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10 Product Launch Lessons

“I created a WordPress plugin and sold $4k of licenses in the 1st hour of launch.”

We’ve heard it all before and you probably tuned into this very podcast to learn how someone went from eating ramen noodles, to living on the 4-hour work week island.

As entrepreneurs, we’re not just looking for a big payday, but also to see our product adopted and loved by the masses. It’s an earmark of success that drives us to do what we do. Getting mixed up in just thinking about the money, can cause unnecessary burden and stress.

But along the way, if we don’t convert our failures into lessons — as my friend Cory says — we’re doomed to stay trapped on the hamster wheel of launching a product business.

Today, I’d like to share with you the lessons I’ve learned launching one of my products, Conductor plugin.

Product Launch Lessons Video Presentation

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10 Lessons Learned Launching Conductor

In February of 2014, we decided that we would turn our simple minimize blocks plugin (internal name) into a product.

Six months later, we launched a paid-beta program that generated 4 thousand dollars in revenue in it’s first hour. Here are the lessons we learned:

define the product

Lesson 1: Knowing when you have a product

There’s an implicit challenge to running an agency and a product company — time.

To that point, you need to make up for lost R&D product time that you’re spending on deliverables. I like to leverage our client work as part of our product research. It’s important to look at everything in scale:

  • Can we turn this into a plugin?
  • Will another client ask for this?
  • Does this help our internal workflow?

If you find yourself answering yes to the questions above, chances are you’re onto something that could be your next new product. Warning, checking those boxes off, isn’t the only task at hand — you still need to build a good product.

Scratching your own itch first:

When we were building Conductor, we looked to improve our own internal workflow first before taking customer feature requests. We saw commonalities across client projects we were building and looked at our sales pipeline to see what potential a new plugin could solve.

This effectively saved us time and allowed us to make more money on projects in the long run. And because we ALL suffer from Imposter Syndrome, I thought:

“If it doesn’t sell, at least we’ll still use it internally.”

Lesson 2: Start promoting ASAP

As soon as we had a working model of the plugin, I started creating teaser videos. This wasn’t a targeted marketing campaign, it was just general coverage of our upcoming product. I simply wanted to gauge if people were listening, was there any interest, and what was the reaction.

Each new feature would get a new video or talked about on one of our podcast episodes. It started to build the anticipation I was looking for. The last thing I wanted to do was build a product behind the proverbial curtain, only to ship my product and then have to educate my market on our offering.

Starting out early built the hype and the curiosity, which ultimately lead to a successful launch day.

advisoryboard

Lesson 3: I formed an advisory board early

I was able to recruit 6 super-talented folks from around the WordPress community. Each brought their own unique voice and talents, which helped tremendously with positioning the early product for further development.

It was important that I secured people that believed in us and the product. It was an early boost to confidence, which is just as important as having early customers. It also delivered some (small) market awareness leading up to the launch.

I’d advise anyone looking to launch a new product to find a group of individuals that could contribute a bit of outsider’s perspective on your product. Go a step further and recruit people from outside of your inner-circle if possible — you’re going to want real unbiased feedback.

Lesson 4: Hands-on Demonstrations

In Ash Maurya’s book, Running Lean – Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works, he explores the sweet-spot of early product demonstration. Somewhere in the range of 30 – 35 demonstrations is what you’re going to aim for.

It was truly an energizing experience, but be warned, they aren’t your customer — yet.

We conducted nearly 50 interviews with individual developers, designers, marketing leads and agency owners. Pulling as much feedback as possible during the calls as we could. Some lasted 20 minutes others went well over an hour.

Out of these interviews, we had only 1 person that wasn’t as impressed (compared to others) with just a few that we could feel didn’t fully understand what we were pitching. We took detailed notes during each demo, which we still review today for additional product or marketing ideas.

These interviews are crucial, not just for the potential features of your product, but to observe how people react to it. I spent a lot of time observing their emotional reaction, if they shifted in their seat or if their eyes looked around the screen.

It was easy to tell the people who were really excited, apart from those that wanted the call to be over. Fully-engaged people would start to explain what problems Conductor could solve for them or our potential customer base. You could hear the passion in their voice.

It was truly an energizing experience, but be warned, they aren’t your customer — yet.

piedpiper pitch

Lesson 5: Refine the pitch deck

Pitching a WordPress plugin isn’t easy or maybe ours was just more difficult at the time. It’s not like an app which people could quickly install on their phone and play with. Our plugin wasn’t released and it was doing something that no other plugin was doing.

Most importantly: We didn’t iterate our product, we iterated our pitch.

After about 10 interviews, I realized I needed to build a pitch deck. Something that showed off the highlights of our product, showcased our clients using it, and explain the business model. Otherwise, it was just me talking about what we were doing and trying to set the “product stage” before demoing.

It was clumsy and I could feel it during the calls. I needed to refine the pitch and make it smoother for everyone involved.

I created a deck with the following:

  • Animated GIFs that showed the plugin in action
  • Screenshots of client websites using the plugin
  • Simple images that represented our layouts
  • Charts that showed a savings of time and increase in revenue

All of this lead to much more head nodding and a better understanding when I went into the actual demo. It also served as a working foundation as we moved from interview to interview. We would improve some of the wording or feature highlights as we moved from person to person.

Most importantly: We didn’t iterate our product, we iterated our pitch.

I can’t stress that enough, you will inevitably get a wish list of features during demonstrations. We certainly collected them, but we avoided the temptation to add these nice-to-have features in order to avoid core bloat.

Lesson 6: Promojacking

David Meerman Scott coined the phrase, newsjacking, the process by which you inject your ideas or angles into breaking news, in real-time, in order to generate media coverage for yourself or your business.

As Conductor matured closer to a stable beta version, WordCamp New York was soon approaching and that would be our best date to release a beta. That would be our “Promojacking.”

Leading up to the event, we also created a video of Conductor building a similar layout to The New Yorker website. This video was a hit and it lead to a lot of interest and signups.

The final step, was to setup a series of landing pages with the videos to capture e-mails. Starting on the day before WordCamp NYC, to the last day of the event, I would drip out a series of new videos and tutorials for the beta launch. We had the hype of the WordCamp, we had boots on the ground in NYC, and we had a great video showcasing an iconic New York media site.

We collected 165 e-mails over the weekend that we would use to announce Conductor beta to the world.

…or at least, 165 out of 7 billion. 🙂

Lesson 7: Paid Beta Launch Day

We decided that we would promote a beta launch on Carrie Dils’ then live podcast, Genesis Office Hours. (Full disclosure, Carrie is also part of the advisory board of Conductor.)

This was, probably, the most targeted promotion we’ve ever done. Coupled with the beta ramp-up and e-mail collection landing page strategy, we had a nice targeted audience to promote to. We released the beta version and sold the plugin through our theme store, slocumthemes.com. (That’s right, we didn’t have a website yet.)

Within that hour, we sold 40 copies of a $99 beta license of Conductor.

No one had ever used the product, there were no 3rd party reviews, there was no proof that we were legit.

I would file this under a successful launch.

Lesson 8: The party’s over (for now.)

conductor salesAs I outlined in my popular post, The Precursor to Greatness, this product stuff isn’t easy.

In the proceeding month, after looking like we’ve struck gold, we sold $800 worth of licenses. A far cry from the $100k average it was looking like from launch sales. At the end of 2014, we had net just under $10k in sales. Still, a decent win in terms of niche WordPress plugins go, but not exactly earth-shattering, “I’m on a boat!” numbers.

That said, month-over-month, we have seen consistent growth.

Last month was our best month ever, in terms of total revenue for Conductor. As our product matures along side of exciting things happening with the WordPress customizer & the new API, I’m only looking towards continued success of the product.

Lesson 9: Biz dev the shit out of your product

Recently, I spoke to another plugin author that distributes via the WordPress.org repo. He asked why their numbers were low and where else I turn to to push sales of Conductor.

“Simple, biz dev the shit out of your product.” There is no easy answer.

Call it marketing or call it cold calling — I call it business development. It helps me sleep better at night that way.

I spend a lot of time talking to other WordPress product and agencies. I’m constantly looking and open to opportunity.

I think that’s where a lot of people fall short. They aren’t open to exploring opportunity and spending time looking at it. So many of you have tried to optimize your life/work balance, that you forgot to just let shit happen. You’ve time boxed yourself out of luck.

So many of you have tried to optimize your life/work balance, that you forgot to just let shit happen.

While some products find success with paid advertising, I prefer the organic route. Partly because I want to make sure the product can sell itself first, before opening the spigot of the monthly ad cost. Plus, I’m constantly fishing for the bigger catch. I’m looking to secure larger partner deals or integrations than just the single license purchase.

Take that advice at our own risk, that’s just where my head is at now.

Lesson 10: The ripple effect

I could turn this lesson into an entire post, so I’ll do my best to summarize it here.

Every little feature you introduce causes a ripple effect. I’m not just talking about the technical debt of maintaining code, but a ripple that goes far beyond that. There are constant trade-offs when running a bootstrapped product business.

There’s the time and money factor of balancing client work, that’s always nagging you. There’s marketing initiatives that cannot be executed because there’s no time left in the day. Your new feature could unlock the door to more partnership deals, but who will make those calls?

Hell, we went a whole month until we launched conductorplugin.com and even that was supposed to be just a landing page we then we converted into a full website! Nothing ever lines up, no matter how hard you try.

The best thing you can do is remind yourself that you’re further ahead than where you were when you hadn’t launched. You’ve learned a lot more than you would have just standing still.

Happy launching!

12 comments on “10 Product Launch Lessons

  1. I was in the audience during the paid beta launch day (lesson #7), watching while waiting in line the Boston south bus station. My conclusion is that purchasing and actively using conductor has been an investment that has paid dividends on multiple client projects + has helped with increasing my WP knowledge level (even as implementer).

  2. All great advice and insight Matt. Thanks for sharing.

    When we launched our first plugin, I wish I would have had a “plan” but at the time it was about testing the market and proving to my then new business partner, that I could in fact, promote successfully.

    That was three years and about a dozen plugins ago and we still go through the same struggles/successes/failures with each new product we launch.

    What many people don’t realize is just how difficult it can be to “be heard” through the noise in the WP product community these days.

    Separating your product from others and showing the benefits straight out of the gate is key…even before the actual launch as you’ve said.

    With that in mind, we’ve actually started to scale back and are focusing more on a few of our existing products and are even planning a relaunch of one of them via a SaaS platform and some other things;)

    Hope all is well with you and yours and it’s been way too long since we chatted!

    Adam

    1. Adam, your story has always stuck with me. I hope you find greater success with your new found focus. The WordPress community is lucky to have you.

  3. I feel fortunate that I have been able to follow the journey of Conductor Plugin (CP) from several angles.

    (Until CP’s beta launch event, I had never purchased a WP plugin that had a “beta” label so I was not sure what to expect immediately or in long term.) The pre-launch New Yorker demo video opened a window into the possibilities of what could ultimately be done using CP. I still refer back to the video to see if there is something more I can do with CP for my client projects.

    An added bonus that I did not expect: Because of the various CP launch stories shared, including the 10 lessons described in this post, I feel like I’ve been able to make better assessments of the viability of projects that I have been invited to work on.

    One of the takeaways that echoes in my mind often in new project conversations is to encourage my clients ask their prospective customers to open their wallets early on in the launch/development process.

      1. “I love how you position plugins with your clients. You should do a blog post about it.”

        The way I currently position plugins during my client projects is based on advice + feedback gleaned from a combination of listening to a bunch of Matt Report interviews and taking good notes from the previous Mastermind group calls.

        My process is based on creating group of a customizable tools I can use to develop/implement workflow efficiently. Of course, while maintaining flexibility based on specialty client requirements to seek other other things as needed.

  4. Matt – this post is incredibly valuable. Thanks for taking the time to write it. There are lessons here for everyone I suspect.

    Your forming of a board of advisors is particularly interesting. I wish we had done that with Postmatic. It would have saved us a lot of repositioning and shuffling things around.

    Many thanks.

  5. Nice write up and some great tips in this article! As we are gearing up for our own product launch, this came at the right time! Thanks!

      1. We’re just getting ready to launch a premium version of our MailChimp plugin (Easy MailChimp by Yikes Inc.). We’re going the freemium/add-ons route, and have been working on hard re-writing our core base plugin. Having a great product is only half the battle, marketing your product properly is the real challenge!

        Some really invaluable tips here that should help us launch on the right foot 🙂

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