Build a Product Launch Strategy: 17 Steps to Nail Your Product Launch the First Time
As a founder, there’s nothing more exciting (and stressful) than launching a new product.
You’ve sat back for a few rounds, watched the game get played. Now you’ve got a winning hand and you're ready to go all in. But betting—even with the best odds—is still a gamble. And without a solid product launch plan in place, you’ll leave a lot to chance.
In this guide, I share every lesson I’ve learned, from what you need to do pre-launch, to how to succeed on launch day, to maximizing the days, weeks, and months that follow.
What Is a Product Launch Strategy & What Should It Include?
If you don't take time to create a comprehensive product release plan, no one will buy your stuff. All of the effort you poured into product ideation, prototyping, and/or software development will be wasted—not to mention, the money you spent to bring your idea to life.
Of course, saying. "You need to prioritize the launch phase of your product!" while shaking my finger at you like an overbearing parent won't help. So, let's talk about something that will.
What Should a Product Launch Plan Include
Your product launch plan should explain who your product is for, what your launch needs to accomplish, and the product marketing strategies you'll use to reach potential customers.
To help you put this plan together, ask yourself questions like:
(1) What are my goals? (2) Who is my target audience? (3) What pain points does my product solve? (4) And which marketing channels will I use to reach potential customers?
Then use the answers you come up with to create a product launch checklist, i.e., a series of steps you'll use to connect with your customer base, make sales, and drive revenue.
Here's a product launch checklist template you can customize to your own purposes:
Step 1: Conduct market research. Who is your product for and what problem does it solve? Use this information to create detailed buyer personas, complete with demographic and psychographic details.
Step 2: Set product launch goals. What specific things do you want to achieve? Goals will keep you on track throughout the launch process.
Step 3: Plan your marketing efforts. How will you engage your target audience? Decide which channels you'll use—blogs, email marketing, social media, paid ads, etc.—and start creating content for each.
Step 4: Prepare your team. How will you engage your target audience? Decide which channels you'll use—blogs, email marketing, social media, paid ads, etc.—and start creating content for each.
Step 5: Launch your product. The day is here! Introduce your new product to the world. It will be a stressful time, but try to enjoy it if you can.
Step 6: Assess your results. Did you achieve your goals? Take a look at the analytics to grade your performance and gather insights you can use to improve your next launch. Don't forget to collect customer feedback, too. What can you do to provide a better user experience next time around?
10 Steps for the Perfect Pre-launch Plan
Companies used to invest insane amounts of time and money into “Big Bang” launches.
They’d go into stealth mode, build products, and design complicated marketing campaigns. Then they'd put together full-scale PR plans, complete with expertly written press releases.
Unfortunately, a bunch of these massive launches turned into flops (hey there, Google Glass!) That's when we realized that there was a better way.
Today, a "launch" isn't a defining moment. It's just one event on your product’s timeline. To make it successful, you need to gather real-world feedback before your product's big debut.
With that in mind, let's look at a few pre-launch strategies to implement ASAP:
1. Get Feedback During Product Development
You launch when you know the thing won’t fall down.
As soon as you have a basic product that people can use, send it out for feedback. That way you and/or your product managers can use the data you receive to improve the offering.
The question is, how long before your official launch should you solicit said feedback? It varies. But Shaunak Amin, the Co-Founder and CEO of SwagMagic, says, "We give ourselves a 3-month timeframe to roll out a new product. We achieve this by systematically validating what works through customer feedback and doubling down on those strengths."
The number of early users you need will depend on your product. But if you’re selling a B2B SaaS tool, I think the sweet spot is between 20 and 30 users. That way you can still talk to most of them, learn what they love (and hate), and hear how they describe your product.
Your earliest users might be friends, business connections, and teammates. Or, if you want more unbiased feedback, you can use a tool like Product Hunt Ship, which will help you create custom landing pages and build an audience of product-focused early users.
(Caveat: Most founders give early versions of their products away for free. Instead, aim to build a minimum viable product, then find people willing to pay for it and charge them money. This will help you gather more meaningful feedback, which you can use to iterate effectively.)
However you do it, get early customers to test, validate, and poke holes in everything. Doing so will help you create better products that your target market will love using.
2. Use Feedback to Empower Your Marketing
Feedback is paramount during the pre-launch phase.
You need product feedback—like bugs or UX issues—to polish your product and make sure it's ready for the masses. But there's so much more you can learn by talking to users:
- What language do they use to express their experiences?
- Where do they get real value from your product?
- What surprising use cases or needs do they have?
This sort of feedback is invaluable—especially for marketing teams. It will give you a direct line into your ideal customer’s head. You'll learn how they think and talk about your product.
You can then refine your value proposition based on the insights they share. You can also incorporate the exact language they use into your marketing efforts to really resonate with buyers. Just don't forget to test different versions of your marketing copy for peak results!
3. Try to Prove Your Assumptions Wrong
The biggest mistake you can make as a founder is putting your ego in front of your business.
When picking test users, it’s easy to select people you know will love your product. Launching something new is a vulnerable process, after all. But you need to expose yourself to the rawest, harshest, most honest feedback to ensure your product is ready for the masses.
Keep these questions in mind as you test your product and digital marketing efforts:
- Is your test group overly inclined to like your new product? If you beta test your product on companies and/or customers who are more interested in making you feel good than giving you honest feedback, you’re going to get false traction.
- Did you create user bias with your pitch? Founders are a passionate group. But your product needs to stand on its own. If your presence and/or personality positively influences people, you might create a reality distortion field.
- Are you asking the right questions? When you talk to users, don’t just ask “do you like it?” Ask them, “Are you using it every day? Are you finding value? How much would you pay for the value this product gives you?” It's not enough to make your customers happy. You need to make them successful. Dig deep for honest answers.
Your product should create value. Whenever possible, look for the opposite of what you assume. If you can prove your product sucks, it isn’t ready to launch.
4. Keep Key Stakeholders in the Loop
Early users won’t be the only ones testing your product pre-launch. If you’re talking to mentors, you need to be vigilant about maintaining those relationships.
Launching a product is incredibly time-consuming. But these people want to help you. You can’t just ask for a favor and then drop off the face of the planet. Instead, schedule time in your calendar to follow up with them on a regular basis. Send them a quick update on your progress, what you’re planning to do next, and if you need their help with anything.
5. When in Doubt, Do Less
All of the feedback you get can have an unintended consequence: analysis paralysis.
When opinions and comments come flying at you from all directions, it can feel like you’re drowning in decisions. Don't worry, just follow the golden rule of product launches: do less.
You might think you need 10 features to launch with, but in all honesty, you probably only need one. Here’s an example: When we first built Close, it was as an internal tool for our outsourced sales company, ElasticSales. It worked well for us because we knew all of its features and quirks. But when we decided to launch it to the public, we didn’t want to overwhelm and confuse new users. So we stripped it back to its core features.
Whenever you’re making product decisions pre-launch, think from the perspective of your users. Launch with the essentials and let your users tell you what to build next.
6. Pick a Launch Day and Stick to It
If you're about to launch a product you're probably wondering when to do it. It's a super common question. The truth is, the perfect launch date is whatever works for you.
Obviously, you don’t want to launch your product at the same time as Apple, Google, etc. But other than that, all you need to do is set a date, check with your team, and then go for it.
Once you pick a date, stick to it. Why? Because then you can set realistic milestones leading up to the big day. According to Joshua Host, the Founder of Thrivelab, "This allows you to break big projects into manageable weekly tasks that push you closer to launching on time."
7. Elevate Your Marketing Strategy with the Right Platforms
Generally speaking, focus on a single platform when you launch your product.
This is where you’ll send users, gather feedback, and measure your success. Just remember, whatever platform you pick, you need to play the game on it way before you launch.
Back in the day, the best platform was a relationship with a TechCrunch reporter. Today, there are so many channels, you don’t have to rely on any one gatekeeper. You can launch on Product Hunt, Facebook, Reddit, LinkedIn... Wherever your ideal customers hang out.
For me (and most other startup founders), however, the best option is Product Hunt.
If you’re unfamiliar, Product Hunt is a website dedicated to uncovering and talking about the latest products. More than that, it’s an active community of product-focused people, each excited to try what you’ve created and give you insightful feedback.
Anyone can post their product to Product Hunt. But to get the most out of it, you need to create goodwill and value beforehand. Be a part of the community and actually engage.
Don’t just upvote and like products. Take the time to leave thoughtful comments and advice. It takes work, but even a week of effort will help you build a bit of brand awareness.
One more thing: have all of your marketing materials—copy, emails, onboarding flows, etc.—ready before you actually launch. This will reduce stress and help ensure success.
8. Set Goals, Not Expectations
Launch days are completely unpredictable. It sucks to say it, but a lot of your success will come down to luck. You need to forget about the things you can’t control (press, signups, downloads, word-of-mouth marketing) and instead set realistic goals.
It’s important to step back and think about the big picture. No matter what you’re launching, your end goal is to create long-term users. That means you need to build awareness, get feedback, and connect with people who will help you iterate after launch day.
Ask yourself what you want to learn about your product. Your early users will give you a hypothesis, and your launch day goal should be to prove (or disprove) it.
Forget top-of-funnel vanity metrics like clicks, likes, and shares. Focus on feedback, comments, reviews, and meaningful engagement with both users and influencers. Even better, focus on new users that try out your product, use it, and keep using it!
9. Promote Your Personal Story to Build Buzz
Startups, especially SaaS companies, suck at building hype around their product launches.
Too many founders get caught up in what they know and forget they’re launching to people who’ve never seen or used their product before. This is a huge mistake!
The landscape is too competitive to not have a story connected to your product. Your users need to know who you are. They need to resonate with your journey. Your mission. Your passion. Tell them why they should trust you to solve their problems for them.
Start early, define your narrative, and spread it wherever you can before launch day. Blog on your site and others. Do interviews and podcasts. Send your subscribers a variety of email campaigns. Be where your users and community are and tell them what you’re doing.
10. Get the Most out of Your Launch
Your launch day is just the beginning of your journey. It’s totally okay to take a few moments to celebrate your hard work. But you need to make sure you get the most out of your launch.
Before "all systems go," you need to know your team is ready to work.
In Daniel Kroytor's mind, the Founder and Director of TailoredPay, that means, "Ensuring they have the resources they need to answer customer queries, sign up and assist new users, and respond to feedback. This will help you get the most bang for your buck."
This is your chance to get in front of a lot of people all at once. Don’t waste it. Engage in as many meaningful conversations with as many qualified prospects as possible.
Plan a Successful Product Launch Event with These 4 Steps
As you can probably tell, launch day isn't nearly as important as the work you do leading up to it. But that doesn’t mean you can set everything to autopilot. If you want your launch day to go smoothly, you need to bring your entire team together and lead them into battle.
11. Use Product Hunt to Launch Your Product
If you take my advice and plan to launch on Product Hunt, there are a few specific strategies you should use to maximize your chances of success. These are just the basics as there are full guides dedicated to launching on Product Hunt (even one from the team themselves).
First, write your announcement comment beforehand. Then, as soon as your Product Hunt listing goes live, drop the first comment as a “maker.”
This will allow you to detail the product and your journey crafting it, talk about use cases, and explain what you want to learn. End the comment by soliciting feedback from your audience.
Next, monitor your page throughout the day and answer comments as quickly as possible. Product Hunt isn’t a launch-and-leave community. They expect you to stick around and respond to queries. Make sure one of your product’s “makers” is available to do that.
Finally, keep track of sign-ups and follow up with them. The Product Hunt community will support you throughout the entire product lifecycle—if you keep them updated.
Shortly after your launch day, send everyone an email to recap what happened and explain what you learned. Then ask for continued help guiding your product roadmap.
12. Use Social Media to Drive Traffic
Once your Product Hunt listing is live, start driving traffic to it.
Just don't tell me that your idea of "driving traffic" is throwing up a few random tweets and Facebook posts. You’ll be pretty disappointed if that's your gameplan.
Instead, show people the value your product creates, rather than just telling them. Here’s a great example from my friend and serial product-launcher, Hiten Shah:
When Hiten was launching Draftsend—an online tool that lets you easily add audio to PDF presentations—they wanted to show a number of use cases on launch day.
Instead of an explainer video or images, they chose to work with 20 early users to create presentations that could be published on social media. The result was a massive increase in shares and a ton of feedback on their launch. All from content made by users.
User generated content is powerful. Definitely use it on launch day if you can!
13. Leverage Social Proof to Supercharge Your Launch
Social media will help you showcase your product. But the stories you share will be way more powerful if they're told by someone else, A.K.A. some of your most enthusiastic users.
Social proof is one of the best tools that marketers and product makers have. The more people you can get talking about your launch, the better. So, reach out to your mentors, friends, and connections and ask them to share their experiences with your product.
Or, take things a step further and hire a professional influencer. Doing so can help you reach an entirely new audience—if you choose the right partner.
Brian Lee, Founder and CEO of Arena Club, says that influencer marketing is about more than "signing up someone people recognize. Instead, choose partners who are as passionate about your product as you are. If they correlate to your venture, it will be more authentic."
Just make sure to keep an eye on the channels that you publish social proof on. That way you can respond to comments, ask questions, and otherwise engage with new potential users.
14. Turn Your Launch into an Event
No, you don't have to rent out the Ritz and invite one thousand people to party with you. (Although, there's nothing really wrong with that strategy, if it speaks to you.)
Here's what I mean: plan ways to engage your target audience throughout your launch day.
As Maria Harutyunyan, the Co-Founder of Loopex Digital, says, "Product demonstrations, guest speakers, interactive activities, or live entertainment can all be included."
What can you do to draw potential users in? What can you do to keep them interested in your new product? And how can you get them to continue using your product long after your launch ends? Add these kinds of things to your launch process to enjoy more success.
The 3-Step Post-launch Roadmap for Long-term Success
You’ve made it through the day. Popped a bottle. Kicked your feet up. Feels good, right?
But don't think for a second that you’re done. Knowing how to launch a product also means knowing what to do after launch day. Here are a few tips to help.
15. Contact as Many Users as Possible
If you’re like me, the first thing you think about after launch day is: What should we build next?
But why waste all the great feedback and connections you made by going right back into build mode? Take time to talk to and learn from as many people as possible. Here’s why:
- All you know is what you heard before and during launch day. You don't know anything about how your users feel after using your product for a few weeks straight.
- You’ll have a different mix of people using your product after launch. This group will be way more representative of your future user base than your early adopters.
First, find people who haven’t continued with your product and ask them why. You can learn as much from people who stopped using your product as those who converted. Reach out to them and say “you’re one of the first people to use the product and I want to hear from you.” Let them be brutally honest, because that’s the best feedback you’re going to get.
Next, reach out to people who continue to work with and get value from the product—but send them more than a simple email. Try and interview these people to learn how they talk about the product. This feedback will help you improve both the product and your marketing efforts.
16. Get Your House in Order
It doesn't matter how much pre-launch work you put in, launch day will be a scramble.
To make it happen, your team will almost certainly have to cut a few corners and make a few messes. You'll need to clean those up before you move forward.
Here are a few specific messes to look for:
- Sales: If you have a sales team in place before launch, they'll probably have to improvise and work without a documented sales process. That won’t work for long. Take what you learned during the launch and develop a repeatable system.
- Marketing: Launches are a little bit of everything, but successful marketing is targeted and purposeful. Take a step back and dig into your top marketing channels. I suggest a deep dive into SEO to make sure you start to generate organic traffic, too.
- Product and engineering: In the rush to get the product out the door, your team probably created a bunch of technical debt—inefficient code that needs to be fixed before you can scale. You'll probably need to set up more testing as well, to see if your product can survive the onslaught of customers you’ll hopefully get.
The desire to finish a launch, then rush into the next thing is ever-present. But if you build on top of a broken foundation, your product is destined to fail.
17. Keep Your Team Motivated and In Line
Don’t forget the people who got you where you are.
Is your team ready to move forward? Do they have access to the feedback from launch day? Are they ready and able to shift from day-to-day planning to setting quarterly milestones?
Consider their emotional state, too. Launch day can be a rollercoaster ride, full of ups and downs. But the days after can feel like a crash. Once you’ve let go of all that the launch process stress, your team is either going to be drunk on success or depressed from failure.
As a leader, you need to do a couple things to counteract this:
- Anticipate those responses and manage them: Understand that post-launch won’t be business as usual. You need to be hyper-aware of your team’s mental state and strategize ways to keep things moving—preferably without causing burning out.
- Make sure emotions aren’t getting in the way of good decision making: In the haze of a post-launch crash, it’s easy to let the emotions of the day cloud your mind. Make sure you and your team don't get caught up in that and make bad decisions.
Michael Maximoff, the Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Belkins, says, "Everyone needs to turn up and do their best work following the launch to make sure all the interested customers/users are happy and satisfied with the product."
I agree! But it's your job, as the leader of your team, to make sure that your employees are motivated and mentally able to perform their jobs at an above average level.
What If You Launched and No One Bought?
There’s always the chance that your new product launch will flop—even if you follow the steps in this article. Every founder I know has found themselves in this position, myself included.
But just because your business isn’t where you want it to be, doesn’t mean it won’t get there eventually. Every failure is an opportunity to learn, adapt, and grow.
First, let yourself panic. Yes, this sounds like terrible advice, but getting upset at your failed launch is totally natural—helpful, even. It means you understand the stakes. Your business is in a serious situation. You need to find a solution. The sooner, the better.
Too many founders buy into their own excuses (“Oh, we just need this new feature” or “But four customers told us they loved it!”) rather than taking their failed launches seriously.
Second, take time to review your expectations. The best product launches only convert about 10 percent of potential users, yet most founders expect to convert 50+ percent.
Third, ask yourself: “Is the situation really that dire?” Step back and assess the damage. What’s your funding situation like? Do you have 12 months of runway to come back from this launch? Or were you betting everything on an explosive start?
Fourth, analyze your data. Did you get the right users? Did you launch on the right platform? Did you play the game? If you missed on any of these points your launch was bound to fail.
Finally, talk to everyone on your team and plan your pivot. You built something, it didn’t work. Hopefully, you learned a bunch from the launch, which you can use to plan your next move:
- Host a team pow-wow: Come up with a rough game plan, then bring everyone together to get feedback. Every crisis needs a leader. Be transparent, but have a high-level solution mapped out, too. This will help keep people positive.
- Talk to the customers you do have: What exactly went wrong? Did you bungle your messaging? Mess up your pricing structure? Fail at customer development? Find out what people loved and hated and how you can make it better for them.
- Talk to your sounding board: Before you make a final decision, reach out to someone who understands your situation, but isn’t invested in your business. This could be your parents, a good friend, or even another founder. Talk them through your reaction and ask them if they think it makes sense.
Every Product Launch Is a Chance to Learn, Iterate, and Grow
You never stop learning how to launch a product.
Audiences change. Platforms change. Markets change. And every time you put something new into the world, it’s a chance to experiment, learn, iterate, and grow.
So forget about launch day bringing you a million new users. Instead, use it to get the feedback you need to build your business, bring your users value, and beat the competition. Because, in the end, whoever knows their customer the best, wins.
Want to make the most of the leads you get on launch day? Grab a free copy of my book, "Product Demos That Sell"