How we launched Chrometa, flopped, and then built traction by listening to our customers? How do you launch a new product? It’s a question we get quite often from friends and acquaintances–Which is kind of ironic, because our initial product launch was pretty lame and lacked any fanfare whatsoever.
So what did we do then? Here’s the story of our spirited efforts to get people to care about our product, an automatic time tracker app befittingly called Chrometa.
March 4, 2009 – Chrometa 1.1 Launches (But Nobody Cares)
We sent out a press release announcing our “First Automatic Time Capture Tool for Attorneys.” Fortunately, we didn’t expand our team to handle the anticipated barrage of phone calls and sales inquiries–because there weren’t any!
Did we have a product that people were willing to pay for? One month after launch, we weren’t exactly sure. We decided to lower our pricing for the sake of getting some market validation. We needed to see if people were willing to pay for our product before we did anything else.
June 3, 2009 – TechnoLawyer Covers Chrometa 1.1
TechnoLawyer is an online publication targeted at attorneys who want the latest scoop on legal technology. We thought it’d be the perfect advertising medium for us.
This initial coverage from TechnoLawyer (an email to their 13,000 subscribers, plus a blog post) was great in helping to get the ball rolling with product awareness in the legal community. We picked up about 25 customers from it too – and, more importantly, we solicited key product feedback from active users that showed us what we needed to develop and improve upon.
Our 1.1 release was a decent to good product – it wasn’t yet great – and without a great product/market fit, it was going to be very challenging for us to get anywhere.
August 5, 2009 – TechnoLawyer (Again) on Chrometa 2.0
We finished Chrometa 2.0 at around 3 AM Pacific time on August 5th – and just 6 hours later, TechnoLawyer released their coverage to their subscribers. We got more traction on this release than the one from two months ago, as we counted 64 installations, and even a few sales, within the initial 72 hours!
September through December 2009 – What Now?
By Labor Day of 2009, we’d been successful in rising above the noise and clutter, at least for a couple of shining moments. We were steadily gaining customers (up to about 50), and traffic and download action on our site was good through August. The product fit was much better with our new release and we were seeing the rewards of our summer development efforts.
Which was all great, but we soon hit a bit of a lull after the initial buzz wore off. So we tried to figure out: How can we keep excitement going for a product that’s very well received by customers, but is not inherently viral itself?
As much as we’d have loved to see our sales and adoption hit the “hockey stick” upwards, it was apparent that it wasn’t going to happen on its own accord. Our market (solo and small firm attorneys) and our product (personal time management software) are not going to appear in an upcoming edition of Viral Loop anytime soon.
There was no magic formula for us over the ensuing months to keep the ball moving forward. We just hustled as best as we could by doing the following:
- We called each customer after they bought the product. We wanted to thank them and make sure they were happy with us and our software. We also wanted to learn what they liked, and what had motivated them to buy. And we wanted to pick their brains a bit about how we should go about finding other customers like them.
- We reached out to other publications in the legal industry – bloggers, and anyone else that covered technology – to see if they’d be interested in taking Chrometa for a test spin. We never explicitly asked for a review, but these efforts did result in a number of product reviews. This also kept the ball rolling, and kept us in front of people who maybe didn’t try or buy the first time they heard about us.
- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we rolled out fixes and enhancements to the 2.0 release as fast as we could. Both to address bugs, and also key wish list items that we either didn’t have time to include in the initial release, or simply never thought of (there’s nothing like live customer feedback to guide your product development). Continued product improvement was THE most important thing we did over this time period.
January 2010 – Present (Branching Out)
Once we were reasonably satisfied with our visibility in our initial target market (solo and small firm attorneys), we began to reach out to bloggers who had demonstrated an interest in writing about time tracking tools previously.
Our Lessons Learned
- Focus on one, and only one, initial market. Otherwise it’s very easy and tempting to spread yourself too thin. If you’re trying to tackle a few initial markets in parallel, you’ll become frustrated if you don’t move the needle in any of them. It’s hard enough to move the needle in one market with a new product.
- It’s easy to get discouraged if things don’t ramp as fast as you had hoped. Grit and persistence do pay off. Especially if you are bootstrapping your efforts (as we did). Of course you want to ramp up adoption and sales in the classic hockey stick fashion–but it rarely happens this way in practice. As long as your customers are paying for your product–and they are happy with it after their purchase–you are doing fine. That means the fundamentals of your situation are good. And you just need to go find more customers–and that is very doable (easier said than done, but doable!)
- Buzz and coverage won’t necessarily make your business (but bad press could very well break it). We’ve been covered by major mainstream and industry sources and you’d be surprised with what actually has and has not moved the needle for us. One example I always use is our very first piece of media coverage, by none other than Inc Magazine. How cool, right? While it was very cool for us personally, our product wasn’t yet ready for prime time AND, the coverage wasn’t exactly geared towards a Chrometa prospect (since it was about raising angel funding), so the overall effect of this particular piece was somewhat smaller than you might expect. Whereas coverage in industry specific publications (such as TechnoLawyer) has really worked great for us. It’s tough to anticipate the effect a piece of coverage will have on your business – but I’d say the tendency for us optimistic entrepreneurs is to overestimate that effect.
Bottom Line: It’s very tough to get traction when you’re starting off. You want nothing more than for people to care about your company or product. You expected instant hockey curve growth, but you’re still struggle to get a few users. That’s OK – that usually won’t happen until you reach a tipping point anyway. Look at Twitter; they’ve been around for 3 years before I’d heard of it. Before every overnight success are hundreds of not-so-successful days.
Be patient, measure your progress, and focus on the purest fundamentals – namely improving your product, and keeping your customers thrilled. If you can get these two things right, the rest should eventually fall into place. Keep at it – you’ll get there!