What’s the defining moment in a company’s history?
Some people think it’s the day you get your first round of funding. Others believe it’s your first million-dollar quarter. For me, the seminal event in a company’s history is the day it announces to the world it exists: the company’s launch. I’ve briefly touched on the importance of a company launch in previous columns, so this may not be news to those who read my column regularly. However, the events of the past few weeks have once again made me realize the significance a launch can play in the short- and long-term success of a new company.
This is so pertinent to me because we just launched one of our portfolio companies at campsix. iVenturi, which was previously in stealth mode, is a company we have been developing jointly with Dow Chemical Corporate and Andersen Consulting that is targeted for use by new-product-development professionals. Last week we sent out the obligatory news release on the company’s formation and then traveled to New Orleans for the key annual trade show, which was attended by the primary target audience for whom iVenturi tools and services were designed.
To be successful, a launch requires a lot more than a news release and attendance at a trade show. A massive amount of strategy, planning, and execution are required. Here are a few of the things that went into the launch of iVenturi.
Shape a Clear Message
Have you ever asked someone at a start-up what it is the company does? Five minutes later, you’re still asking questions and scratching your head. Sometimes the key to success is as simple as being understood in the marketplace. That requires not only knowing who you are as a company and what the key value provided by your product is, but also understanding your competition. The message for iVenturi went through a minimum of 25 different iterations until we came up with something we felt clearly communicated what the company and its tools and services did. We even tested that message with our key audience to make sure it resonated. So it was a nice validation to see press reports that also clearly reflected our mission.
Meet the Analysts and Media in Advance
Advance preparation of industry analysts and news media was another key component in our being able to communicate our message clearly to the industry and to our target customers. The launch tour, which was coordinated with the help of our good friends at Incubate PR, was an opportunity for iVenturi’s executive team to talk about the company, its tools and services, the marketplace, the competition, and other issues with these key influencers. But keep in mind that such an enterprise is a double-edged sword; there’s a good chance that the analysts and media may not receive the information as positively as you may deliver it. That said, better they are clearly informed than in the dark. While they may not give you a ringing endorsement, they at least know enough about you to speak to the upside potential even if they, in the same breath, say you are behind the curve.
Quality Beats Quantity
Lots of news and analyst coverage isn’t nearly as important as strong coverage in the right places. I often see launches where the objective is to create a massive clip book. I’m not saying getting lots of coverage is necessarily bad. My point here is that you should aim to get thorough news media coverage that is most important to your core target audience. After that, everything else is gravy. In our case, we focused on 5 key analysts and 10 key media outlets. All of them were interested, and we have thus far been covered by 70 percent of them, with another 20 percent to appear soon. We would have been happy with a take rate of 40 to 50 percent. This is not to say we didn’t get broader pickup, but we were measuring our success only by the outlets that we believed were critical.
Coordinate With the Big Show
A big asset for us was that the industry’s big trade show happened to coincide with the period in which we felt we could launch the product. Because we were able to pinpoint that date early on, we set major goals and deadlines for iVenturi’s development so we could show the product and discuss the offering at the show. This required a massive effort by all the participants in building the company, from engineering to graphics to product management. The key was getting all the company’s stakeholders to buy into the importance of the launch at the trade show and what it could mean for the company if it was done well.
Demo, Demo, Demo
Part of that preparation was the creation of a world-class demo to show off the product. Again, easier said than done. A great demo can go a long way in selling a product and its feature set in a clear and concise fashion.
Now some say show the live product. While we had one we could show, I’ve always felt a canned demo is best – much less chance for errors, freeze-ups, etc. And ensure that the demo is supported by a script that is well rehearsed by those who will be demonstrating the product.
A great launch means your company’s off to a good start with its key audience. Then comes the hard part: living up to the expectations you’ve created by delivering a world-class product to your customers. Good luck!