Self Sabotaging Your Product Launch

My good friend and fellow entrepreneur Tim left a really good comment on my last post. Here’s an interesting excerpt:

No matter what the data says you ALWAYS have doubt and the doubt increases significantly the closer you get to launch – a fear of the unknown is only natural. What makes this even more complicated is that just before a big change or launch and immediately after is when you really have to bring your A-game. During this stage you will work harder than you’ve ever worked before and you will see the least amount of reward. You’ll experience exhaustion, enormous emotional ups and downs, you’ll be physically drained, mentally spent and it’s difficult to keep this pace up.

THAT is what makes launching a new site an experience like no other.

Over the past five or six months, I’ve busted my balls on LockerPulse. It’s something I really believe in. It scratches my own itch – it improves my experience as a sports fan. However, without having a live site, you don’t get the natural feedback to know that you’re going in the right direction (which is yet another reason why you have to launch as soon as you can). It’s an intense grind.

Then you launch the site. We did a pretty low-key launch, but stuff still went wrong (which is yet another reason why you should almost always do a low key launch…). We tell everyone we know, we want lots of feedback. The majority of the feedback has been positive, especially from the serious sports fans, certainly enough so that I know we’re going in the right direction.

But some of the feedback can be really disheartening, even when people are trying to be honest. They criticize your hard work – sometimes it’s their first thoughts and they haven’t had the time to really explore the site, sometimes it’s a flat out difference of opinion, sometimes it’s because they don’t understand the constraints of your project (in this case, things like presenting stories from almost 1,000 different sites or not being able to use logos because of licensing), or sometimes they don’t understand what will make a great, profitable site in the long-term. I have a pretty thick skin, and almost everyone is well-intentioned, but it still can really sting.

Inevitably, one or two of the things people say will really eat at me. Certainly the mental exhaustion of the project exaggerates this. Of course, since the site is new, traffic is the lowest it will ever be, so you start to question everything you’ve done. It can make you go insane. Again, from experience, I knew all of this was coming, which is why I have a 30-day rule inspired by the 37Signals One Month Tuneup: no major site/business changes for 30 days. We can fix technical issues (and believe me, I have been), but nothing more. No deviating from the original business plan. It’s too early. As a person who cares deeply about the project, I’m too likely to over-react.

The crazy thing is, I know all of this is coming and it’s still impossible to prevent. When you pour everything you’ve got into a project, it’s impossible to meet your highest expectations as soon as you want it to. I was sort of half-joking when I posted that hand-drawn chart The Web App Launch Emotional Rollercoaster, but it’s 100% true from all of my experiences.

And for the most part, I’m relatively calm and even-keeled, and I’ve got really good people around me. If I wasn’t and I didn’t, and I didn’t have any experience launching a website, it’s easy to see how this whole thing can really snowball on you and you can self-sabotage your business before it even gets off the ground.

12 comments on Self Sabotaging Your Product Launch

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Ironically, I read that article less than 5 minutes after publishing this post. I agree with most of what he said, but I’ve never dealt with “haters” at the level he has so a lot of it is foreign. 99.9% of people who have ever suggested something to me have done so in a nice, fair, respectable manner.

  1. Rob says:

    Adam,

    great post. You’re becoming really, really good at capturing the emotions involved in running a business and product launch.

    Everything you’ve said is so true – it’s amazing how fresh the feelings of worry, self doubt and uncertainty are every time you launch a new product – re-reading your post from http://www.adammcfarland.com/2007/09/06/di-up-completely-and-utterly-drained/ shows that you seemed to feel very similarly then.

    First, I know that I was one of the people who suggested a change to lockerpulse. I’d like you to know that it wasn’t the first thing I thought of when I saw the site (the first thing was “f*ck yeah, this is awesome!” followed about 3 seconds later by “Yahoo is going to buy them”). I thought quite hard before sending the note as I was worried that you might think I was being negative / criticising your months of hard work etc. If this is how I made you feel, I’m sorry; it was not at all my intention. I think it probably wasn’t anybody’s intention who left you feedback – everyone really, really wants to see you succeed and have the best product possible and it’s just people’s opinions on how to make that happen. I’m sure you know this already, but it’s also very much ok to disagree with feedback if it isn’t congruent with your vision – it takes a large amount of integrity but if you can ignore feedback that you don’t agree with and isn’t helpful then that’s a strong trait.

    One of the things I’m most impressed by, and that I think has so far been overlooked, is how you managed to balance developing this with your current commitments. Keeping DI and the other sites running in the background, even improving sales, shows a great team working together, on independent projects but with a joint vision and that’s not something to be sniffed at. You’ve got a great team Adam. I know we often only get your view of things but I’d like to congratulate everyone else in the team for their hard work – whether they were directly involved in LP or keeping DI etc. growing in the background.

    Also, time to update the timeline, whoop! :-D

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Thanks for the kind words Rob.

      “I thought quite hard before sending the note as I was worried that you might think I was being negative / criticising your months of hard work etc. If this is how I made you feel, I’m sorry; it was not at all my intention. ”

      No need to apologize. That’s why I almost didn’t submit this post :) I didn’t want people to take it the wrong way…however I also wanted to capture how I felt while I still felt it, because I won’t feel like this in a few weeks and I think it’s an important side of the process to show.

      Your feedback was great and I did not at all feel that way about the emails you and I exchanged. The fixes you suggested for lower-resolution screens is the only thing we’ve implemented so far that has come from someone outside of our core group. I owe YOU a Thank You for that.

      Also, I’m not sure how it appears in the post, but in a lot of ways I’m more critical of my interpretation of people’s feedback than I am of the feedback itself. Nobody honestly said anything “bad”. Everybody was very nice about the way they said anything critical. And I want them to be honest. Still, honest feedback is sometimes hard to receive when you’ve built something out to your vision and other people don’t completely see the vision. Or, when people want to be “arm chair business owners” because they don’t have a business (friends and family tends to be more like this, not people who read my blog). I think Greg and George did the best job at receiving and replying to feedback because they were a little less involved than Mike and I.

      I will update the timeline later today as well :)

  2. Dave says:

    Adam – I know that I gave feedback looking for the things that could possibly need improvement….so definitely keep that in mind…when asking for feedback, people are going to look for things they don’t like, even if it may not necessarily bother them had they just been using the site.

    As I mentioned from my feedback, the site functionally works amazing and I find myself logging in and staying up to date on my favorite NFL teams…whereas in the past I would have never kept up. I can credit LP to keeping me in tune now :)

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Haha thanks Dave. I always appreciate your honest feedback because you have such a good eye for design and aesthetics.

      That’s a really good point about feedback. I never really thought of it that way. Out of curiosity, do you (or anyone for that matter) think that the best way is to get feedback is to ask for feedback specifically, or is there a better way to phrase it so that people are less inclined to focus on the things they don’t like right off the bat and more inclined to just give you an honest opinion. I’m not talking for when I ask you or Rob or Tim or anyone that runs a web business. I’m more referring to when I ask friends and family who aren’t as tech savvy but still fall into the target market of the site.

  3. Dave says:

    I think the best way to learn what you can improve is to get a focus group basically. Get your friends and family on a computer with you there and have them use the site…maybe even give them tasks…see where they look for things, how they use things, etc. Tell them to think out loud when they use the site.

    You can also try a service like this:

    http://www.usertesting.com/

    Dave

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Good idea Dave. Ironically I did that back in the day with SportsLizard but haven’t done it lately. Maybe I’ll try to get a group of people together for LP. Heading to my parents house in a few min. My Dad has been full of suggestions so it’ll be interesting to see how he uses the site in person :)

      I have considered using user testing sites like that too, or subscribing to ClickTale and watching what users do. Something I will add to my LP to do list.

  4. Rob says:

    I think feedback in general is negative. Look at how hard companies like Amazon etc. have to work to get positive product reviews – if someone has a bad purchasing experience then they’re really eager to tell someone, but if they have a good purchasing experience that’s what is expected, so why would they? It’s only if they have an absolutely-wonderful-oh-my-god-i-love-them experience most people are going to tweet/blog or leave a review. I think it’s the same when people are asking for feedback on designs or websites.

    If you ask someone to find something wrong with something, they will, even if there isn’t really anything wrong. They’ll try super-hard because that’s what they think you want. Feedback seems to imply that you want people to find faults and report them to you so you can improve, so a different way of asking should be found. One way is to ask for 3 positives and 3 negatives, another way is just to sit and watch how people use the site, or use your analytics. Early stage with so few data points you can be swayed heavily by single opinions though, which is why the ideas from 37signals is such a good one – you shouldn’t be changing major things about your site with only a 1-person focus group!

    If people know they’re product testers (like on the above website) then I don’t know how that might skew the results. Presumably only a certain type of person would sign up to be a tester, meaning they are reasonably internet savvy. Is your target market internet savvy?

    Maybe round up some people and ask them to use the site to do specific things and watch how they try and accomplish it.

    As LP is further along in the iterative development cycle now and you have your first customers you can use them/us as beta testers and analyse your stats and clickthroughs in the same way you would when developing any website.

  5. Adam McFarland says:

    Really really good points Rob. I’m glad this discussion broke out. I will definitely change the way I/we approach “feedback” in the future. I like the idea of combining small focus groups with ClickTale to watch how people use the site more so than asking them how they used the site.

  6. [...] out some problems that I wanted to try to fix sooner rather than later. I do feel a bit bad about my feedback rant because I neglected to mention that, despite it being difficult to hear, a lot of it is very [...]

  7. [...] the site goes live and I feel like this for a little while. Then I realize that I’ve got to get back to a more “normal” [...]

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