I’ve been thinking about marketing things startups can do before they have an early version of the product to test. This week I looked at the websites of 3 different pre-launch startups I know. I know that each of them is in the early stages of pitching to investors, each is doing events where they demo the product, and 2 of the 3 have an early product in the hands of customers. Yet none of them has any information about their offerings on their websites. One is gathering email addresses but the only information given is that the offering will be “the next generation of [insert $200 billion market category here]”. Hardly a compelling reason for me to join a mailing list. One site is simply a page stating that a website would be coming soon and the third has a brief description of the founders, contact info, and a 2 line product description that isn’t nearly as compelling as what I have heard them pitch.
I could give you a lot of reasons why you would want to pay attention to your website even if you don’t have anything to sell yet. At a minimum you could be using it to start building a mailing list. You could be testing your messaging by running some simple ad tests and tracking conversion rates on different messages. You could go so far as to use your site as a platform for discussing the market space, the problems the market faces, the deficiencies of the current solutions, etc. (I covered this in a post a while back called Pre-Launch Marketing for Stealthy Startups)
So why don’t more startups do that? Some I think are afraid of giving away their idea before they are ready to enter the market. I don’t believe ideas count for much because execution is so difficult and even if they did, it’s easy enough to explain WHAT you are doing without getting into the details of HOW you might do it. Others don’t believe that the site is important until they have something to sell. I think that represents a huge lost opportunity. The craziest thing is that I know each of these companies has a great value proposition and a story to tell and is actively out there telling it – just not on their own websites. The hard work has already been done, just not the last (and unfortunately most important) step of showing it to the world in order to engage with the market.
Establishing credibility in the market is hard and it takes time. Building a mailing list is hard and takes time. Why wouldn’t you want to start doing these things as early as possible?