I’ve found that in general for a V1/Beta launch, teams are too focused on technology and not focused enough on customer pain points, user experience and the market. Why? Because by definition, they don’t have much customer experience yet!

If you don’t have any pre-launch customer experience then what makes you think you know anything about the market?  If you don’t know anything about the market then why launch now?  Seriously. 

The more user-feedback can be heard and acted on before the product is launched the more you can plan for how the market will react to your strengths and weaknesses. This might seem obvious but many entrepreneurs in particular still hold onto the belief that the “big bang” launch comes first and working with customers comes later.

The second thing is to set customer expectations at a level where you can meet them.  Again, a bit of pre-launch customer work goes a long way to helping you understand what those expectations will be.  Sounds easy right? If it was, I wouldn’t see so many hated, over-hyped products out there struggling to survive.

Let’s compare two recent product launch examples: Cuil vs. Google’s Chrome.

Cuil is a well-funded startup staffed with ex-Googlers with a search engine that “searches more pages on the Web than anyone else-three times as many as Google and ten times as many as Microsoft.” A better search engine than Google! Who doesn’t want to give that a try? The launch was massive. Hundreds of articles were written about Cuil in the run up to the release date including the New York Times, even though no media (or anyone else) had been allowed to actually see the product.  On the launch day, there wasn’t a person I know that didn’t give it a try. The problem was that the searches weren’t better than Google. The most common first search – a search on one’s own name, returned laughably bad results. Even a search on “Cuil” didn’t seem to work. The feedback was overwhelming negative. The bottom line – Cuil sucks.

Contrast this with the Chrome launch. At least a few folks in the technical media, namely Walter Mossberg at the Wall St. Journal and the folks at Wired were given access to the product well in advance.  Chrome was released as a “beta” and not V1. Sure that’s standard for Google but read the coverage. Press and bloggers alike have lower expectations for a beta product. Lastly, they published a concise “ features page that explained in plain terms, why users should care about each of their key features. Virtually all of the coverage mentioned the “omnibox” which would not have been an obvious feature if you weren’t told it was there in the first place. Here is a quote from the New York Times the day of the launch:

“It’s best to think of Chrome as exactly what it purports to be: a promising, modern, streamlined, non-bloated, very secure alternative to today’s browsers.”

Was the launch a success?  There were reports that 2% of the market downloaded the product.  Lehman Brothers thinks that Chrome could reach 20% market share in 2 years.  The bottom line – Chrome has great potential.

And hey, did I mention that this blog was still in beta?

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