Technology entrepreneurs gathered inside an Asbury Park art gallery on May 26 to offer advice and recount their own personal experiences of the ups and downs of launching products in a crowded and competitive marketplace.
During the two-hour Jersey Shore Tech presentation at Art 629, called "How to Launch Better Products,” the speakers discussed many issues that startups can encounter, such as ensuring that all the bugs are removed from a product before bringing it to market and using smart ways to promote it.
The speakers were Joe Nicosia, founder of Status.io (Manchester Township); Jay Melone, CEO and principal of New Haircut (Asbury Park); Brian Messenlehner, cofounder and CTO of WebDevStudios (Glenside, Pa.); Joshua Davidson, founder and CEO of Chop Dawg ( Philadelphia); and Craig Phares, founder of Six Overground (Asbury Park).
The topic was a timely one, as new technologies have made it easier to turn a simple idea into a sustainable business. Unfortunately, the odds are still greatly against consumers warmly embracing new products or services. According to various industry estimates, the startup failure rate is between 80 and 90 percent.
A pre-launch program can minimize risks
One way for startups to avoid becoming just another statistic is to undergo a pre-launch program designed to minimize the problems that startups typically face in their early days.
Melone recalled a startup that had undergone his company's five-day sprint program, which answers key business questions during the process of designing and testing a startup's product. After completing the program, the company launched its product and soon raised $250,000.
Admit your mistakes
A problem that plagues a lot of startups during the launch phase is their inability to listen to others or admit mistakes.
"Some people are too stubborn or proud to take advice." said Davidson. "They also want to blame their failure on people they are working with rather than on themselves."
Startups also can be naive or arrogant, or both, when it comes to their expectations of market demand for their products. Phares said that startups that do little if any marketing of their products could face a big, unwelcome surprise. "You build it, but they may not come," he said.
Promote via online marketing
Most of the speakers recommended online marketing as the best way for startups to promote their products.
Messenlehner's company launched a free version of a new software product on social media to build consumer interest in it. That was followed by the company rolling out a paid premium version, resulting in significant sales of the product. "As soon as we launched the premium version, it was instant money."
Realizing that content marketing has been proven to increase customer engagement, WebDevStudios requires all of its 40 employees to contribute posts to the company’s blog as part of their job. "We're pumping out fresh relevant content almost daily," said Messenlehner.
Davidson also is a heavy user of social media as a way to build greater awareness of his company. For instance, Chop Dawg develops content at least a month in advance for publication on the company blog, Twitter and other social media platforms.
While his company has been successful in building its customer base through social media, search engine optimization and other online marketing tools, Davidson acknowledged that it requires persistence to generate a loyal following through digital marketing. "You have to stick at it. It takes a lot of patience."
How to get media coverage
Startups should also pursue media coverage, as it’s an effective way to draw attention to their products. Media outlets publicizing a product bring third-party credibility that can help drive sales. But it can be a time-consuming and sometimes frustrating experience for any company to get journalists to pay attention to its pitch.
Phares suggested that startups develop relationships with journalists that aren't one-sided, in which you don’t contact them only when you’re marketing products. Startups should instead provide reporters and editors with information that will help them to become more knowledgeable about a certain issue or trend, or perhaps always be available as a source for information on stories.
For those seeking to strike up this kind of a relationship with the media, they can reach journalists by calling; texting or e-mailing them; sending messages via LinkedIn, Twitter or other social media venues; or using online sites such as Help a Reporter Out or ProfNet. By following this strategy, said Phares, the chances are greater that the media will "remember you and write about you" when you’re launching a product.
The speakers also recommended other marketing strategies for launching new products, including free trials and bundling products to sell for less money instead of pricing them à la carte. Messenlehner said that his company made tens of thousands of dollars by offering a discount code for a product in a Black Friday promotion.
There is always room for niche players
Startups may also be concerned about launching a product that has competition from larger companies. Nicosia said that his company faced that problem, but it didn't stop him from launching Status.io’s Web status pages, which are used by Dockers and other major brands.
"There's definitely room for small fish, so don't worry about large competitors," he said.
While there are various issues that must be resolved before and after launching a product, startups can't let worries about potential obstacles keep them from achieving their ultimate goal. "If you have an idea, stop talking about it and just do it," said Phares.