Chapter 26: Launch Strategy

Launch day is here. You’re coming out of beta, and you’re dying to let the whole world in the door. It could be a big day — or it could be just any other day. There are two things to focus on: planning the day and not worrying too much about what the traffic means. In some ways, you should really think of this as a launch week.

A huge splashy launch with all the traffic pummeling the site at once offers few benefits but plenty of risk. Even if your servers aren’t brought to their knees by the load, there’s still the risk of spending all the attention on a site that may have undiscovered critical problems. Imagine if thousands of people were to hit your new website but you were to discover a registration bug that sent half of them packing.

A huge splashy launch with all the traffic pummeling the site at once offers few benefits but plenty of risk.

Whether you get ten thousand visitors in a day or five thousand visitors each day for two days, you’re still looking at the same amount of traffic. But wouldn’t you rather have the inevitable avalanche of traffic, email, and questions spread out over two days rather than land all at once?

You can still have a big launch day. Just have a plan to help spread out the traffic a bit — for starters, try not to share the news everywhere at once. How you go about it is up to you, but I’d suggest using some of the following so that you can dip your toes in while leaving yourself some leeway to fix any unforeseen problems.

Low-key Launch

Go live quietly, and do a smoke test. (A smoke test is a general set of tests that makes sure that every component in your system is working.) Triple-check all your key functionality. This final once-over will help you catch any critical last-second issues. Can people register? Can they submit support requests? Do all the primary links work? Once everything is tested — and fixed if necessary — and when you feel comfortable, you can move on to the announcements.

Blog Post

Go ahead and publish your blog post. Unless you have a blog with a sizable following, this is a good way to tiptoe into the announcement. A blog post also works well as the “more information” link that you send to people in your other announcements.

Announcement Email

Depending on the quantity of the email addresses that you’ve collected for your announcement list, you might to start with this. If you have thousands of email addresses, you may want to start out by sending the announcement to only a portion of them — this is your test run. Since they won’t all check their email at the same time, you should receive a steady flow of traffic, and that may help you uncover any issues that had been overlooked. Once you feel comfortable that everything is running smoothly, send the announcement to the rest of your list.

Companies aren’t made on launch day. They’re made over the course of the weeks, months, and years that follow.

Let’s briefly talk about your announcement email. The most important thing to remember is that most people probably signed up for your list months ago, and there’s a good chance that they’ve forgotten what your product even does. So your announcement email should clearly remind them what your product does and why they should care about it. If you don’t, you’re going to have a lot of your emails going straight into the trash.

Social Media

Social media will probably play a significant role in your launch. There’s a good chance someone will visit your site if their friend or colleague recommends it. You’ll want to craft any social media messages so that they’ll make sense even if someone were to see them out of context from the far end of a retweet or the like.

On launch day, you’ll probably see some high-quality traffic from various social media. And you’ll find that news on social media spreads faster but also dies down faster. Our launch started off rather uneventfully until word began to spread through Twitter, and to this day, Twitter is still one of our stronger referrers.

Paid Advertising

If paid advertising is part of your launch strategy, I’d suggest holding off your advertising push until after your launch — I’d even wait a week or two. If you’re going to spend money to bring traffic to your site, you want to make sure that everything is running as smoothly, and your launch day will probably be stressful enough — there’s no need to try to pile another thing onto your plate that day.

The Aftermath

Don’t worry if your launch day doesn’t turn out how you expected. Companies aren’t made on launch day. They’re made over the course of the weeks, months, and years that follow. It’s much better to think of your launch day as a personal milestone rather than some kind of contest to try to crush your servers under a stampede of traffic.

Continue to Chapter 27: Maintaining Momentum

This is a chapter from the first edition of Starting + Sustaining, a book about bootstrapping a successful hosted web application business. The second edition, a massive update, will be out in Spring of 2017. You can subscribe here to be notified when it launches.