Don’t Blow Your Load: Plan Your PR

April 18, 2011

You know the saying that everyone gets 15 minutes of fame? It also applies to startups. Most startups will get one shot at attention; after that, they risk being old news. So I’m confused when I see startups go on a PR spree before their product is ready for the resulting traffic.

The best PR is held back to coincide with a product’s release. I have seen several cases of eager startups generating a blast of coverage well before their launch. While there’s nothing wrong with building awareness, the problem is news sources often won’t cover you again. Plus, the passionate early adopters that tried to use your product before probably won’t return. While you can capture traffic with a mailing list, it’s a problem if you can’t bring such a large group back when the product is actually ready. This issue was experienced by Freshdesk when they had 25,000 visitors from a post on Hacker News. In a blog post, they said “We had 150 new signups – too bad we didn’t have the product ready. I think we could have had much more if we had the product ready instead of having people signup and wait for the beta.”

One of my favorite startup blog posts is How We Knew When to Launch Our Startup by Vinicius Vacanti, co-founder of YipIt. He clearly explains why startups should not seek PR until they retain users and (preferably) they refer others. He says “You are a fisherman, your startup is your net and your goal is to catch as many of these fish as possible. If your net (your startup) isn’t well-built and ready for them, the fish will swim right by you and they’ll never come back.” First impressions are critical, and you only get one. Robert Scoble recently wrote about why “first experiences matter and are mattering more every day” in response to the launch of Color.

People ask for access to LazyMeter every day. While we diligently track each request, most are still waiting for their invitation because we’re obsessed with their first experience. Instead of letting everyone in, we grant access to cohorts that are the smallest size needed to monitor first experience and gather detailed feedback. After seeing how the users respond, we improve the product and then invite the next cohort. This strategy has worked extremely well: we collect very actionable feedback and focus our attention on improving the product versus supporting many more users. While we regret that some have had to wait months for access, we prefer they have a better first experience – both with the product and individual attention – so that they’re more likely to become loyal users. We will launch and seek PR when we see our new users returning, and asking to bring their friends. Call us old fashioned, but we don’t put out until launch day.