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The 4 biggest product launch mistakes — and how to avoid them

Is your company launching a product soon? Then read this

Alex Tsepko
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Alex Tsepko

CEO, SkylumAlex is the CEO of Skylum, a passionate photographer, an AI fanboy, a family man, and a LEGO builder. Alex learns from everyday life and gets inspiration from people he meets while traveling the globe… (show all) Alex is the CEO of Skylum, a passionate photographer, an AI fanboy, a family man, and a LEGO builder. Alex learns from everyday life and gets inspiration from people he meets while traveling the globe. Together with 130 incredibly talented humans, Alex is building Skylum — a next-generation global photography company for a new generation. And they’re having the time of their lives!

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Launching a new product is an exciting time. But the truth is, it can also be a dangerous one for your company. Every new product launch – even if you’ve successfully facilitated a few in the past – brings with it myriad opportunities for making crucial, company-impacting mistakes. This is something that’s top-of-mind for me and my team as we’re in the middle of launching our next product.

For one thing, if you’re setting ambitious goals for your launch – including beating your competition and meeting your customers’ perhaps raised expectations – you’ll be shooting for it to be even bigger and better than your last. And in trying to one-up yourself, so to speak, you increase your chances of making mistakes. That risk becomes more pronounced the more confident in your product-launch process you are, as it can translate into complacency. 

Now, some mistakes will be small, but some can be truly damaging. So it pays to be overly cautious and aware of potential pitfalls heading into the launch process. This, of course, allows you to more purposefully avoid them. Here are the four mistakes you should pay close attention to. 

1) Not giving yourself enough time to prepare for everything

At my company, one of the biggest mistakes my team has made in the past is not giving ourselves enough time to prepare everything for the launch. 

This is a remarkably easy mistake to make, especially when you’re feeling confident that you understand everything a launch entails and don’t plan for any of the inevitable complications that pop up. These complications can be financial (think unexpected costs), time-related, or a matter of misallocated human resources. Whatever the case, these things happen. 

That’s why it’s important, when planning, to bake in more time than you think you’ll need. Give yourself more breathing room than you anticipate needing. That breathing room doubles as buffer space to manage the unknowable hiccups that are certain to come up.

Just to give you an example, my team aims to launch our next product this November, but we started planning in June.

2) Relying on what you think you know

In everyday life, we’d label taking on a new project or job without first learning everything you can about it as shortsighted. Yet, in business – and when launching products, especially – far too many of us rely on our existing knowledge without investing adequately in education. 

Part of this has to do with our egos. We think just because we’ve launched a product before, we understand the process. But that’s not so. I realized this when we launched the first version of our product years ago. 

At the time, my team was confident in its ability to manage media relations and conduct email marketing, and we thought that those two means of raising awareness would suffice in getting folks interested in our product. As a result, we didn’t investigate anything related to, say, e-commerce optimization, or price variation, or forming strategic partnerships. We didn’t think about what else we could have done. This ultimately held us back. 

That’s why, when you have adequate resources and you’ve given yourself enough time, you absolutely need to invest in acquiring new knowledge, experimenting with different ways of doing things, and fostering new partnerships. In my experience, about 15-20 percent of your resources should go to this.

Simply put, you can’t rely on what you know. That’s inherently limiting. Instead, look hard for additional information, insight, and expertise. Assume you never know everything.

3) Relying on previous data to forecast future growth.

Similarly, don’t rely on old data to plan for the future. If last year you made $1 million in sales, to use that as a benchmark for your next launch – or even 2x that as a benchmark – is foolish. You’re essentially guaranteeing that you’ll copy old processes and utilize the same channels as you have in the past. You’re also limiting what you could achieve if you set your sights higher. 

So, instead, flip the question around and ask what you need to accomplish your goals for this year. Say your goals are $5 million in sales. Guess what? If you plan for hitting that goal, and then actually shoot for that higher number, you’re giving yourself a much better shot of reaching it. With the upcoming version of our product, for example, our goal is 4x growth over our last upgrade, so we’re bolstering our product marketing and intelligence-gathering processes accordingly. 

4) Not being where your customers are

Finally, for a product launch to resonate and succeed, you must be attuned to what your customers want and expect. That way, you can deliver. You can’t simply sit in your office in the US and think you’ll understand what your users in Japan want out of your product. That’s the same issue as assuming you know more about business development than you actually do. When it comes to your customers, assume you can always be learning more – especially if those customers are in new markets. 

To learn more about your customers, then, you need to actually go to that market and immerse yourself in it so as to understand it. In developing our new product (as well as in marketing it), we innovated and designed our messaging in accordance with what we understood our customers in each of our key regions wanted. A one-size-fits-all marketing plan simply won’t resonate as strongly as it would were it tailored specifically for the German market, the American market, or the Japanese market.

But, again, you can’t acquire the requisite knowledge from your siloed office. You have to go where your customers are and work to truly understand them. Don’t expect them to come to you. They won’t, nor should they be expected to. 

Remember that you’re always going to have people who criticize certain aspects of your product launch

At the end of the day, you won’t be able to please everyone. You’ll make mistakes, and certain critics, competitors, and even customers may criticize you for it. 

But you can’t let them get you down. Instead, focus myopically on giving yourself the best possible chance to succeed. Which is to say, focus on planning intelligently, researching heavily, and then executing your launch effectively. This is what will allow you to avoid the pitfalls that commonly befall founders launching new products, and it’s what, ultimately, will allow you to succeed. 

Published October 4, 2019 — 15:00 UTC