The five common mistakes founders make after a product launch

November 07, 2017

Congratulations, you’ve introduced your product to the world! You got media attention and a ton of new users and customers. Now what?

Unfortunately, most founding teams become dazed and confused at this point and end up wasting important momentum.

Exhausted from all the work leading up to the launch (and launch party), founders tend to space out and assume their product and company operations will work flawlessly.

Customer questions, complaints, and feature requests come rolling in from all around the world (who are these people?!), and the all-hands-on-deck operations start to wane.

Amongst all the noise and confusion, some well-known companies and investors reach out for an initial conversation with your CEO (who likely just got a cold), and your product backlog is growing miles long by the hour.

The occasional well-advised and well-prepared team knows how to operate smoothly through this season, but most young companies fall victim to the following mistakes:

1. Tone-deaf product improvement decisions

It’s common for founders to be inadvertently flying blind at this stage due to the lack of sufficient data being collected. Without a detailed understanding of customer acquisition and engagement funnels, it’s impossible to make smart decisions about how, when, and where to improve a product.

In addition, the fervency by which the team has been talking to customers throughout the early interviews, experiments, private alpha, and private beta stages needs to increase after founders take the field, not diminish and disappear. (Even worse, some teams may have skipped these validation steps all together.)

The combination of missing both funnel data and anecdotal stories from customers right after a marketing launch is deadly.

2. Talking to the wrong people

It’s flattering to hear from influential companies, investors, journalists, talent, (and often competitors) from around the world after you launch, but founders commonly fall into the trap of packing in meeting after meeting with non-customers in the immediate weeks after a marketing launch.

Don’t take your customers for granted.

Instead, it’s better to take your time and space out meetings with the most flattering inbounds, and spend the rest of your time ensuring your customers are happy, retention is high, and growth is steady.

And remember, whatever you do, don’t talk to corp dev.

3. Losing focus

It’s easy to set a product vision while private alpha/beta testers are engaging with your product, as early adopters are often philosophically aligned with you and your team. Feedback at this stage often becomes a bit of an echo chamber, however; more data points are needed to truly get a sense if you are tapping into product-market fit.

Thus, after your marketing launch when communication flow is chaotic, it’s incredibly easy to lose focus and chase after shiny objects. In reality, you have only tapped into a very small fraction of people you originally set out to reach, and continuing to market aggressively in new channels to acquire them is often the better move than “pivoting” based on feedback from your launch week cohort.

Remember, especially if you are more of a consumer-focused product, the customers you acquire immediately after launch are most likely lookiloos that won’t stick around. Expect the retention from this cohort to be terrible.

4. Neglecting your team

With everyone running on fumes and stretched thin (which doesn’t end, by the way), it’s tempting to skimp on team meetings and fail to evaluate what talent is needed to move to the next stage of the company.

This evaluation should not only include new hires, but restructuring (or firing) members of your current team to adjust the load and effectively run toward the best opportunities that have presented themselves after launch.

Tactically, it’s helpful to schedule a full company offsite a few weeks after the dust settles to do a complete retrospective and regroup the team. It’s unfortunately common for communication to break down at this stage between the various departments (no matter how small the company is), so getting dedicated face time is critical for your team’s success.

5. Ignoring the financial model

Finally, if you one of the rare teams that actually has built a financial model, it’s painfully easy to get distracted and ignore it for a few months or more after a launch.

(If you haven’t yet built one, then you are ignoring it in the worst possible way. Take time to build a solid model so you know the potential revenue and cash impact of taking your company in direction A, B, and/or C.)

Assuming you have a decent financial model in place, test your assumptions around costs and the drivers of your business as you evaluate the mountain of new opportunities that are likely on your plate.

With a robust model you’ll be able to better identify which new directions are going to positively impact cash and revenue over the long haul, and it will force you to think through costs in a more rigorous way than a simple back-of-napkin calculation.

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Overall, for those companies that manage to make significant noise during their marketing launches, the vast majority of them fail to build upon the momentum. The most commonly cited reason for the death of a product is running out of money, but that is a down-stream symptom of core problems with the business. Assuming a solid foundation is in place, founders with deep domain expertise in a market should be able to pivot their way into success, even if they have to work day jobs for awhile before they can convince investors and/or clients to fund the venture.

Author’s note, this is the 31st article in a deep-dive series on idea-to-funding startup operations. Subscribe to my newsletter to stay posted when new articles are up. If you haven’t tried Startup Rocket yet, sign up and poke around for free here. My partners and I put together the framework based on decades of experience at both sides of the funding table. We also have a private Slack community, custom mentoring services, partnerships with a variety of organizations that work with startups, and a ton of resources for early stage founders. Check it out. Thanks!

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