Launch Day And Beyond

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Failure is simply the opportunity
to begin again, this time more
intelligently. –Henry Ford

We’ve come a long way and the only advice I have left to give is to be on the lookout for flying bullets. As excited as you might be in the days after launch it is only the very beginning of a long journey.

Let’s set our sites on some of the things that are still gunning for you.

  • You know those documents that you needed to get in before the end of the week? They will be delayed.
  • You know that funding you were promised? You’ll need to redo the term sheets.
  • You know those deadlines that you had to hit lest the world be destroyed; you’re going to be two weeks late.

Plan, plan and plan some more because when you think something is going exactly right, that’s when the bottom will fall out of the world. As an entrepreneur, you need to be the master of the contingency. You need to be ready to adapt to everything from the smallest scheduling conflicts to your co-founder deciding to jump ship.

Don’t become complacent.

As much as you might hate to do it, the day you decide to take your idea and build a product around it is the day you need to accept that life isn’t fair. That doesn’t mean that you can’t get over any hump or through any valley, it just means that the only way you’re going to do it is by planning ahead.

To illustrate, I think we have time for one more story.

Finally, It’s Launch Day

For every sale you miss because you’re too enthusiastic, you will miss a hundred because you’re not enthusiastic enough. –Zig Ziglar

You’ve pulled out of BETA-land and it’s finally over!

The press releases are out, the bloggers are contacted, the servers are humming and your team is about ready to break open the champagne. What then is that nagging feeling that is keeping you up at night? You’ve done everything that you could, yet something is still wrong.

You climb out of bed and make your way over to your laptop. Did you forget to answer an email? No, your inbox is empty. Hm, maybe payroll is running late? No, all the accounts are in order. Frustrated, you go to Google and start typing in the keywords for your product. As the results begin to fill your screen you realize what was bothering you.

Every single keyword you thought should be pointing to your product is pointing to another company. While you had your head in the sand, your competitors managed to get their product out the door and now the Internet is buzzing about their implementation of your idea.

What is an entrepreneur to do when he has lost the race to market?

This is where that adaptation thing I was mentioning kicks in.

Before you smash your laptop, realize that no matter what you’re making, there are dozens upon dozens of exact duplicates somewhere out there on the Internet. It has been this way for ages. The only way to remain sane is to learn to ignore this fact. The situation I just presented is not a real problem and the sooner you recognize that the better.

No matter how many times your product idea shows up in your Google search, no matter how many other collaborative notepads or social news aggregators crop up, remember that your job is to find a way to make your version resonate with some small sub-set of the population and that you are more than capable of doing this.

It all comes down to the final major topic we will be covering in this book . . .

Revel In Uncertainty

Don’t think you understand anything completely.

The most valuable lesson you can learn about your product and how it will be used by your customer is that you simply can’t be sure of much. As likely as not, your customer is going to find value in things that will surprise you. This is OK. You can either waste a lot of time trying to predict customer behavior, or you can see it for what it is and roll with it.

What else can you do? Here is a checklist for anyone who is getting ready to show their newest web toy to the world. If you can’t answer yes to all of these questions, then you still have work to do.

  • Have you shown your app to your family? Can they use it?
  • Have you shown your app to your significant other? Can she/he use it?
  • Have you given the app to that friend of yours who is always asking you to fix his computer? Can he use it?

You get the picture.

Hours of sweat, blood and caffeine have gotten you as far as a product, now it is time to go out into the field. The survivors in this business are the ones who create something that is still valuable when all the pundits have moved on to their next flavor of the week.

To help yours make the cut, let’s audit your product against the four most important things you will run into in the next several months after launch. You might remember many of these concepts from previous chapters.


Your fortunes, for better or for worse, lay in the hands of people. They love you, they hate you, you need them but you don’t necessarily want to deal with them. Most institutional investors are looking for somewhere between 10 and 20 thousand users before they bat an eye in your direction, and with capital becoming scarce you’re probably going to need some multiple of that if you aren’t generating revenue.

As important as it is to develop great ideas, and build them well, if you look at your enterprise through the eyes of an investor things look a little different. You could be selling ice in Antarctica and they wouldn’t really care as long as you can get people to beat down your door to buy it. Your product will never sell itself. You sell your product. Ask yourself whether the Toshiba iPhone would have set the world on fire the way the Apple iPhone did.

How are you going to get them to love you? Well, I can’t tell you that. There is no magic bullet to attracting an audience, and if you think there is I’d be happy to sell you tickets to a seminar where I’ll tell you all about it. What I will say is that you are a lot better off trying to market a narrow concept rather than a grand idea. The Wii is the casual gamer’s console with a cool controller, not the “next logical step in human-machine interface design.”

Normal people don’t really understand your “vision,” nor do they care about it. Their biggest concern is what a product can do for them. Answer that question for them upfront, and let them discover the gory details on their own.


There is a reason that Pharaoh’s of old liked pyramids. They’re stable. Build your application like you would a pyramid. Begin with only your most important features, your foundation. Keep your UI simple; make sure that your users have almost no way of being confused. Once you have them hooked on your initial idea, move on up the line filling in the details as you go. Once people are invested, you have much more time to put on the finishing touches.

Twitter was an application designed to answer a simple question. Facebook was an application designed to let you stalk your classmates. The light bulb was a product created to illuminate a room. All great ideas start off simple and are expanded upon as the user base becomes more used to them. Who would have understood the Florescent bulb if they hadn’t first seen a light bulb in action?

Go to everyone on your checklist (you do have a checklist by now, right?) and let them play around with your application without your intervention. Afterwards, ask them a few questions. If you can’t come up with them on your own, these will do in a pinch.

  • What features did you notice? (Did you notice my cool, AJAX login!)
  • What was most confusing to you?
  • What would I have to change before you’d sign up to use this application?
  • Explain the product in two sentences or less.

The last question is arguably the most important. If someone can play around with your product and still not understand how to use it, the problem probably sits with you — not them. I’m not saying that you should be beholden to every one of your user’s whims, but they are your users.

No matter how “silly” a question might seem to you, if enough people think its important then you better start listening.

Sell, Sell, Sell

The most important part of a selling anyone on your product is trying. For many entrepreneurs it is much easier to put together a brilliant product than it is to get out in front of people and tell them to use it. Putting your site onto the web is a great first step, but it is only that — a first step. Other than adding features and squashing bugs, the rest of your time should be devoted to finding ways to sell your product to the masses. You have many choices:

  • Friends and Family
  • Traditional Media
  • Blogs
  • Other Businesses
  • Foreign Markets

The list goes on and on.

One market that web entrepreneurs often ignore is the late-adopters. It may seem counterintuitive to go after a market that traditionally avoids jumping on technological bandwagons, however, remember that these people are also being underserved by the rest of the entrepreneurial community. They are ripe for your product and they haven’t been poisoned by the noise that early adopters deal with on a daily basis.

I warn you, it will be slower going but the advantages of having a completely untapped market may outweigh the costs, especially if you’re in an industry (like movies or music) that has universal appeal.

Speaking of underserved markets, once you have burned through the hype, you might be wondering how you are going to get yourself on Oprah. It’s time to take a look.

Building for the Mainstream

Kids are really incredible, in terms of how much they dive into this and just take it as a given.
They’ll be the ones who really bring the web lifestyle into the mainstream. – Bill Gates

If you want to understand how to build something that people care about, the first thing to realize is that you aren’t a real person. The simple act of “becoming” an entrepreneur has stripped you of some fundamental portions of your humanity. That’s OK; you never really wanted to be normal — did you? When you look at a product or idea, the entrepreneur in you sees it in terms of a business model. Despite what you might want to believe, when a normal person does the same all they see is utility — more exactly, they see whether the product and the marketing you’ve wrapped it in will change their lives.

How do you market a product when you are incapable of seeing products like the people you are trying to develop them for?

Ask your parents.

Why your parents? Easy, unless they were running a web startup sometime in their early years, your parents are normal people. Normal people are fantastic at telling you whether they care about something or not. You don’t need a MBA to know whether a spork is useful to you. You don’t need a degree in computer science to know whether a service is hard to use. In fact, the less brain-washed you are by the academic aspects of product design, the more likely you are to be able to see the problems that will slow adoption.

How do you create a mainstream product? Take your mind out of the meeting room and go into the field.

To begin our journey, let’s take a look at a few classic mainstream technologies.


The Granddaddy of them all, Email completely altered the way that we communicate. Just as importantly, email managed to cross the technical divide. People who might see no other use for a computer will go out of their way to learn how to use email.


Like the telephone before it, email significantly lowers the cost of human communication. It gave people an easy, efficient way to keep in contact with their friends, family and business partners. Not only that, it created a new personal identifier – the email address. No matter what email client you use, this address followed you around, making email extremely easy to scale.

Finally, the information is not tied to a rigid platform. I can transfer my emails between a dozen mail clients, anyone can send me an email no matter what service they happen to use and when I decide to go from Hotmail to Gmail, for instance, moving my data is fairly painless.

Spam Protection

Spam protection is the single most under appreciated web technology in existence. Without it, email, blogs, instant messaging, social networks and an entire host of other web applications would be completely unusable. So there is the first point, spam protection enables other technologies.

Spam protection also has the benefit of being transparent; spam filters usually come bundled with other web applications. For your average user, there is little installation required and any configuration that needs to be done can be done once and never fiddled with again.

Like Email, spam tools also tap into sources of free floating information. Black and white lists that aren’t tied directly to any particularly platform are available, and since spam guards add new entries to these lists daily, spam protection as a concept benefits greatly from network effects.

Instant Messaging

What makes instant messaging a little different than the other two technologies mentioned is that instant messaging became popular because it managed to capture a single demographic to the point of saturating it. Kids and young adults flocked to instant messaging as a faster, more efficient and more fun method of email.

Instant messaging solved a broad problem, how to send messages that need a quick reply or are too short to warrant email. Or more generally, how do I have a real “conversation” on the web. Instant messaging also benefited from simplicity. In the U.S., the mainstream public was introduced to instant messaging through AOL. Since it came bundled with the AOL software, the barriers to entry were extremely low.

Finally, instant messaging created another portable identity — the screen name. Often, your AIM screen name became the basis for your user names for all kinds of other web services. It became analogous to a phone number, giving someone your screen name was giving them access to you in the same way as your cell phone number.


There are several other product concepts that have made waves, but the biggest thing that we can draw from these are some broad questions you should ask when deciding whether an application is paradigm shifting.

  • Does it help connect people?
  • Does the application create a new personal identifier?
  • Does it help enable communication?
  • Does it enable other technologies?
  • Does the application have a short learning curve?

The more of these questions that you can answer yes to, the more likely the application has the potential to become widely accepted.

We are quickly running out of space, and I had just one more thing to tell you. Remember in the beginning when I said there were no secrets? Well, I lied. Before I go, I wanted to let you in on,

The Final Secret

Three can keep a secret, if two are dead. –Benjamin Franklin

We’re just about done here; I have a little more to say. If you have stuck with me this far you know just about everything you need to in order to take an idea from your brain, turn it into a product and bring it to the market. I’ve left out many of the gory details, but as I said in the beginning – the web is a moving target so what really matters is the intuition. I hope that you have picked up some of that in the last hundred pages.

Before I hand you over to the appendix, I wanted to leave you with a little secret. The answer to a question that gets asked far too often by people overly saturated in the web. The answer to why it is that so many products fail.

Read these pages now but also earmark them for later. In a few months time, check back and see if it makes a little more sense to you.

It’s Not so Hard

If you gave me one month, I could show you how to triple your traffic.

No, this isn’t a sales pitch or the intro to a twelve step program, it’s a point of fact. In one month I could show you how to become a successful product producer, not a millionaire mind you but orders of magnitude more exposed than you are today. Give me one month and I could put you on the road to making all your Internet dreams come true, and you know what, I’d do it for free.

Wait . . .

Let’s back up for a second, it wouldn’t be completely free.

There is one teeny, tiny catch to my offer — a small price, a little something for my trouble. For all this help, I am going to have to ask you to give over the keys to your product.

Secret Revealed

If you have decent marketing skills and understand the game you are playing, anyone can drive traffic and build an audience. It’s not black magic, it’s just a matter of producing content that the Internet thinks is interesting. Many of us even have an intuition for what that content is, so why does it seem so difficult to “make it”?

It’s because so many of us are trying to shoe horn mass appeal into niche content. It’s because we forget that mainstream appeal means appealing to the mainstream.

The mainstream could care less about the ins and outs of search engines or the latest meme. The mainstream doesn’t know weblebrities from a hole in the wall, is only vaguely aware of Digg (they heard about it once on CNN) and still gets most of their technology news from the Discovery Channel.

Unless you are blogging about the economy, following the Jonas Brother’s latest tour via web cam or running your own Fantasy Football league, you will never win the minds and hearts of a mainstream audience with the content that litters the web today. It’s all too niche and all too complex.

Frankly, if you want to get hundreds of thousands of visitors a day easily, I can tell you how. It’s not that difficult, just write a decent celebrity gossip blog.

Don’t believe me? Ask a dozen people (outside of the Valley) whether they recognize Perez Hilton or Mike Arrington and you’ll see what I mean.

That brings me back to my point,

If you want to build products around the topics that interest you, accept the fact that you will always face a hard limit on how quickly you are going to be able to grow, especially if you are operating in “high tech.” Building startup-style products on the web is like building a Starbucks in Manhattan — it seems like a great idea until you look across the street.

What’s a person to do?

Decide whether you want to keep caring about mainstream appeal.

You wonder why 95% of web applications fail to translate into broad markets — using my earlier example — it’s like putting down the foundation for your Starbucks in 1947. There is nothing wrong with the product per say, everyone loves coffee, but the market for the $5 Decaf, Venti Latte just isn’t there for the post-war crowd.

That’s why I find the debate over the business model for the web to be so intriguing. The reason that people are finding it so difficult to monetize these products has nothing to do with whether they are good, it has everything to do with the fact that it’s really hard to get normal people to pay for a product when the need doesn’t yet exist for them. No one needs Twitter or Plurk or Friendfeed, I love them to death but if they all disappeared I’d be none the worse for wear. Even if you manage to get into the wallets of every early adopter (a notoriously difficult task), there just aren’t enough of us to matter and unfortunately our numbers don’t scale quickly enough to follow a product’s growth curve.

All of this mainstream appeal that we chat about here in the techosphere is a carnival act we put on for ourselves. The companies that have managed to make the largest profits on the web aren’t non-contextual social conversation tools. The ones bringing in profits have found ways to tap into the needs of the mainstream — Amazon, Google, eBay, Craigslist et al. Few of the cool widgets that we salivate over solve the concrete problems that these services did. None of them, as far as I am concerned, do so for a broad sector of the market.

So where does that leave us? Stop focusing so hard on the numbers, the mainstream, and just solve real problems.

If you want to know where the business model for the Social Web lives, it’s in the head of whoever uses these tools to solve a substantive problem. The person who gets people to buy into social technology the way they are buying into GPS and mobile-tech. The person who builds something that solves a problem that wasn’t created by the web itself. This is a good acid test because if you’re solving a problem that the Internet didn’t heap on us — you can be pretty sure that the mainstream will catch wind without you have to go out there and court them. The person who manages this will likely be the first, real “Web 2.0″ success story.

Having said all of this, if you recognize that your product isn’t going to be mainstream — who cares, do it anyway and enjoy it. You can still have a fantastic time and make a ton of money in the process. Don’t make me or anyone else convince you that you’re not doing it right just because it doesn’t fit into whatever process works for us.

The Short Version

That is the secret point of this entire book. I want you to recognize that the problem you were trying to solve when you started reading this isn’t difficult. To be a successful entrepreneur, you need a lot of things — luck, skill, a cool head, a creative mind, good timing, a great team and the appropriate flare for the dramatic but to build big ideas all you really need is to:

  • Find something you love doing.
  • Find a way to solve someone else’s problems doing it.
  • Work really, really hard.
  • Survive long enough to make enough money to do it forever.
  • Wash, Rinse, Repeat.

It’s as simple (and nearly impossible) as that.

Final Exam

  • Make a list of every delay or problem that you could face in the next week, make a one sentence plan on how you would deal with it if and when it arrives.
  • Show your completed product to everyone that you can convince to take the time to look at it. Watch them use the product and take note of some of the stumbling blocks. Get a feeling for what problems they are running into that you may not have seen coming.
  • What do you think your product does? Ask the closest person to you what they believe it does (no prompting), compare the results.
  • Develop a promotions checklist. Make a list of blogs, publications and people you plan to target for your initial launch.
  • What are some mainstream technologies that you use everyday? What are some of the characteristics of these technologies?
  • Read the entire Appendix, I know you think there is nothing there for you but you will thank me later.
  • Take a nap, you’ve earned it.

Next: Appendix - Social Bookmarking and Social Media | In case you forgot, buy the book.

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