How to launch Pied Piper (Part 1)

Actionable steps for marketers to launch a product


I am lucky to have had the experience of launching a couple of products in the past. Some products were open-source, some consumer, and others enterprise. There are many guides on launching a product, but it can be difficult to apply those concepts in practice.

As an exercise, I will apply some of my past experiences to launch Pied Piper (the company featured in HBO TV Series Silicon Valley). I will also be introducing many tools that I use for various purposes. If you have a better tool, please let me know! ☺

Note that there is a distinction between marketing and product launches. Here’s a post by Eric Ries on the differences/ benefits of both. For this series, I will be concentrating on the marketing launch and not the product launch.

Disclaimer: The original Pied Piper startup and some images in this post belong belong to HBO. I do not own any of the properties ☺

Context — Introducing Pied Piper

Source: http://www.piedpiper.com/blog/2015/4/10/welcome

Pied Piper is a compression-in-the-cloud service that promises to dramatically reduce file sizes. It is used in the live video streaming space for lossless compression of higher quality content, resulting in significant space and bandwidth savings.

I’ll be working with a certain set of assumptions for the launch:

  • The product’s key value proposition is the compression technology which dramatically reduces file sizes.
  • The initial use case for the product is live video streaming. It can also be used for cloud storage and other uses cases which will not be actively pursued during the initial launch.
  • The product takes the form of an API. It requires developers to integrate into their applications. The target audience is typically DevOps engineers.
  • The product will be launched with a Freemium pricing model. The pricing is tiered based on the amount of data compressed per month, with a base amount allocated to free users. A similar example would be PubNub’s pricing plan.

Setting the launch date

Launch on Tues-Thur. Traffic is usually low over the weekends, and most people are busy on Mondays. Optimally, set the launch date to coincide with a bigger event.

In the TV series, Pied Piper plans to launch at the Consumer Electronics Show. This is a great platform to showcase the technology to the attendees, who fit the profile of the Pied Piper’s target market.

Be sure to check that the launch date does not coincide with a noisy news day. Avoid launching on the same day that Apple is launching their iPhone, or when Hooli is launching XYZ!☺

Pre-launch TL;DR

Some teams target multiple news outlets, while others launch on a single platform (e.g. Product Hunt). Leading up to the big launch, there are many things that can be done to capitalize on the surge in traffic. I call this the pre-launch phase.

  • Define KPIs
  • Figure out how to scale growth
  • Build pre-launch landing page
  • Install tracking code
  • Write product announcement

(to be discussed in Part 2)

  • Customize social media content
  • Find user communities
  • Start content marketing
  • Prepare emails
  • Build hype

Note: Not necessarily in order — some can happen simultaneously.


Define KPIs

Before the start of any marketing or launch plan, define the key performance indicators (KPIs). In the case of Pied Piper, the marketing KPI is total amount of data sent to the service. The number of API calls (in production) is key as well.

Metrics tracking and funnels

Building a user funnel helps to visualize the major milestones of a successful user. Here’s a flowchart (drawn using LucidChart) for what the Pied Piper funnel looks like:

User funnel for Pied Piper

With the milestones defined, I’ve listed some of the events to track below. This list is not exhaustive, and it is likely also dependent on the design of the actual site.

Some examples of events/ metrics to track

Some of the events that I’ve listed could be considered vanity metrics. Nonetheless, they can help determine high attrition areas and aid customer segmentation.

Additional metrics

I have also found the following metrics provide valuable insight:

  • Customer acquisition cost & customer lifetime value
  • Conversion rate, retention rate, churn rate
  • Daily/ monthly active production users (in terms of making API calls)
  • Monthly recurring revenue

These numbers look daunting. Here are a few helpful links:

Figure out how to scale growth

There’s a great post by Andrew Chen on this topic. Start thinking about the long term growth efforts early so as to work towards them incrementally.

The long term growth strategy for Pied Piper is likely through long term paid acquisition and virality:

  • Invest in ads (both online and offline) to acquire customers.
  • Encourage customers to spread word about Pied Piper in exchange for a reward.

Of course, deriving this insight comes with experimentation.

Prepare ads for paid acquisition channels

Start by figuring out who the ads should be targeted at and where to place them. Popular channels include social media, developer sites (e.g. StackOverflow), billboards, and sponsoring podcasts/ tech conferences.

The key is to segment and AB test everything so that it can be improved with each iteration. Segment by demographics, location, interests, behaviors, etc.

For example, I recommend targeting Pied Piper ads in geographic regions of high tech concentration. In the United States, this means areas like the San Francisco Bay area, Austin, New York, etc. To target Devops, segment either by occupation, or by their interests. Some interest areas include AWS, storage, security, etc. You can even target past attendees of conferences such DevOpsCon and re:Invent. Search Twitter for users who have tweeted the conference hashtag. To make the ads more directed, exclude employees of competitors (Hooli and Endframe).

For online ads, make sure that conversions are tracked accurately! Tracking via client side pixel is convenient, but I prefer using server side data. This means having the backend trigger an event when a user signs up for a trial, and when he converts to a paying customer. This tends to be a fairer comparison across various ad networks. Segment, or even Google Tag Manager is extremely helpful in this aspect.

Each ad should contain a unique tracking link. This can be easily done by adding UTM tags to the links, which is free. UTM tagging also makes it easier to attribute conversions to the right source. In fact, UTM tags should be used for all external links, such as press releases, social media posts, etc.

Fuel word of mouth growth

I’ve written about this in the past (read: Planting the Growth Seed). It needs to be simple for existing users to tell others about the product. For a consumer SAAS business, this typically means a referral system. Customers are incentivized to invite others for a reward. Check out Referral SaaSquatch if you need to integrate such a system.

Since Pied Piper is not inherently consumer, we need a different incentive for users to spread the word. One way is to introduce the “Powered by Pied Piper” badge. Customers who add the badge to their video stream qualify for some free credits. (Similar to Mixpanel Partner)

Another idea is to build easy ways for users to quickly switch over to using the product. Client libraries make it easy for developers to integrate the API using any language. This makes Pied Piper instantly accessible to developers.

Build pre-launch landing page

Before the actual launch, use a temporary page to collect emails of potential customers. There are many tools that can build such pages with no need for intensive coding. The current Pied Piper homepage is built using SquareSpace. Other tools include: Wix, Unbounce, or even Wordpress. Start A/B testing the site — value proposition, layout, headline copy, call to action, etc.

“Live stream” of Condor Cam on Pied Piper pre-launch homepage

Having a playable demo on the site allows potential customers to experience the product. This sets their expectation of the product, and helps to qualify the signups.

Set up Developer Portal

Since Pied Piper is an API, the main touchpoint for users is the developer portal. Make sure that the developer documentation and guides are clear and robust. Make it easy for developers to get their questions answered. Include example code to help users get started easily. For reference, Stripe does a wonderful job with their developer docs.

Install tracking code

In the KPI section above, we’ve established the metrics to collect. The next step is to pick the tools for the job. The team should pick the data analytics tool which they are familiar with. My picks are as follows:

I use Segment, a service that integrates with all the above tools with a single tracking code. All there is to do is to turn on and off the different services via the Segment interface. Pretty neat, and an amazing timesaver!

Source: https://segment.com/

The most basic tracking code to install is the Analytics.js snippet. They also have great documentation and a rather responsive support team!

Write Product Announcement

Prepare the product announcement prior to launch day to avoid last minute scrambles. This way, you can be among the first to break the news and control the language explaining the value proposition. It is vital to tie the announcement to a bigger trend. For example, the emerging trend of live video streaming services from big players like Twitch and YouTube, to mobile apps like Snapchat, Meerkat, and Periscope. Remember to maintain a balance between a Buzzfeed style article vs. an actual announcement.

Here’s some interesting resources for PR:

There should be several variations of the product announcement:

  1. A more objective/ professional version for press release
  2. A slightly more personal (first-person) version for posting on the company blog
  3. A highly personal one for sending out to personal contacts, investors, friends, etc.

Engage a PR agency/ Establish relationships with reporters

A PR agency could be valuable in pitching reporters, securing interviews, and drafting releases. They could also help with getting customer and industry expert endorsements. However, do expect to still be doing the bulk of the work in generating content. Your mileage may vary.

Reach out to previous reporters who covered the company. Remember to also mention previous wins, such as having won TechCrunch Disrupt. Also check out Submit.co, and this amazing list of launch PR contacts.

Build a Press Kit

Source: http://www.piedpiper.com/blog/2015/4/30/erlich-on-the-hunt

A press kit is a quick resource for journalists writing about Pied Piper. This is essential to ensure that journalists are using the right logo, images, quotes, etc. The last thing you want is for the reporter to include a picture of Erlich smoking a bong.

Stuff to include:

  • Bio/ Background of company/ product, team
  • Hi-Res Images of product (screenshots), logo, team
  • Quotes from customers
  • Case studies

This post is the first part of a three part series. Continue reading part 2 of this post for more pre-launch to-dos.