Executing Successful Product Launches

Posted: 1 Mar 2023


This guide focuses on how to get the most out of your product launches. Launching is something that you should be doing frequently, rather than thinking of it as a one-off event.

Over time you’ll undoubtedly refine a process that makes the most sense for you and your company. Until then, we’ve written this guide to talk through when to launch, how to launch, and who to target.

What we mean by “product launches”

For the purposes of this page, “product launches” refers to making a new group of users aware of your product.

This could mean the product is available to them for the first time; or you want to increase awareness with them; or tell them about a new feature. It covers everything from making your friends and family aware of what you’re doing, to full press launches.

The word “launch” is probably a misnomer here, as it implies that one-off event – a flight typically only has one launch. It’s very important to see launching as an activity that you’ll repeat frequently.

Why You Should Launch

Before you have strong product-market-fit, you should be optimising for learning as fast as possible. Launches play a role in this by grabbing the attention of a group of users that you can get feedback from, so that you can iterate towards PMF.

If those users stay, pay, and bring in their friends, that’s fantastic. But you’re not optimising for growth just yet – you’re optimising learning how to build a great product.


Launch early and often


The best way to learn is to launch early and often. Each time you launch, you’ll learn how to do it better – what messaging resonates with your target customers, where they drop off in onboarding, and what they think of the product.

You launch once to your friends and family. You launch again to your wider network. You launch again to various communities that might care about you. You launch again to the wider world. Every time a new group of people can hear about you for the first time, it’s an opportunity to launch.

As before, think about launching like you think about shipping product: early and often. Your first launch can feel like this huge moment in your journey, but eventually, it will just be the smallest of all your launches.

💡 Author’s opinion:

Think about the few products that you’ve used and loved. You almost definitely didn’t hear about them from their very first launch. So don’t worry about your own launch as needing to be huge: over time it’s a blip on the graph that you have to squint to see.

Putting too much pressure on your first launch is a vicious cycle – it feels like everything needs to be perfect, which takes more time, which makes it feel like it needs to be more perfect. Just get it out there in whatever launch method suits you best.

An example from Weebly


The graph below illustrates this well – it shows a series of press launches from website creator Weebly. You can see the spikes in usage that they get from press mentions, but you can also see that they drop sharply after the peaks.

Weebly considered themselves pre-PMF until c. August 2007, and you can see the moment they started to trend upwards. Before that point, launching launches got them new user cohorts that they could learn from, to iterate towards PMF. After that point, they were better placed to keep users acquired and retained from these launches.

📚 Further reading:

When to launch

1. Launching with just a landing page


The simplest and easiest way to launch is to throw up a landing page with a call to action. All this needs is a domain and a basic website, so it can be the fastest way to learn about your customers.

You can capture emails to test demand for your offering – use regular marketing techniques to get people to your page, and see how many of them leave their email as a sign of the offering resonating. Services like LaunchRock and Ship by ProductHunt let you test this out super quickly.

These are sometimes referred to as “smoke tests” – ways to gauge demand before the product is ready. They were popularised by Lean Startup book as a way to validate early demand before you spent any precious time building.

2. Launching with a “human concierge”


Before you have a fully functioning app, you can fake it. It’s much faster to have a human play the part of your tech backend, than it is to build it out.

These are sometimes called “mechanical turks”. Mechanical Turks are a historical “machine” that looks like artificial intelligence but is actually operated by a human.

You can apply this principal by putting a frontend app out that people can interact with and do the “magic” yourself to make it look like the app is working. This is obviously not scalable, but it’s a fantastic way to launch quickly.

This is what Lugg did, by watching users press the app in person then running around the corner to get their van to start helping out.

This can be especially useful if you have a lot of uncertainty about what to build. Rather than building something and hoping it’s what customers want, you can learn and adapt instantly to what people respond to.

Some products work like this even at scale. Many apps that use OCR technology to read documents (like receipts or invoices) rely on small armies of humans to handle exceptions. Deliveroo was doing several thousand deliveries per day with manual dispatch of riders to orders. There’s no shame in having humans in your backend, especially early on.

3. Beta launches


A beta launch is when you launch an early version of a product to see how early users respond. Your aim here is exclusively to learn from them – does the product function as expected and do users get the value that you expected?

Beta launches can be open (anyone can sign up) or closed (invite only). Even if you’re doing a closed beta launch, you should shout about it and then you can filter out people you don’t want to sign up.

Open betas can help spread the word and get more signups. Closed betas help you if you want to control who can use the product (useful if you’re regulated), want to handle a smaller flow of users, or only want to learn from a very specific audience segment.

You might want to keep a long-term group of beta users. It’s valuable to have a receptive group of users who will try out new features, without the risk of losing them.

It can be useful to run beta launches via a waitlist. Waitlists can create hype and anticipation, and give you a good list to target even after the beta is complete.

4. Launching with a waitlist


Some products use waitlists to create a sense of exclusivity and drive hype in their target market. This can be further harnessed by bumping users up the waitlist if they invite others onto it. Waitlists can be a great way to build excitement and awanress about your product.

But they can also be a distraction. Companies like Monzo and Freetrade, that executed the waitlist mechanic effectively, put a huge amount of effort into building their waitlist.

They also had an organic reason for doing so: as they operated in regulated markets, they had a high operational cost to onboarding customers. So they had to do it slowly, and customers understood that.

Only leverage waitlists if you have a legitimate reason to do so, otherwise you can burn goodwill and patience with your customers.

Also be aware of keeping your waitlist long and optimising for hype rather than getting usage and feedback. You won’t learn anything from customers while they’re in the waitlist.

For building waitlists, you can use services like Prefinery or Referral Hero.

📚 Further reading:

5. Launching before the product is perfect


It can be tempting to wait until your product is perfect to launch. You want people to love it and tell their friends. You don’t want potential customers to try it out, hit a rough edge, and churn away. Don’t succumb to the temptation to wait.

Your product is never, ever going to be perfect. Look at any world-class product and you’ll find bugs, rough edges, and things to improve.

If you wait until your product is perfect you’ll never launch.


When am I ready to launch?

Paul Graham says, “launch as soon as you deliver a quantum of utility” – i.e. as soon as one person is happy that you launched. There’s no point waiting because after that it’s just time wasted when you could be learning.

If your product doesn’t deliver value, is too buggy, or your tech can’t handle it, then you can turn it off again. Launches aren’t one-way doors. If you’re waiting until you’ve built everything that you need to scale, you’ll spend ages doing that but you won’t have the most important requirement for growth: a product people want.

You can’t improve without user feedback. So launch as early as you possibly can, to start getting that feedback and iterating.

📚 Further reading:

Who you can launch to:

Ash Sampat, Head of Product at Cleo, says that before any launch, you should think deeply about who you’re targeting and what you want to learn from them. In your first launches to friends and family you might just want to check if the tech works properly, whereas when you launch to strangers you’ll want to focus on them getting value from the product. Always have clear in your mind what you’re trying to learn.


1. Friends and family


Bringing in people that already know and love you is a really useful way to get started. It can help you get some early indicators that your product is useable, and help you identify cracks in your user experience.

To get the most out of these folks, it’s best to watch them use the product for the first time (in person or virtually). This gives you the best chance of spotting any issues.

When you do watch them, make sure to keep quiet as much as possible. You could explain to them exactly what to do, but that won’t help you to learn.

Below is an email that Lyft sent to their early beta users. They’re asking early friends to do a surprising amount of work here, which is great for making sure they really want to use your product.

Take their feedback with a pinch of salt

They’re often willing and forgiving users, but beware that they will tend towards only positive feedback, and may lose interest quickly if they’re not your target market.

Opening up to friends and family is most useful if either the product is for “everyone” (like Reddit, or Lyft) or your friends are the target market (e.g. the Facebook founders who were at university when they opened up for university students; or many dev tools founders who will have lots of engineer friends).

They can bring in other users

Friends and family can be a great launchpad if you’re a social product with built-in virality. Michael Horvath, the founder of social fitness app Strava says of their initial launch:

We started with friends and asked them to invite a few friends. We got to about 100 with direct friends, and then it spread to about 1,000 by the end of the first 12 months by word of mouth.

And Wired magazine wrote this about the earliest launch of social questions app Quora:

Quora launched in January 2010 with a user base largely composed of Adam D’Angelo’s and Charlie Cheever’s college and high-school friends, meaning there was a lot of early Quora information on the best places to eat in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Cheever was raised. But they also built a feature into the site whereby users could invite people, and soon their friends from Facebook were summoning people from other startups, and other entrepreneurs.

2. “Stranger” launch


Launching to people you don’t know will give you feedback from people that don’t care about you. This is great – if they love what you’re doing you know it’s because they really get value from the product.

Your future users will all be strangers (unless you’re Tom from MySpace), so you need to get used to talking to them sooner or later.

Leah Rawicz Szczerbo says that “prior to launching to strangers, it can be helpful to rigorously define your target customer i.e. who are you going after, why, and what problem are you solving for them. In my experience, this can be a great team exercise to clarify everyone’s thinking and clear the path to a launch.”


Find people as they have the problem you’re solving

This is basically sales – you need to convince strangers to use your service. This is easiest if you catch them when they have a burning need for your product.

One example is Lugg; the on-demand app to get help moving furniture. Early on they would go to IKEA, see people struggling to carry furniture, and ask if they would pay for a delivery service. If they said “yes”, they’d get them to download the app and put a request in. Then they’d just run around the corner and drive the van back.

Whilst this isn’t very scalable, it is quick and effective to get your product into the hands of new users.

Andrew Chen talks about how this stuck at Uber as a general growth strategy:

There was a very significant use of street teams early on at Uber. They went to places like the Caltrain station and handed out referral codes. There are stories about how Travis went to Twitter HQ personally and handed out referral codes.

You may want to target specific individuals

If you need to capture unique supply in a marketplace, there may be very specific people that you want on board.

This is especially true if you’re giving people a new way to make money. When they sign up to be a supplier in the marketplace, they will tell all of their followers to come and buy from them there.

Stefan Heinrich Henriquez, an early employee at Cameo says:

The founders hired interns to DM talent on Instagram and Twitter. The bet was that they could bring on celebrities and influencers who would message to their audience that they could be booked on Cameo, driving user growth. The interns ended up punching above their weight.

Tony Xu, co-founder of DoorDash says:

It can work for more commoditised supply too. Uber eventually needed self-serve driver onboarding to scale, but they launched by calling limo companies and guaranteed them an hourly income if they stayed logged into Uber.

💡 Author’s opinion:

Direct selling and street marketing are obviously long-term growth strategies. But they’re also underrated ways to initially launch and get people using your product. It can take up a lot of time early on, but getting that first usage and feedback is invaluable.

3. Launching to online communities


Announcing your arrival to places where your customers hang out online can be highly impactful. There’s often a high density of your target users, and you can hit them all at once.

Offline communities shouldn’t be discounted, but online communities are typically faster to hit and scale your messaging through.

Join every online community that your target customers are in. You’ll learn each community’s customs, language, and vibe – this will help you launch with maximum impact.

If there isn’t time to establish yourself in the community, then see if you can get an influential member to help you out.

Some general tips for launching to any online community:

  • Look out for their rules and customs on self-promotion. You won’t be the first person trying to sell something to the community, so pay attention to what’s worked before and what hasn’t.
  • Talk like a human. People generally have their guard down in online communities, which makes jargon or corporate speak stand out as awkward. Never talk about your “solution”.
  • No one ever wants to be sold to. Inform the community about what you’re doing, don’t pitch.
  • Offer something to the community. Discounts are great, but also try to give back in other ways. Maybe do an AMA if the community is based around an area of expertise.
  • Share content and give advice.
  • Show your personality: people buy from people.
  • Ask questions and show empathy by focusing on community member problems.


James Mayes, co-founder of Mind The Product gives some tips on launching to communities: “Most communities exist with learning at the heart – and almost all react really well to a humble sharing of learning. Think about how you got to this launch, what surprised you along the way, and what you’re prepared to share with this community – something they might value learning from, but also something humble and disarming. It builds trust right out of the gate that you’re here to engage meaningfully, whereas a polished pitch creates quite the opposite impression”.

Note: ProductHunt is a bit of a special case of community launches, so I’ll go into more detail on that separately below.

💡 Author’s opinion:

Make sure that you go to where your target users hang out, not where you hang out. It’s tempting to focus on communities you’re already part of because it’s easier. Unless your target customers are in IndieHackers or various founder communities, don’t focus on these.

💎 Some examples of great community launches:

  • Netflix: When Netflix launched, DVDs weren’t yet mainstream. So they had to go to specialist forums to find their people. The team made a fake profile and joined conversations about cinema and home theatres. They embedded deeply into the community, and slowly started to tell people about this great new site called Netflix.
  • Etsy: The team found a message board called Craftster, which had about 100k users. They messaged the moderator/founder, and used that to build a waitlist and hype to kick off when they launched the other other side of the marketplace.
  • Dropbox: The HackerNews launch of DropBox has to be one of the best community launches of all time. They knew HN was full of their target users; technical people that hated lugging around physical hard drives. Their post stayed at the top of HN for two days, and helped them build up a huge waitlist for their closed beta program.

4. Launching on ProductHunt


ProductHunt is a unique community – it’s a very engaged audience that can have a big impact on your business. That said, the audience is specifically tech folk and investors. So it’s great for getting awareness amongst peers and investors, and exceptional if you’re building dev or design tools.

💡 Author’s opinion:

If the ProductHunt readership isn’t your explicit target market, then be deliberate about when you launch there. It can take a lot of focus to get it right, and you can’t post frequently. So only launch on ProductHunt when it really makes sense for you.

That said, here’s how to maximise your shot at getting a great spot on ProductHunt:

  • You only get one shot, so make it count. You could do another launch when you have a game-changing feature coming out, but assume you’ll only get one go.
  • Prepare properly. This is a competitive spot, and it’s not something you’ll accidentally win. Create a pre-launch page and ask people to sign up. Suggest they support you ahead of time, remind them the day before, and on the day. Build exceptional graphics and videos to showcase the product.
  • Timing is everything. The PH ‘day’ resets at midnight Pacific time. This is around 8-10am in Europe (depending on where you are and the time of year). Post just after this time to get maximum time for upvotes, and immediately tell your crew to upvote you. I recommend Tuesday as a great launch day – it gives you maximum time for votes to get product of the week. Mondays are typically working write-offs.
  • Ask for support. The official rules say that you can’t ask for upvotes. That’s fine, but you can ask for support. I’ve never seen anyone penalised for it. You can share the PH link directly. There is a myth that it has to be ‘found’ via the homepage, but PH themselves have said that’s not true. Make sure to share in your founder communities (including Connect’s 😉).
  • Engage with the community. People will ask questions, so answer them. Introduce yourself. Encourage an AMA in the comments. Generally this will win upvotes.
  • That’s all you can do. Your strategy should be to get as many votes, as quickly as possible. If this works, it’ll get you featured onto the homepage. From there, it just comes down to how much the community likes your thing. Enjoy the ride, and try to make the most of the day.

5. Public/press launch


Getting journalists to write about your launch is always exciting. In all honesty press launches are more of a marketing activity than a product one, so we won’t go into too much depth.

The unfortunate truth is that the press don’t care that you exist – it’s not really a story to anyone other than Sifted and TechCrunch. Even then, they only care if you’ve got a funding story or are a particularly newsworthy team (e.g. Kayak was formed by three previous well-known competitors).

This should be good news though! It means your best press opportunities lie ahead of you. You can create stories around milestones, case studies, and insert yourself into news narratives.

Deliveroo’s PR team would seed local journalists with stories about the best takeaways and most popular dishes in their areas, which helped bolster a real local presence. This was all continuous work though, and less about the initial “we exist!” story.

Max Mullen, founder of Instacart says:

Anytime we’d launch a feature or add a new retailer to our marketplace, we’d make a big announcement, and we got a lot of coverage just for doing that.

PR is an untapped growth channel for early-stage consumer startups. Founders underestimate the novelty their products and companies represent to the average consumer, and in turn they don’t leverage earned media enough.

📚 Further reading: