The Essential Guide to Growing Your Early-Stage SaaS Startup

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Chapter 6:

Launching Your Product and Getting Traction


The market you enter with your SaaS business will likely be populated by companies that are more established and better-funded than yours.

To stand out, you need to understand how you fit into the overall picture and articulate what makes you different and unique.

SaaS product launch

Know your competition

Unless you are doing something truly game-changing and disruptive, when you go to market you need an understanding of the competitive landscape. Just like we suggested in our chapter on branding, you can start small by asking your current or prospective customers what alternatives they have tried or considered, and what they like and find valuable in your competitors’ products.

Just because someone has more funds than you, it does not mean their product is better, or that their business will be sustainable in the long run: but you still need to be aware of their presence, and be able to anticipate their actions and reactions.

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Underestimating the competition is why Snap’s growth flattened and its stock dipped below its Initial Public Offering (IPO) price. It’s what led Yahoo and Microsoft to lose web 1.0 to Google, and Apple to lose the voice-assistant game to Amazon.

 

Dan Kaplan

Founder at Exponents

When Hotjar arrived on the scene in 2015, a few larger companies were already occupying the analytics and feedback space. We chose to take a unique approach by developing a data-sampling engine to collect data evenly throughout the day from randomized visitor subsets—which enabled a cheaper pricing model. These clear Unique Selling Points (USPs), together with our promise to be an ‘all-in-one solution’, resonated with prospective customers who were struggling with data overload, expensive tools and/or fragmented information.

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Always deliver value

When you launch, your mind might naturally gravitate towards wanting to make the proverbial million dollars. Resist the temptation—move away from chasing money, and re-frame your mission in terms of creating value for a million customers instead.

Don’t let the big number distract you: start small with creating real value for your first 10 customers, then for 100, and move up like that. If you do a great job, your fans will bring people in for you, and money will naturally follow.

This is what counts as creating value:

  • creating a smooth onboarding process, for example by sending step-by-step emails to help users get the most out of your product;
  • taking a phone call if your customers have a problem, and emailing back when they ask you a question;
  • making it a priority to be transparent, for example by notifying users of downtime, alerting them to pricing changes;
  • publicly apologizing for mistakes you made and inconveniences you created.


Being 
responsive and helpful and using a personal touch is how you can potentially beat larger, better-funded, or more established competitors.

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You will need a launch strategy

Don’t be fooled into thinking that you can just ‘show up’ one day and be found: a lot of companies inhabit the same space as you and compete aggressively for attention. There is a lot of work behind-the-scenes of a successful launch, from conducting market research and building relationships with influencers in the SaaS space to preparing press assets and refining your product UI and UX. 

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Case study: Marker.io launch


Gary Gaspar and his team launched Marker.io, a visual communication tool, back in 2015. Being featured on ProductHunt within a month made them think they had ‘arrived’, but they were far from it: they attracted about 20 upvotes and 2 comments (...one of which was Gary’s).   

For the second ProductHunt launch, the team worked relentlessly. They made a very detailed action plan, sharpened their product visuals and copy, built shareable documentation that included a demo video—and only then did the hard work pay off: Marker received 600 upvotes and around 3,000 new signups over the course of one month.

 

Marker’s publically shared ProductHunt launch plan

 

Failing to prepare can be a costly mistake, which is why we invested months into getting ready for the launch of a new Hotjar feature, Incoming Feedback. Being at an earlier stage in your growth, you probably won’t have the budget and staff to replicate our entire process, but knowing how it works will give you an understanding of the available options. These are just some of the things we prepared for the launch:

  • A shared team roadmap (posted below) so we all knew what would happen and when, 9 weeks ahead of the launch date
  • An in-app message + email announcement for our existing users
  • An introductory post on our blog
  • Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn announcements
  • New icons and headers for Facebook and Twitter  
  • A dedicated, 1-hour webinar led by our Customer Success team
  • A customer video testimonial
  • An explainer video
  • A step-by-step instruction manual to set up, launch, and use the feature
  • 3 Facebook ads + 1 sponsored Facebook post + 12 Adwords display ads
  • Two separate landing pages
  • A list of 15+ free distribution channels (Product Hunt, Hackernews, Reddit, etc.) to post on, based on this Promotehour list
  • A 1-hour long training video for the Hotjar team created by our CEO David Darmanin

The last 9 weeks of our Incoming Feedback launch project

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Get traction

From Blog Posts to PR to offline events, there are quite a lot of customer acquisition channels you can use to get traction—but just because they’re there, doesn’t mean you should use them all at once, or even at all. A few examples:

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and content marketing are great, sustainable ways to build a business and generate demand—but SEO takes a lot of time, and in the early days the amount you need to invest vs. the results you get is quite unbalanced (unless you have a piece of content that goes viral).
  • Pay-per-click (PPC) and display/social advertising can give you a much faster start, but they might also prove expensive in the long-term and difficult to scale.
  • Posting on established sites can help you reach your target market relatively quickly. For example, you can use Quora as a source of free and qualified leads. You can research questions that your product addresses, and add your content; you can also use it to see how users formulate the problem you are solving in their own words, which in turn can guide you when fine-tuning your SEO efforts and targeting specific keywords.

Early-stage SaaS startups generally have few resources in place, so start with the channels you think will work best instead of trying everything and spreading yourself too thin.

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Experiment and do small tests to find what works and what doesn’t, and double-down on what has proven successful. Knowing some crucial metrics like your Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) and LifeTime Value (LTV), and having a clear picture of what problems your existing customers are going through, will also help you find the right channels to reach new ones.

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Chapter Takeaways
  • Neither under- nor over-estimate your competition: do your research and be aware of who inhabits the space.
  • Resist the temptation of chasing money, and focus on providing real value to your users. You want them to become your fans and supporters, so they can help you spread the word.
  • Do not improvise your product launch: do your research, draft a plan, and learn the rules of the game (where to focus, and how).
  • Do not spread yourself too thin: as you get started, run small experiments and tests to find the 2-3 channels that will give you the most traction.