The ZCast Launch, the Crucial Lessons I Learned, and Mistakes I Made Along the Way
Yesterday morning, around this time, I was barely breathing. Rewind six months. No actually, rewind three years! I joined Zula, first as an external advisor, and then full time, as CMO.
The reason I joined this company is because the founders, Jeff Pulver and Jacob Ner David had a big vision to fix the way teams communicate. No, Slack was not around yet. Slow down, I am getting there.
“Think about the way you communicate with your team today. Email, Skype, Dropbox, Google Drive, WhatsApp, and on and on. We need to fix that. All your team communication in one place.” That is what they told me and it was like music to my ears. I was in!
And so, at the end of 2013, at TechCrunch Disrupt, Zula Launched. We were not ready to launch but we were notified very last minute that we were accepted to be a part of Startup Alley at Disrupt and you don’t turn down such an opportunity.
We went to Disrupt with an app that wasn’t even in the App Store yet. I know. Nuts. “Whatever. Not like we are going to win anything. We are just here for a bit of exposure and networking.”
Then, at the end of day one, Mike Butcher comes over and says “Zula, you were selected as the Audience Choice Award. You are presenting on stage. You won! Get ready.”
As soon as I returned to consciousness, we got ready. And here is where I skip a bit. We presented. We launched. We raised funding from Microsoft Ventures, Kima Ventures, Ourcrowd, many amazing angels like Gigi Levy and Adi Soffer Teeni (now the GM of Facebook Israel.), and later on, from 2M and Ori Eisen!
Then Slack happened.
Fast forward a few years and we have some great teams using Zula and great investors, but Slack. We had a fantastic team, a strong brand, tons of online influence, but Slack!
So now what? We thought, we pondered, we brainstormed. And we realized that our unique audio tech, which we used for one touch conference calling was something we can work with!
And so, Jeff had an idea for our next product, Jacob had an idea, Raz, our CEO and a ridiculously talented product guy, had an idea, and I had an idea. We took the best parts of all these ideas and came up with ZCast!
The same concept. Simplifying something that should have been made simple ages ago. But this time, it wasn’t team communication. It was podcasting!
You know what? No. It wasn’t about podcasting because my dad doesn’t know what podcasting is! Podcasting is a geeky word. We wanted to bring the power of a panel, a roundtable, talk radio, to the mobile phone!
In simpler terms, whether you are a VC, a journalist, a blogger, an educator, a politician, a marketer, or pretty much anyone else, with ZCast you would be able to have a conversation and let others listen in and interact. Simple!
And so? We got to work. Many months of sweat and tears. Sleepless nights, endless meetings, non stop brainstorming. Just like the startup fairytale goes. We even had all the cliche’s of “Do we launch now or wait till we perfect this thing?” Ya know, marketing (get this thing out! Ship!!) and product (We are not quite ready just yet.)
Ok, if I go into all the detail of how we chose the date to launch, I will never get to the reason I am writing this post, to share my lessons and mistakes from yesterday.
So let’s just get there, shall we? Launch day. January 21st, 2016!
For months before launch, I had been meeting people whose opinion I value and I had been sharing with them the vision and giving them a sneak peek of ZCast! Of course I recorded their reaction so I can share it on social and begin to generate some curiosity among my followers about what is next for Zula!
Watch those sneak peek videos here!
I also started working with my friends at Headline Media, who I believe is one of the most professional and talented PR companies I have ever worked with.
So for months before launch, I was generating “buzz” (how I hate that phrase!) about this thing called ZCast that was to come out soon. Endless emails from VCs, journalists, bloggers, friends, neighbors asking me “What the hell is this ZCast thing already?!”
Pause here. Read that paragraph again. I showed people my product months before we were out. No, I did not ask anyone to sign an NDA and by showing them the product and “giving away my secret”, I received incredible product feedback, I created a small community of evangelists who were in on the secret and who would later push the product during launch, and I created pre-launch noise, which is never easy since you have nothing to say before there is a product! Subtle hint regarding NDAs in 2016. #Dont
Anyway, back to yesterday. So I wake up at 4 AM and when I say “Wake up’, what I mean is I give up on trying to sleep with the insane nerves that accompanies the launch of a product you have been working tirelessly on for the better part of a year. Not much sleep that night.
So what was I doing all night when I couldn’t fall asleep? I was pitching more journalists. I was trying to make sure there was no one I, or Headline Media missed. I am pretty sure I pitched every tech journalist on planet earth and when I say “pitched”, I mean I DMed them or emailed them telling them personally that we were finally launching.
You see, I have spent years on Twitter and other platforms generating and sharing tons of content. Content of my own, content of others, and just general thoughts on a variety of topics. I have dedicated endless time and resources to building meaningful, not opportunistic, relationships with journalists of all kinds. Friends, colleagues, not “journalists”.
So I “wake up” on launch day. Coffee, Flipboard, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Peach, Product Hunt, you know the stuff any normal person does at 4 AM. I might have a problem.
Off to the office. I get to Wework Tel Aviv and plant myself down in my office, actually the couch in the lobby, and get to work.
I cancel all my meetings that day, including a lunch meeting because who can eat? I cancel a meeting with high school friends who I haven’t seen in 20 years and who I recently bumped into and decided we should meet. That meeting was not going to happen today. Not today.
I sat and I sprung into action. And here are the lessons I learned from everything I did or did not do well yesterday.
Ever hear the expression “Do things that don’t scale?” If not, you must read this article and implement it word for word. That article was my guiding light all day yesterday and over the past few months!
Raz, our CEO actually sent me a message early yesterday morning that kind of activated me. “Don’t forget to reach out to all the people who got sneak peeks of ZCast to tell them we are live.”
I was all over that. Emailed tens of people telling them about the upcoming launch. Each email was personal and real. NOT a template or a copy paste job! Do things that don’t scale!
More last minute pitching and then, when all the pitching was done, Bram Kanstein, the guy who so graciously agreed to hunt us on Product Hunt was ready to go live.
Ok, so the lessons but before that, I want to apologize to you in advance for all the cliche’s on this list, but there is a reason everyone says these things. There is a lot of truth to them, starting with the very first one.
I don’t care how important you think marketing is or how good of a marketer you think you are, if your product is not killer, your launch will, sooner or later, fail.
Our tech team, from Michelle Reyes, our UX/UI architect and master designer, to our iOS developer Alex Maltsev, our QA lead Roni Gilbert, and our CEO Raz Yalov, who also codes, are just a bunch of rockstars. I recently told Michelle that every time I see something she has been working on, whether it’s a screen in the app itself, a landing page, or a website, I feel like I am in a magic show. “Wait, how? When? No seriously, how did that just happen?” Every single time!
With ZCast, we often spent hours upon hours analyzing and dissecting the tiniest, most trivial details of the UI. Yesterday, throughout the day, we got endless feedback via tweets, Facebook comments, emails, etc but the most common thread was how much people love the UX of ZCast.
So yea, product first!
No Shortcuts, Cut that out!
Who doesn’t like to find a nice hack, an effective shortcut? If you are launching a product and this is your mindset, then stop and work on that. There are no shortcuts!
Spend months, sometimes years, building the relationships you need for a successful launch! You are going to launch on Product Hunt? Get to know the team. Learn the platform. But most importantly, give value to the community if you expect to receive anything from them on launch day!
No shortcuts. The longer in advance you can prepare for this day, the better!
Launch is Not About Product or Marketing. It is About People!
The product is ready and there is nothing you can do on that front now. It is too late. Now it is time to turn on your people skills. Get people to want to support this launch. Use funny GIFs to show them how you are feeling. Be honest. Show them you’re nervous. Express your emotions and people will want to help you.
Now is NOT the time for ego and the last thing you want to communicate to anyone is “Don’t worry, I got this.” Newsflash: Without the community, you ain’t got nothin! You need people, so figure out how to get people engaged.
Three Product Hunt Lessons
1: In an ideal world, you, the person behind the product you are launching, will be the one to hunt it aka post it on Product Hunt. That requires building up a big network there. That requires a lot of effort and time. That is ideal. Second best option is finding the right person to hunt it for you. Find someone who has a large audience there so when he or she hunts it, their followers get notified via push.
2: Prepare your first comment in advance. As soon as the product is hunted, publish the comment you wrote in advance giving the background story about you, the company, and the product. Answer the what, when, why questions. Do it fast and write it well!
3: NEVER ask for upvotes. I am a big believer in subtlety. I would never ask for upvotes directly, even if the Product Hunt algorithm didn’t penalize for that. That is just not how I roll. Having said that, I did send out an email to all my personal contacts letting them know we are live on PH. When preparing that text, I realized many of my contacts might not know what PH is or how to show support. So I kind of spelled it out for them. “Upvote or comment here”. It was more instructional than promotional but the algorithm didn’t like it and I don’t blame it! Never ask for upvotes directly. Sharing the direct link to your page, contrary to popular belief, is totally fine. The team confirmed that for me. Asking for upvotes or comments? Not ok.
Don’t Force Yourself to Care. Just Care!
If you don’t care about your audience, then they won’t care about you and your launch. Faking it won’t work. Someone comments on your Facebook about the launch? No such thing as not responding!
Every tweet, every Product Hunt comment, every Facebook post, every email. By the end of the day, I have 4,500 unread emails, thousands of Facebook and Twitter interactions, and quite literally endless messages from people all wanting to congratulate me, give me product feedback, ask technical questions and yes, there were haters too.
I am sure I missed some people because, well, I am human, but between myself and Farhana, Zula’s hyper talented Director of Communication, who by the way, worked 18 hours straight yesterday, I am pretty sure we responded to 98% of people. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Ask for Help. No Room for Ego in Launches
Oh, you are some kinda hot shot marketer? You know everything? Ok, good luck with that. If you are going to succeed with this launch, you are going to have to put that garbage aside for the next 24 hours. Ask for help. Privately. Publicly. Ask for as much help as you can get.
You are a content guy? Find friends who are more data driven and can help you with that. You are great on Facebook? Ask friends for guidance on Twitter. You are great at both? Ask for help with Reddit, Hacker News, or countless other sites that can advance your launch.
Anyone who saw me over the past few weeks had to endure me putting them on the spot with the question “What are you good at and how can you help me push ZCast?”
Know the Rules of the Press Game
I learned something brand new yesterday! Product Hunt launches should go live when your press embargo is over, not before. Except, the guy that was hunting ZCast couldn’t do it at 9:30 EST when the embargo was to be lifted so he hunted it at 6:30.
I had already pitched The Next Web and I even did a ZCast the night before with the great Martin Bryant but then, because ZCast was on Product Hunt, another writer named Kirsty, who didn’t even know about the launch in advance, found it on Product Hunt and was going to write about it.
When I asked Martin why they were about to publish it hours before the embargo, he rightfully answered “How can you have an embargo if the product is already on Product Hunt?”
To be fair, Headline Media told me NOT to hunt the product before the time, and I didn’t listen. Thankfully, the fact that The Next Web’s article came out well before the time didn’t cause us real damage and the insane amount of press continued to arrive.
Lesson: Don’t break your own embargo by posting the product early or tweeting links to it on the App Store. Don’t be a moron like I was.
Summing it Up
This post has gotten way too long and I am fully aware that you have most likely not made it this far. Wait a second, then why am I addressing you? This is getting weird. If you have made it this far, then first of all, thank you. You are awesome.
Here is the most important lesson. You don’t know your limits till you test them. That is all. Get ready to work hard for a very long time before, during, and especially after the launch.
Don’t pay attention to haters. I sent out an email to everyone I know telling them about the launch. I am not a fan, but I do believe that if someone spends years giving by way of creating content, offering help and intros, it is ok to occasionally take. Jab Jab Jab Right Hook style. Google it.
Anyway, I sent out that email, to probably close to 10,000 people and I got thousands of positive responses. Three haters. One on Twitter and two email responses. One responded with the word “Spam”. He was a friend so that hurt. One responded actually telling me that I called him out for spam years ago and telling me that karma is a b_tch”. Touche. I wished him a good day.
Ignore the haters, test your limits, aim for the stars, throw away your ego, remove distractions, and execute!
By the way, the results:
Product Hunt: 833 upvotes. The most votes for the day and number four overall. Stupid rookie mistake to ask for upvotes…
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And on and on… I think you got the point. Yesterday was a good day!