Clarifying Misconceptions About the Big Launch

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Do you believe that your project should have an official ‘launch’ event. Sean Ammirati, author of The Science of Growth, explains that a single big, formal launch is not always what launches a company or project into the big league. It might surprise you to learn what really works. This is definitely something you should be looking at when you think about positive project risk. Enjoy…
Often, a founder’s core vision will be obvious in hindsight. But, when founders set out on their journey, their vision is often something that many don’t yet see. It is tempting to believe that success lies in finding a large enough platform or stage to showcase your solution. As students of lean entrepreneurship know, it’s not a good idea for your product to be launched with a “big bang.” I have found this solid advice.
This is sound advice for startups from the beginning, but it may not be as relevant later on. We noticed that many successful startups used larger events to increase awareness after they had completed the four prerequisites.
Many of these events later seem to be considered the startup’s “launch,” furthering the misconception that a big launch is a prerequisite to success. This is more evident in Twitter than in any other company we studied.
Since before Twitter’s breakout year, 2007, I have been attending the South by Southwest conferences (SxSW). Every year since 2007, journalists have been returning to South by Southwest (SxSW) conferences to discuss the next thing to launch at SxSW and to ask whether [insert company name here] will be the next Twitter. This is a great story for journalists, especially considering that Twitter is worth more than $21 billion. The SxSW Interactive Festival’s launch of Twitter has made it a popular story and has become startup legend.
It’s not true that Twitter was launched at SxSW. According to Evan Williams, Quora’s account of what actually happened (emphasis mine).
. . . Contrary to popular belief, we didn’t launch Twitter at SXSW. SXSW chose to blow it up. It was launched nine months prior to that. We were finally growing and it seemed that all our users, which were likely in the thousands, were going to Austin by the time SXSW 2007 arrived. To capitalize on the critical mass, we did two things:
We created a Twitter visualizer, and negotiated with festival officials to install flat panel screens in the halls. This is something they hadn’t done before. However, we didn’t want a booth at the trade show floor because we knew hallways were where the action was. This was a $11K purchase and we set up the TVs ourselves. (This was the most money Twitter has ever spent on marketing.
We created an event-specific feature where you could text “join SXSW” to 40404. You would then appear on the screens. If you weren’t already a Twitter User, you would automatically be following at least half a dozen “ambassadors,” also Twitter users at SXSW. This was advertised on the screens in the hallways. (I don’t recall how many people signed up in this manner, but I do remember that it was not very large.)
I don’t know which factor was most important, but networks are all about critical mass. So, doubling down on momentum seemed like a good idea. It worked.
We see a pattern in the cases where a product or service launches and then has a major event “to blow it up”. This is a common pattern. We started to look at these events as a “double trigger”. The first trigger was getting the product on the market and getting feedback. But the second trigger was the one that made the product explode.