Whenever you start a company, a huge amount of hard work has gone on that is invisible to the outside world. This is one of the things that makes your launch day a huge milestone. Just having a new and innovative product is not enough. You have to make sure that all the moving parts that have gone into creating your company are ready once you announce it to the world.
Certainly, every founder has a different experience launching his or her company. I’ve personally been fortunate enough to have been a part of two companies from the start, first with Vectorwise and now at Snowflake Computing (which started last October). They were both very different starts, but from those experiences here are a few things I learned about making a launch successful.
1. Know your goals.
Obviously, a critical goal is creating buzz that makes the outside world aware of your company and excited about what you’re doing. But there are lots of variations, depending on your goals. Is your goal to get the world to realize that you have a great team, a great product or an impressive momentum? Your goal is probably some or all of those, but depending on when in your company’s lifetime you launch, the focus will be different.
2. Make sure to get (great) help.
There are no prizes for doing everything yourself. If your expertise is in architecting an awesome product, writing and rewriting web pages is probably something you should get help on. A launch has so many different parts that even within your company, you can’t have expertise on everything. We leveraged outside consultants to help us with messaging, the website, PR, etc. You should, too: Just be sure to get really excellent help – it can make a huge difference, even in areas you think you know pretty well. And, beware: Bad consultants can make your life miserable.
3. Get an external point of view.
It’s basically impossible to be objective about your own company. We love ours, but we don’t have an outsider’s perspective on what makes it interesting to others. Talking to our partners, customers and analysts, however, helped us hone our message, and also made our internal belief in our story even stronger.
4. Launch planning starts early – and keeps iterating.
The seeds for your launch should be planted very early and iterated over time. Regardless of when you start, you’ll constantly refine your brand. (For example, we decided to change our logo a few months before launch.) You’ll change your value proposition. (It took us a lot of debate and a lot of dead ends to get to the core value proposition that best explained us.) And then there's your website. (Expect your web team to be scrambling to make sure that all draft mentions of “Make sure you write something here” get updated; our team was!)
5. Make sure that your launch is a story.
Our investors made sure we were thinking about the bigger story into which our company fit. We realized the impact we had in talking about “the bigger picture” – the seismic shift happening in IT, meaning the shift to the cloud. So, we talked about that before we talked about what we were building for data warehousing in the cloud. In a crowded market, the story you tell makes all the difference in getting noticed and being remembered.
6. There is a time for discussion, and a time for execution.
We spent some long hours debating what to say about our vision, our product and our difference. But eventually we had to execute. The logo was just one example: When you start getting into it, it’s astonishing how many different variations of color, shape, font, layout, etc. you can find – enough to continue the debate for years. The same is even more true for messaging, press releases and other elements of the launch.
7. Celebrate with your team!
While it is common for the executives to get all the external attention, internally, launch day is an amazing team-bonding moment. So, make it special. It’s not only about champagne, photos, commemorative t-shirts, etc. It’s also about looking back, laughing at the fun moments and sharing those war stories. Most importantly, it’s about talking about the future – after all, your launch is just one of the many steps your team members will take together. That will make it a day to remember.
My advice to others, then: While thinking through all the particulars and getting ready (or at least ready enough) to launch your company, have some fun and enjoy the moment because it can go by fast, really fast. Plus, launch day is only the beginning of what is hopefully a long and fruitful journey.