Friday, February 18, 2011

Launching a new product - Beyond TechCrunch

At the January meeting of the Silicon Valley Product Management Association (SVPMA), Chris Yeh addressed the issue of Launching a New Product beyond TechCrunch.  Introduced as one of the smartest guys in Silicon Valley, Chris earned two degrees from Stanford University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.  Chris Yeh has been building Internet businesses since 1995. He has been a founder, founding employee, or seed investor in almost a dozen startups, and advises a wide array of startups ranging from network equipment makers to vertical search engines. Chris is the Vice President, Enterprise Marketing for PBworks, the world’s leading provider of on-demand wikis and collaboration software serving over 85,000 businesses, including 1/3 of the Fortune 500.

Previously, Chris was the first investor in and interim CEO of Ustream.TV, which provides an open and distributable platform for live interactive online video. Chris is also an active angel investor, author of the popular blogs, Adventures in Capitalism (, and Ask The Harvard MBA ( and the founder and Chairman of the Harvard Business School Technology Alumni Association.

Chris opened with the humble statement, “I don’t know if I’m the right guy to talk about launching a new product because product marketing and product management people (in the audience) have all kinds of experience in launching products… but what I do know a lot about is launching a product if you don’t know if there’s an established category, market, or even if there’s a business opportunity.”

Chris went on to pepper his presentation with first hand stories from his startup experience, including before Juno went public, and inviting Michael Arrington to speak on a panel about startups circa 2003/04 when Arrington was not recognizable and TechCrunch was unknown (and not yet sold to AOL).

It became clear that Chris was not addressing the tactical mechanics of how to gain headlines for a product you are launching, or even developing a strategy to bolster the launch, but most fundamentally highlighting the essential ingredients required to produce a viable product.  His talk could have been titled, “Find your Market first, and then develop the product.”  

Chris employed a charming, non-academic presentation style to point to the core distinction that people think marketing is about getting the headline in the Wall Street Journal or TechCrunch, when marketing is NOT about getting press.  Achieving press coverage is neither marketing, nor the causative action.  Marketing is the cause that affects the press to exist. Marketing is about telling an effective story.  He used the example of comparing Pixar’s A Bug’s Life to DreamWorks’ Antz movies to exemplify that Pixar knows how to tell a story that is compelling, entertaining, heartwarming, and effective to a young audience.

Salient Takeaways:
1. Start marketing before you build your product: Build the desire, sense that there is a need in the marketplace, and then fill that desire

2. Identify and develop relationships with key influencers: How long does this process take?  It depends on how much time you devote to it – do it part time, on the side, on the fly – 3-6 months to make a dent depending on how big a conversation you’re trying to affect.  

3. Build reserves of credibility you can tap later on

Identify Your Audience

Before you come up with the product or launch, decide who your audience is.  Who is your market?

1. Find people who are addressable – can you tell me what magazine or paper they read, what event they attend?  If you don’t know, then you don’t have a real market you can reach.

2. What are you telling them? What is your sentence going to be – sum up your product in one sentence – if you can’t boil down the story, more work needs to be done.

3. Why should they believe you? People think they can’t believe “marketing” because they’re paid to say things about the product.  

The Hiten Shah Secret

From Hiten Shah, the founder of Kissmetrics:
1. Be a nice guy that everyone likes
2. Build a product that everyone likes
3. Market before you build the product

Develop Trust

Develop key relationships before you have the product for trust and believability.

Slowly build overnight success: “Timing, perseverance, and ten years of trying
will eventually make you look like an overnight success.” --Biz Stone (Twitter founded in 2006)

Become Part of the Conversation

Get inside the loudmouths, the people who control the conversations, the early adopters, thought leaders. To get thousands of followers – try to find the people already in the conversation and become part of the conversation.  

1. Identify the key issues your startup touches
2. Become part of the conversation
3. Cultivate the influencers (follows & replies)
4. Produce (or borrow) compelling content
5. Build a need in the marketplace
6. Launch a product that fills that need, and only then can you
7. Print out the TechCrunch headline for your mom

How to market before you have a product?

1. identify key issues that the product touches upon - something that’s already out there that people recognize, become part of the conversation  - don’t create the conversation, participate in it and then steer it in the direction you want to go

2. Talk about things that already have interest, create compelling content, what excites you?  The headline says something that relates to you

3. Build the need in the market place

4. Launch the product that fills that need, satisfies a need in the market place

5. When you can do that, you can create a headline

To follow Yeh’s advice requires commitment and investment of time and focus to get to know the audience and become known by the thought leaders in order to engage in the conversation in the market place.  Only then can you build the trust and listening to steer the conversation towards distinguishing a need and then launch the product that fills that need.

Yeh’s direct and charming style presents this process as if it were a simple undertaking.  Simple? Perhaps on paper, but not easy.

Chris' slidedeck

Cindy F. Solomon, CPM/CPMM @cindyfsolomon is founder & co-host of the Global Product Management Talk on Twitter, a weekly chat on all things Product Management related. Each week a Product Management star is interviewed & leads discussion on questions posted at Mondays 3-4 PM PST  Follow @prodmgmttalk Search #ProdMgmtTalk

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