If you build it, they will come… Sometimes loudly and all at once
How launching Paperform did not go to plan, and why it turned out to be a great thing.
Our launch campaign exploded with a promotion deal on appsumo.com that sold thousands of times over, and wrapped up with over 950 up-votes on Product Hunt. How we got there wasn’t entirely intentional, but was beyond invaluable.
A bit of background
After a number of people we knew approached us to build web forms for their organisations, we realised there was a gap in the market for forms that are ‘bespoke’ for everyone. People needed a form creator that was easy and fast to use, and could fit seamlessly into their website. So, we started building a core product and generated some initial interest for Paperform in August by listing a private beta signup page on BetaList. About a month later we welcomed the first 200 test-users and started refining the product based on their feedback. We also did some intensive market research into the demographics we were attracting, and quite a few interviews with dedicated users. We thought we had a clear idea of who our users were and what they wanted.
AppSumo reached out to us after seeing us on BetaList to see if we were interested in partnering with them for a promotional deal, and we thought, “What a way to kick-start this thing — heck yes”. An AppSumo deal works like this: we give them coupons for an amazing deal (in our case $39 for a Lifetime Pro account), and they promote that deal to their +800K user base. We both take a cut of the revenue, and everyone wins! With our armoury full of feedback and kickass preparation plans, we were ready to do this thing.
One Week Before Launch
The official launch date and promotion release was set for December 7th, what we expected to be the starter gun to launch madness. However, to gauge interest and test the message against traffic, the deal went live on appsumo.com a week earlier (standard procedure). Almost immediately we knew we were going to have our work cut out for us, as we sold a few hundred deals and had questions and requests coming in left, right, and centre. We were more popular than we had banked on being. The quiet before the storm quickly turned into a pouring of sales, questions, and feature requests; we had inadvertently launched before we were quite ready.
Rolling with the punches at this point was pivotal in allowing us to make the most of what this really was — a massive opportunity to harness unprecedented interest. So, we kicked into a gear we didn’t know we had to keep up with support, reorganised ourselves at lightning speed, and prioritised the core tasks necessary for the tidal wave we knew was coming.
December 7th — Launch Day…
The day before the AppSumo deal was to be mailed out, we awoke to a few tweets telling us that we’d been posted on Product Hunt! One of the early adopters on AppSumo had been excited to share us. As we are based in Sydney Australia, we had been asleep for the first 8 hours of our hunt day, which essentially left us dead in the water when it came to upvotes.
We had hoped to be hunted further down the track and didn’t bank on it happening so early in the piece — we were looking for momentum, not a single moment. We had something like 2 upvotes when we woke up and ended the day on about 30. Feeling somewhat dejected that Product Hunt hadn’t worked out for us, we decided to reach out to the Product Hunt team and let them know about our experience. A few hours later they wrote back letting us know that we were actually scheduled to be featured the next day. Oh boy.
A Perfect Storm
So, launch day turns up and the deal goes out, traffic goes through the roof and the sales come in hard and fast. A few hours later, our Product Hunt promotion kicks in, and we’re sitting in #1 in tech for the first 10 hours of the day. Somehow, Christmas had come all at once. Our guests had arrived to dinner an hour early and brought along everyone they had ever met, and the fact that our hair wasn’t brushed and we were covered in gravy turned out to be not such a big deal — what was important was getting to know the folks that had turned up, and partying with them.
Due to some lucky timing, we were able to use the AppSumo deal to highlight our Product Hunt listing, and our Product Hunt listing to promote our deal. We finished that first (intentional) launch day with over 1k deals sold and over 640 up-votes on Product Hunt. The cooldown over the next few weeks until the deal ended saw our Product Hunt page reach over 950 up-votes (the most up-voted form service on Product Hunt to date), and several thousand paying customers — the ultimate validation! We could write a book on all the small moments and experiences that went into those few weeks, but it’s best summed up here:
What we learnt
- Launching well is hard, lining up the right amount of attention at the right time is critical. We stumbled on this — try and make it happen if you can.
- Beta testing while necessary, is a little overrated. We learnt more in a week about how our product needed to evolve from paid users than we did in months of beta testing and qualitative interviews with free users. Beta users tend toward the theoretical, paid users need your product to work for them today and they will tell you what they expect. Keep your testing time as limited as possible and get your product into the hands of people who will have a real, vested interest in your product working for them. Even if it’s just a few paying customers, it’s worth it.
- Big deals are an amazing way to attract early users. A lot of people thought it was a bit weird that we would be happy to give users lifetime access for a marginal fee, but when you have an early stage product having people actually using your product is well worth the cost of supporting them on an ongoing basis.
- From our experience, users who purchased our lifetime deal are exactly the kind of people we needed. They are forgiving of bugs and lack of features, yet they are vocal about how the product could change to meet their needs. They’re invested in what the product could become, not what it is right now.
- Listen to your customers! We had a moment in the first week of our promotion where a large amount of our potential customers were complaining about a minor limitation on the deal (a small branding line that said “Powered by Paperform” at the bottom of a form). We decided to act quickly and remove it. In doing so communicated that we were listening, and that we actually care about what matters to our users. It was a small change for a big win.
- Great support is everything. It has to be number one, and if you’re a founder, director, manager, or anyone at the top level you can’t afford to not spend time getting your hands dirty. Direct contact with your users will show you who they are and what they want. These are the people who are paying for your product — they are the primary factor in your having a business. Without them, you have nothing. Spend time on the ground directly engaging with your users. They will love it and be grateful, and you will find it invaluable. (Side note, Intercom is amazing for managing support).
- Be honest. Users are in general extremely forgiving (even supportive) if you don’t have what they want or if you have bugs, as long as you communicate with them clearly and honestly, and let them know you are genuinely committed to supporting them. You don’t have to have a solution immediately, but you do have to engage and let them know you are there and you are listening. If they give feature requests, be thankful that they are taking the time to let you know — don’t get frustrated about hearing the same thing over and over again. Make them feel like you’re all on the same team, because you are.
- Release a public roadmap — be transparent with your users and gain their trust. This will set expectations, and prove a valuable tool when you get a ridiculous amounts of requests to know when features are coming out. You don’t have to put every little thing on it, and obviously don’t ever promise more than you can deliver — that would be a disaster.
What we’d do differently
- We are infinitely aware that we got lucky with being featured on Product Hunt. It was entirely our fault for not communicating that we didn’t want to be hunted (put a do not hunt sticker on site people!). If we were doing it again, we wouldn’t leave success on Product Hunt up to chance 😊
- We’d be far more prepared in terms of on-boarding resources, help, FAQs etc. We ended up writing most of these on the fly and the affect it had on support volume was huge every time we made information about our product more accessible.
We want to give a big shout out to Olman Quesada and the AppSumo team who were awesome to partner with, and have really given us a leg up. We highly recommend working with them, especially if you are starting out. Also, the Product Hunt team who got behind us and featured us! It really makes a difference. Most of all, we are blown away by the enthusiasm of our users, and are continually grateful for their support and patience.