people can be mean online), but replying with unfailing respect and cheerfulness is a good look, even if it isn’t always easy.
4. Get Personally Involved When Things Break (And They Will)
Other than marketing, this may be the most important thing you can do. Launch-day bugs are incredibly frustrating and stressful, but they shouldn’t surprise you. I responded personally to dozens of questions, suggestions, and issues from users on Day 1. You owe your early adopters that much. Besides, when people get an email from the CEO saying that their issue is fixed and to reach out anytime if they have questions, they remember that far longer than the bug itself.
A few years ago I came across Tuft & Needle when I was shopping for a new mattress. I ended up not liking the mattress, but their service was fantastic. When I called customer service, the rep cheerfully sent me a list of charities near me that would come pick up the mattress that day, then gave me my refund. It’s the only product I can think of that I didn’t like but still recommend to other people. That’s what great service can do for you.
5. It’s Never Too Early To Pat Yourself On The Back
Finally, and trite as it sounds, it’s really important not to lose sight of the big picture when you’re in the midst of launching your startup. It’s easy to get so caught up in solving all the little problems that arise that you forget to step back and appreciate what you’ve done. Launch days may feel like the very beginning, but they’re invariably the culmination of many long days, weeks, months, and even years of prior toil. So I tried hard to keep that in mind.
We’re still less than a month from our launch, but we’ve already learned a ton over the past few weeks that will help us make the product better. But the broader validation of the need we’re addressing is just as valuable to us—and when the going gets tough, that market validation is our compass.
Christian Bonilla is the founder of UserMuse, which curates market research panels for enterprise software companies. He posts frequently on UserMuse’s blog. Follow Christian on Twitter at @smartlikehow.