Have you heard of software engineer and writer Joel Spolsky? He’s one of the people who inspired me back in the day to get into software development. Recently, he’s inspired me to get into writing. Joel’s known for co-founding Stack Exchange, a network of Q&A websites, and for founding Trello, a universal Kanban-style board that allows you to organize any workflow, which was recently bought by Atlassian for $425 million. The point is, Joel is a great. He knows what he’s doing. Be more like Joel.
In 2007 Jessica Livingston, a founding partner at Y Combinator, interviewed Joel for her book Founders at Work. In the interview, Joel talks about how his blog Joel on Software was the primary way he got users for FogzBugz, a bug tracking software. (FogzBugz was one of the first products that Joel’s software development company FogCreek Software created.)
Though over time, word spread about Fogzbugz, in the early days of the product, all the product’s users came from Joel’s blog. Other founders have also used an existing audience to launch a product. Basecamp, for example (founded by David Heinemeier Hansson, who Jessica also interviewed for Founders at Work) was launched to the audience of a blog called Signal vs Noise, which was also created by a web design firm.
Unfortunately, just having a blog doesn’t work anymore — since 2003, the total number of websites has grown from 40 billion to more than a trillion. Back in the day, someone could easily find your website using a search engine. Now, you have to rely on marketing strategies like paid ads just to get your website noticed. The good news? The general strategy still works, and you don’t need an audience of millions to launch — even a hundred interested people is enough.
If you’re thinking about following in the footsteps of Joel and David, the process of launching a product to an audience that already knows you and trusts you is pretty straightforward. Here are the steps you need to follow:
Announce your launch
No matter what channel you’re using, you need to announce the launch to give people enough time to notice the message and prepare themselves to buy the product. If you’ve been sending a newsletter for some time, you’ve probably noticed that only a fraction of your subscribers actually read your emails. People are busy — chances are that it will be a few days before people notice the email, let alone before they decide to actually buy your product.
Remind about upcoming launch
Have you ever had someone message you while you’re in the middle of a task, and then you just forget to reply to them? I used to have this problem all the time until I started using to-do lists and Slack reminders to remind myself to reply to people. But I almost never do this for promotional emails I get. If I don’t get reminded, I almost always miss the opportunity presented in the email. If you do it right, reminding your subscribers that you’re going to launch a product soon will boost your sales because people who were distracted from your initial announcement will remember to jump on board.
Send a pre-order link
Want to get some sales even before your product is ready? Create a link to pre-order the product and offer a discount or a bonus to those who pre-order. This is a great way to test if people on your list are even interested in your product and trust you enough to buy it. But keep in mind that if you offer a pre-order, you have to deliver the product or you will turn away your most loyal customers.
Create a landing page for launch
You have to approach launching the product to an audience that knows you the same way you’d approach a cold audience. Despite the fact that people on your list already subscribed to you and have been reading your emails for some time, you still need to persuade them that your product is what they need to solve their problems, to justify its cost and overcome objections.
If you want a successful launch, you need to motivate your subscribers to make a purchase. Make your product available only for a certain amount of time — a week or two. This will prevent people from taking too long to make a decision and, eventually, forget about you completely. You can also limit the number of products you can sell and tell people how many are still available.
Offer an upsell
Want to boost your sales at almost no cost? On a thank-you page that is shown to people who bought the product, offer a paid bonus that complements the original product. If your product is a book or a video, offer a 30-minute consultation. If your product is a video course, offer weekly office hours for support. Upsells work surprisingly well because people who bought from you are very likely to want more and already trust you enough to pay you.
Launching is scary. And if you’re doing it for the first time, it’ll probably be a failure. I got zero sales on my first launch and exactly the same amount on the next few. But when you accept that this is a learning process, failure doesn’t feel like a negative — it’s just a part of your preparation for success. The only way to learn is by doing.