Disclaimer: I went back and forth on if I should use “Fuck” in my blog post title or something more “approriate”. However, this blog is not meant to be a ‘professional’ blog nor am I trying to generate business from this blog. I’m just wanting to connect to other founders and startups to share my experiences. So I decided, what the hell. If I offended you, I’m sorry…sort of.
At the beginning of the year, I set out to launch my first SaaS product called Workado. It is a ‘project’ management system, but built specifically for marketers. So I don’t call it a project management system, I call it a recurring campaign management system since this is built specifically for ongoing marketing campaigns.
I didn’t know what I was doing. I was coming from my experience in a marketing agency where we provided service and consulting. I was familiar with the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) business model, and used lots of different tools myself. However, I had no real idea what went into getting something like this launched.
So naturally I set out to learn as much as I could about the development process, server considerations, customer acquisition, customer support handling, and the like.
After putting heavy hours into developing our content strategy (this was after all, being sold to other digital marketing agencies), I knew I needed to put up a landing page.
People would signup for early access and be my beta users for the app.
I started doing this before I even had a developer in place to start building the product. This is a good thing right? I needed to validate (I have a blog coming up on how exactly to do this) things anyway.
Truth be told, I didn’t know much about validating things. I read about it, but I hadn’t put it to use before. Besides, I was dead set on this tool launching regardless.
“My agency was using it, so that was validation enough for me.”
I’m not saying that’s the right approach, but at the time that’s what I was thinking.
The problem wasn’t with the validation, as I was able to start generating an interest list of potential users who wanted to be involved. It was what happened next that I totally screwed up.
How Things Unfolded
I got a landing page up that was pretty basic. Had a testimonial from one of my employees at my agency, had a screenshot (from one of the design mockups), and some highlights of the features.
I used Prefinery to manage our beta process which helped with some social shares on top of easy email collection.
I am not sure what the average lifetime value of an account is for Prefinery (given that it’s a tool that helps you during the beta stage and that’s it), but I’m pretty sure I went well over it. I signed up at the end of last year and still had the account open until the end of September.
I was thinking by mid to late March we would be ready to let customers in, so on some of the beta websites, I was referencing the March opening.
I hadn’t emailed my beta list yet up to this point, and I didn’t want to just yet because I wanted to make sure what we had was going to work.
Then I realized, what we originally had mapped out for certain areas of the app (such as no task templates) would not work in its current format. It took me HOURS getting clients and campaigns loaded in order to even use the app.
During this point though, I had my team working inside the app. We completely transitioned from our old internal system because I wanted continuous feedback.
I also let in a couple other users, but they faded in and out and I couldn’t get reliable feedback.
After seeing it and using it, I knew it wasn’t where it needed to be so I started shooting for a Cinco de Mayo launch.
I still held off on any communication.
That came and went and my developer was no longer as available. This meant I was looking towards the third week of June.
We were 5 months in since we started collecting beta signups.
Soon, late June was going to be July 7th. Every time we got closer and closer, I would find more and more things I was uncomfortable launching with.
July 7th turned into August 5th as a launch date, but by now you know how that went.
Early September soon became the new date, but that crashed and burned when my original developer took on another large project and I had to find someone else.
This is why I was wrong yet again about my “two weeks to launch” time frame.
September became October and it was FINALLY at a point where I could get this launched.
NOW I would finally reach out to my beta list. It still has several bugs and the app was crashing periodically, but I felt I needed to just launch and figure it out. The feature set was ready and launch worthy.
By now, surely, those on my early access list were just on the edge of their seats with anticipation, right? On a side note, this inspired the cover image to this post.
I took the emails I captured out of Prefinery and placed them into my MailChimp account to prepare the email launch series.
After writing the email, I stressed over clicking the send button.
“Does the email flow?”
“Are there typos?”
“Would anyone read it?”
“What if the app crashes?”
I took a deep breath and hit send.
Soon, the first customer signed up. He set his account to cancel upon completion of the trial.
Then I had a couple of users who were truly on the edge of their seats leading up to the launch. Each of them contacted me no less than five times asking when it would be available.
Sure enough, they signed up shortly after the first order.
The first day ended with 3 signups, and another 10 that only completed the first step of the registration and not the second step where I require credit card details.
Nothing I’ll be bragging about, but at least it is launched and now I can focus on acquiring users.
I’m revamping the signup process to better inform potential signups about what stage they are at in the signup process and to limit the “do I have to give you my credit card?” questions.
A lot of time and research went into why I’m collecting the card details upfront, but the primary reason is because I know they are more likely to continue. This means I can spend more time onboarding and spending time with those users.
I’ll be documenting this whole launch in a day before, day of, and day after launch series next week.
If I Could Do It Over
There are a lot of things I would have done differently.
That said, it is a differentiator going forward to be able to have real-time updating which can be important if there are lots of members on a user’s team.
Build in the Open
I could have taken a page out of Ryan Hoover’s book and built it out in public. This would have allowed me to get user feedback along the way and allowed me to build and keep a community.
Even without building it out in the open, I would have kept in contact with those who did sign up for early access.
This really does depend on the type of product you are offering though.
If I weren’t doing everything in the open, I wouldn’t have changed the fact I had a closed beta. I would just have brought more people into the fold.
You would select 5 to 10 beta testers to get their feedback. Work on it and then open it up to another 5 or 10 beta testers to solicit more feedback. You’ll need to cycle through new testers because the original people will only check what they pointed out. You’ll need new perspectives. This was mentioned directly in podcast episode 87 of Startups for the Rest of Us.
Have a Way to Capture Feedback
When a beta tester gives you feedback, use a system to make sure you document things. Trello would work well for this, or even just a handy spreadsheet.
It would also be a good idea to prepare specific questions you would like them to answer. Setting up a form using Wufoo or another form builder would be helpful for this purpose.
Have a Better Idea of When it Will be Ready
This I couldn’t have possibly done on my first go ’round. However, I feel much more confident now that I’ll be able to forecast a little more accurately. This helps when I’m communicating with those interested in the product.
That said, I will always shy away from giving away any specific dates.
Reward Your Beta Testers
The one’s who don’t make it to beta are still potential customers, so keep their emails and send them an introductory offer.
Even if not everyone on the list could get access, you should still let them know you were overwhelmed with interest and could only handle so many.
With Workado, all the people on the early interest list received a lifetime discount that will never be matched again.
There are a number of things I would do differently, but the main overriding theme is to have more communication with those early adopters that are interested in your product. Build some relationships with them, invite them to LinkedIn, follow them on social, etc.
Having the open communication with your testers and those early adopters will allow you to make the product customers will ultimately pay for, while giving you a stream of new customers by the time you launch!