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3 Lessons from My Almost Failed Launch - Happy Bootstrapper

3 Lessons from My Almost Failed Launch

About a month ago I went from “Ouch, my launch failed miserably” to “What the f*ck! I just reached my launch target!”

I’m sharing this (long post) on SaaS Compass launch so you can learn from my mistakes and hopefully avoid that emotional roller coaster.

SaaS Compass launch seemed to fail at first

I have just a tiny amount of subscribers so I wasn’t expecting SaaS Compass to sell for over $5,000, or even over $2,500 on the launch day. I calculated my target with 2% conversion rate and it looked humble. But why wait? One of my previous business attempts reached 15,000 people – and none of them bought what I offered.

So I launched and posted links all around and waited… and waited… And then I came to a point when the traffic peaks were over and my mail campaign had reached its regular open rate. I had 0 sales.

It was 8 hours after the launch and my launch had failed. People came, people left and they didn’t buy.

It looked like a failed launch, but with a new twist

What I described above is the normal story. That’s when you go somewhere to lick your wounds, knowing that you’ll have to work your ass off to get any sales. Worse, you are not sure if people want your product at all. I know that jazz.

But something didn’t match. I learned how to create products that people want at 30×500. SaaS Compass was tailored with love to match my audience needs. It solves a painful problem for SaaS owners – breaking through growth plateaus.

I also saw a thing that puzzled me. My stats show that people opened their mails, went to the sales page, read it through – and then left. Why did people spend all that precious time just to turn down my offer?

I knew I had made some serious marketing mistake, but I didn’t know what it was.

How did I know that people really read through my sales page? With Google Analytics. I use Rob Flaherty’s handy script that tells me how far people scrolled, combined with time on page after bounces.

And now… to the strange part

About 10 hours after the launch the tide turned. People from my mailing list came back and started buying SaaS Compass.

I hit my modest launch target before 24 hours was up. Now that was something totally unexpected!

To be honest, I was so blown away by this turn in events that it took me weeks to enjoy my victory at all. The initial feel of defeat ate up my batteries and left me totally confused. I just couldn’t adjust and felt like a failure even though my bank account showed me otherwise.

At first I had no idea what went wrong

It’s hard to learn from a failed launch. We can’t see our own weak points – if we could, we wouldn’t have made the mistakes in the first place. If you didn’t see the problems before the launch, how are you magically going to see them after the launch?

That’s why it’s so important to have a peer community or to have a great business mentor. Fortunately all my friends in the 30×500 alumni community rushed to help me and pointed out my mistakes.

I made three major mistakes:

  1. I didn’t build up anticipation before the launch
  2. I didn’t communicate the value clearly enough
  3. I built a bigger product than I had authority for

1. I didn’t build up anticipation before the launch

I learned the hard way that when you launch, people in your mailing list must be (mentally) ready to buy. You make them ready by warming them up so that they get a good appetite and anticipation for your product. These videos explain how to build up anticipation(tension) for your sales pitch, but the same also works for launches.

Because I hadn’t prepared my list and soaked people with information about SaaS Compass, people weren’t ready and eager to buy right away. They took their time to process the value of my offer. They went home and thought about it – and then came back later and bought it. But I lost a lot of sales in that process. Remember all those tools you know you need, but you don’t have that final push to go and buy them?

Amy (@30×500) instructs that you should send at least 3 mails to your list during the 2 weeks before the launch.

The pre-launch mails are a great opportunity build anticipation and educate people about your product. I should have made material that shows people how the SaaS Compass works, how it helps to speed up SaaS growth and how fast it is to use, so that they would not be pondering this stuff when they land on the sales page the first time.

Also, SaaS Compass is priced at several hundred dollars. It’s not something you buy on an impulse. I should have told people the price before the launch. That would have given them time to adjust.

But I didn’t send those mails

This was the first time I used a mailing list for launching and I felt nervous to communicate with my list. I was afraid that people would get pissed off and unsubscribe. I was stupidly thinking that if I don’t bother them, then they at least they will be there when I launch.

I also went into “it’s about me”-mode and thought that those mails were about me selling something and pushing my stuff. But it’s never about me, it’s always about my audience/customers. Those missing mails were about helping my audience to find out if my product is right for them. My product is good news, they want to hear about it.

2. I didn’t communicate the value clearly enough

I’m a developer by heart and marketing is still hard for me. I started with a weak sales page, even with all the learning that I’ve done lately. The one that you see currently is an improved version, but after reading the post “Help! My SaaS isn’t growing!” I realized that I’m still doing a lousy job in describing the pain that people are feeling and the solution to it.

I talk about key metrics and profitability, when my sales page should visualize the pain from that blog post and tell that SaaS Compass helps you find out what levers you should pull when you find yourself plateauing. The priorities are not the same for every business.

When I can persuade myself to tweak the sales copy again, it will hopefully communicate the value better.

The biggest problem resulting from poor communication was that people anchored to different prices than I expected. Most bootstrappers are familiar with Garrett Dimon’s superb Starting + Sustaining spreadsheet and several people were wondering why my spreadsheet is more expensive. Because I didn’t explain clearly what my tool can do, people compared it to the tools they already know. Tools that do different things.

I instead compared SaaS Compass with growth consultant’s fees and services that cost +$250 per month and priced it accordingly. At the moment I don’t feel like budging from the price either. I rather learn to communicate better.

3. I built a bigger product than I had authority for

I started up Happy Bootstrapper in April with no followers or authority. I planned to write a book about metrics first. The reason is simple – I know my metrics, but I’m not a growth consultant or a SaaS owner. Starting with simple info-products would have bought me time to grow my reputation at the same speed with my products.

Then I just happened to stumble into a problem/pain that I knew I had expertise to help people with. I didn’t stop to think if I had the authority to actually sell the product. And if you aren’t selling something trivial then you’d better have something to prove people that you know your topic. Teaching people about the topic does the job, but it requires time.

I didn’t think to worry about my authority because SaaS Compass doesn’t rely on my knowledge on how to run a SaaS. It just points out where the improvements would help the most – leaving it up to the SaaS owners to evaluate how easy or hard different factors are to change and what the actual decision should be. But the harsh fact is, people would be so much more at ease if they knew that I had actual experience in running a SaaS business.

All’s well that ends well

If you have a product that people want, mistakes can be fixed.

You can fix your marketing, you can build your authority and you can even pull a sales page down and re-launch it with a proper launch sequence. But none of that helps if you failed to create a product that people want.

Fortunately, I reached my launch goals even though I did all these mistakes (and more!). Now after the blues has gone, I’m proud of what I’ve achieved and I know that next time I’ll do even better.

I’m currently working on a small (free) beginner’s course on metrics. I also want to improve SaaS Compass with 12-month CB-LTV chart and finally start building my own SaaS. Yay! I’ll be also going to MicroConf Europe. If you spot me there, please come by to say hi!

PS. Check out Amy’s comments on this in HackerNews discussion

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    4 comments

    1. […] If I tried to wait until everything is perfect, I would have gotten nothing done. Changes occur. Mistakes happen. Embrace them. I can only do what I am currently able to do. The tenth time is very likely […]

    2. Great post, I’m currently working on my marketing strategy and I never thought to engage so much before launch. Working on a nice graphic depicting why my solution is perfect for educators.

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