The article below is a chapter excerpted from our newly released book, “The Ultimate Startup Guide,” which I co-authored with Carol Broadbent, my partner at Crowded Ocean. Topics discussed in the chapter include avoiding the trough of sorrow, the 90-day plan, contingency planning, three chiefs, content and more content, and test and iterate.
After having launched 43 startups, we were told by our client companies and our VC partners that startups need a guide to the different phases of the startup life cycle. “The Ultimate Startup Guide” combines our insights with those of our startup CEOs and VC partners.
Chapter 17: Avoiding Post-Launch Depression
Most of our clients, post-launch: What happened to the party?
Crowded Ocean: There is only one sure-fire cure for “post-launch depression.” Don’t launch.
The concept of the “trough of sorrow”, coined by Y Combinator’s Paul Graham, has clicked with Silicon Valley in a big way because it describes the very real trap that many startups encounter as they enter the market. They’ve invested so much time and money in the launch that they neglected to consider all the steps needed to maintain and leverage that momentum. It’s like two parents in the hospital nursery looking over the top of their baby at each other and wondering: Now what do we do?
Source: Based upon input from Paul Graham
The trough can be avoided with smart planning focused on content, lead conversion and nurturing with appropriate contingency planning. And you better be planning and executing on all these fronts, because in the first Board meeting after the launch, where you’re anticipating nothing but praise for your highly successful launch, the Board is going to give you your moment in the sun and then ask the same question as the parents of that newborn: Now what are you going to do?
Our model was: spend the first year making sure the product works, the second year using it, the third year seeing if people will buy it.
The Snowflake Computing founders
It’s natural for market interest in your company to diminish to some degree in the weeks and months after your launch. But just as you went from 0 to 60 in the past two months, there’s no reason to go from 60 back to 0. This post-launch period is probably the first time that Sales and Marketing are coming under tough Board scrutiny—and it’s a time of transition for the founders as well. The creation process is over—we’re now in the growth phase. Which means everyone will be asking about numbers: lead pipeline and revenue first and foremost but also website traffic stats, lead status, and metrics. So you better be prepared.
Market segmentation is what startups don’t really do well. Instead of shotgunning your way in, you need to rifle-shot that market entry. If you don’t have that, you’ve got nothing.
Asheem Chandna, Greylock Partners
Here are five steps to take to help you avoid ‘post-launch depression’:
1. A 90-day plan: Easier said than done, but no startup team should claim they are ready to launch without a subsequent 90-day sales and marketing plan in place. The quarter after launch should be a fundamental component of the launch plan, its goal being not the interest generated by the launch into awareness, building inbound traffic, leads, and mindshare.
For your go-to-market, you need an articulated plan. Don’t start scaling your go-to-market resources beyond individual contributors until the plan is in place.
Matt Murphy, Menlo Ventures
2. Contingency planning: Every startup should have earmarked cash reserves to weather any post-launch setbacks. For example, what if the two offers you made to customers at launch don’t drive the clicks and conversions you forecast? If customers respond to door #1, rather than doors #1 and #2, do you have the money and resources ready to quickly tack with a new offer, content and promotion? Or, what if your competition leaps out unexpectedly with a new product that is similar to yours but 25% cheaper? Did you do some “what if” thinking prior to launch to help you mobilize a response quickly?
3. Salute three chiefs: It’s a nice—and accurate—saying about early startups, that ‘Sales is everyone’s job.’ But ‘sales’ is one thing: revenue is another. In this post-launch phase you need a ‘Chief Revenue Officer’ (and it may be you): someone who is driving the sales process and making the company aware of where it stands vs. its revenue goals (which should be shared internally). That CRO should be a customer of the next ‘Chief’: your Chief Content Officer. This person should be continuing to add to the content on your website—fleshing out your market profile. But, more importantly, s/he should be generating fresh content that Sales can use to remain in touch with early customers, advancing the sales process by delivering new content that deepens their understanding and highlights the benefits of your product or service. Finally, someone on your startup team needs to be your “Chief Culture Officer” to keep a watchful eye on how the culture of your startup is evolving. That way, you can ensure that the attributes you aspire to are reinforced and even strengthened as your team expands. The Chief Culture Officer should be a team player who is tapped to “report in” periodically on how the culture is evolving and who can flag concerns for the leadership team.
The first executive level business hire is a critical inflection point. Many founding teams are extremely technical, and, for them, this is often the first critical hire they are making outside their area of expertise. This decision can have a huge impact on the company’s trajectory and culture.
Jake Flomenberg, Accel Partners
4. Content, content, content: As we said in Chapter 21, a startup can never have enough content. And that’s especially true post-launch. But with planning, you can build out a reservoir of content to support your demand gen programs, lead nurturing efforts, as well as content that can be quickly customized for new priorities that pop up.
We were so absorbed with launch, we didn’t focus on what came next. We didn’t have the profile of a post-launch marketing leader identified. We also overlooked what we needed: short, sweet content—and lots of it.
Avi Freedman and Justin Biegel, Co-founders, Kentik
5. Listen, test, measure, and iterate: After launch, the path to customer traction also depends upon an iterative approach to messages, materials and focus. In other words, test what’s been done to date (and what response it generated), then tune your plan. Successful startup teams go into launch with the idea of listening, testing, measuring feedback and iterating their sales focus, content and tools based upon feedback and learning from the launch.
Launch is a milestone in the long life of your company. Don’t make the mistake of thinking of it as the finish line.
The launch started the conversation around crowdsourcing. We used that opportunity to catalyze the conversation: why not crowdsource and, if you do, why wouldn’t you outsource its management? Without our involvement, people would have just thought about it, not acted.
Casey Ellis, Co-founder and CEO, Bugcrowd
When Sumo Logic launched its enterprise cloud log management service in February 2012, there were three solutions, or “use cases” featured: application management, IT Operations, and security/compliance. The focus prior to launch was on building a solid message, a wealth of content (including product demos, case studies and video “how to” content) to be sure that once they pulled the trigger on launch, all of the interest and inbound traffic to the site could be captured and converted into qualified sales leads.
While the launch generated a wealth of favorable press coverage, the customer acquisition strategy of the sales and marketing teams depended upon two “calls to action” offered on the website: (1) sign up for a 30-day free trial of the service, or (2) try the “sandbox” offering of the service using sample log data provided by Sumo. With the PR team leveraging the momentum of launch coverage for follow on features, the mix of demand generation programs included Adwords and retargeting, a mix of content syndication programs, and several industry conferences focused on the emerging DevOps approach to enterprise infrastructure and cloud software management.
Immediately after launch, the sales and marketing teams began meeting for a “sales and marketing synch” to review the performance of inbound traffic metrics, the data in the Marketo lead funnel and to listen to the qualitative feedback from the two inside sales reps. It wasn’t a big surprise that educating the market on the value and safety of a cloud-based solution was going to take more time, thereby lengthening the sales cycle and increasing the demand for more content. But it was a surprise to find that sales interest skewed strongly towards the IT Operations application of Sumo. Part of the reason was the lack of completeness of the Sumo offering in the other two use cases. But a big part of the reason was that the customer pain point was simply much higher in IT Operations. Consequently, the sales and marketing team reprioritized their demand generation investments in less than six weeks after launch to focus primarily on selling the IT Operations solution.
- Hubspot Marketing blog: http://blog.hubspot.com/marketing#sm.00000vl1uobpbxdgau2plg2as6k5w
- Moz on content marketing strategy: https://moz.com/
Tom Hogan is founder and partner of Crowded Ocean. He has over 25 years of high-tech marketing experience, including positions as VP of corporate marketing at such companies as Oracle, Lucent and VitalSigns Software. For the past eight years he has been a partner at Crowded Ocean, a small marketing firm that specializes in positioning, staffing and launching startups. Crowded Ocean has launched 43 startups, with 10 successful exits.
Carol Broadbent is a partner at Crowded Ocean. Before joining Crowded Ocean, she was VP of marketing at Bay Networks, senior vice president of corporate marketing at Aspect Communications, and director of marketing at Sun Microsystems. In addition, she led marketing at two Kleiner Perkins-funded startups: VP of marketing at Asera and director of marketing development at GO Corporation.