How to message your startup's first product launch

Hot air balloons launching into the sky to represent a product launch

Building your first product is sometimes only half the battle when getting your startup off the ground. Not only do you have to actually create a functional product, but you also have to create a strong story and narrative behind it that relates to problems your customers face all the time. Your first launch is a critical moment for your company to tell this story. 

When you are trying to attract those customers, you have to show you have a sense of empathy for their problems. These major existential problems are as much of an emotional strain as an operational constraint, as work is such a massive part of anyone’s daily life. They are continually looking for solutions, but your average customer probably won’t trust you from the get-go if they find you through a Google ad.

Finding a way to connect with that customer, empathize, and show you deeply understand them can substantially elevate you above the competition. That’ll be true even if your competitors have more money, more employees, or have been around longer. When you are getting off the ground, you are starting from scratch and have no public relations baggage or brand debt to deal with when trying to attract your customers.

The launch is a critical turning point in that story. You are finally getting your product into the hands of consumers. It’s a moment that you can’t screw up because you’ve gotten to the point where you have to ensure customers trust you enough to ask you to solve some of their most significant pain points. A lot of eyes will be on you, and you want to take advantage of that opportunity to lay the groundwork for your company’s narrative.

Key points to consider when building your first launch messaging

There isn’t one specific playbook for every single launch. Each product, company, and customer base can be radically different from the one down the road. So when you are thinking about how to message your first launch, start with your customer and work backwards.

That being said, there are a few critical points you should hit when you are establishing your messaging on your launch — whether that’s in a press interview or responding to a post on Product Hunt or Hacker News.

  • What is the origin story, and how did you get to this launch. This is a great spot to connect with your customer base and show you deeply understand the problems they face.
  • What is the key pain point you are solving? You want to address the customer’s problem thoroughly and not skip any steps in the process. Not everyone will be able to follow your logic exactly, so try to be as precise as possible.
  • Who are your customers that you are trying to address with your product? You want to show that you’ve done the work and that you have put in the time and effort to analyze how you should attack the problem.
  • Address the key features and how they are explicitly addressing your pain points. You want to go through every step of the product and show where and why it is solving a key pain point. Some customers may be held up at only one point in the process, while others might not fully understand the scope of the problem they face.
  • Walk through examples. This step is essential, but sometimes founders will skip over this. Going through a case is one of the fastest ways to help your audience visualize what it is you have built. Walk through the flow, from the customer encountering the pain point to using your product to address that pain point.
  • Talk about the results. Where did your product fail? How did you learn from those failures? How did those failures inform your development process until you got to your point right now?

All these steps may seem like a lot of information to cram into your first announcement, but you need to connect to a lot of different audiences at once. Your first announcement and messaging are as much laying the foundation of your company story as it is attracting your first wave of customers.

  • You want to connect to customers and adequately explain why you exist. You need to explain why they should use your product.
  • You want to connect to potential talent that will be intrigued by your product and company and end up working for you down the line.
  • You want to connect to the investor community that may be wowed by your product and is interested in investing down the line.

Walking through an example for building messaging for a product launch

Since we talked about going through examples, let’s go ahead and walk through one now. Let’s say you are Company X launching Product Y: an imaginary enterprise product that makes it easier for a startup to find new office space. This is a problem that a lot of startups will run into at some point. While running a distributed company right from the get-go may work for some companies. But it’s going to be better to have the initial team in the same room in most cases. That is the basis of your company’s idea. 

Your platform has gone through a beta, seen enough success, and you’re finally ready to come out publicly with a launch. As we saw above, let’s go ahead and set up a messaging framework for this kind of hypothetical start.

  • Your origin story: Company X began after your last startup wasn’t able to find office space and was bursting at the seams. The office environment was loud and chaotic, which  promoted a stressful work environment. More and more people worked from home as a result, and there was a lot of communication breakdown — and a lot of lost time in the process. Time is critical as a startup, and it should have been an avoidable problem.
  • Your crucial pain point: The problem for Company X probably isn’t unique. There are N startups every year that face this problem, and each of them ran into the same blockers. Meanwhile, property managers are always looking for the best fits for offices and need filters to optimize their operations. Amid all this is a broker system that can be difficult to navigate, especially for first-time founders. You’ll have likely done a ton of research analyzing the total market here, so show your work.
  • Who are your customers: At company X, you work with all these startups and founders that struggle with this same possibly existential problem. But you have two customer bases: your startups frantically looking for space and property managers looking for the best possible fit for their offices.
  • What are the key features: Product Y is a platform that has vital features i, j, and k that make it easier to find an office. You only have to log in and set up a few details about the offices you want. Product Y then connects to a system that matches your company with property managers that might be a good fit for your startup. Keep it simple and straightforward, and walk through them thoroughly.
  • Walk through an example: This one is pretty straightforward. Talk about the journey for one of your customers.
  • Talk about the results: What did you learn throughout this whole process? Did you pivot midway through the first product or discover some compelling use case that was unexpected? What didn’t make it into this final product, and why? Customers want to hear from you in a genuine, authentic and honest way. 

Getting it right the first time

Your first launch is also just that: your first launch. You will have other big moments where you have to nail the kind of story you want to tell about your company and your products. Creating a story behind your products is still a continuous process that requires a ton of work. But you won’t have a lot of very high-profile opportunities to be clear about your mission. A product launch is among those few opportunities.

Things aren't set in stone after your first launch. But you won’t get a complete mulligan on your messaging when you have your next rollout or big company event. People will remember your positioning when your first product came out. You want to follow the golden rule when building something: underpromise and overdeliver.

Photo credit: ian dooley on Unsplash

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