Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Anna Andersone from Froont, a tool that helps design responsive websites right in your browser. They have gone through a lot in this past year and she wanted to share what they have learned with ArcticStartup Readers
This is the story of how we launched and got to 40K registered users and 65K projects created using FROONT in exactly a year since last Slush.
The Big Question: When Do You Launch?
Launching a product is hard – you work on it for a year, and it never feels quite ready, but everybody talks about this ‘launch as fast as you can’ thing. It makes sense – you can validate your assumptions with real users, the team becomes motivated as they see somebody is using what they are building and it helps prioritising tasks. It is true, except when it is not. You should launch as fast as you can, but not sooner than that.
FROONT is a tool to design responsive websites in the browser in a visual way resulting in interactive designs the users can share with their clients, by sharing the URL, and test for various screen widths.
Although the concept is very simple, most people we talked to before launching believed that it sounded too good to be true. Our MVP had to be way more complicated than a simple working prototype with a drag and drop interface – we had to deliver much more to convince people that we aren’t just another WordPress or bad Photoshop.
While we were in Sauna we thought that the best thing to do would be launch during our demo day at Slush – all investors would be on to us and it would be easier to explain what we are all about. Digging a little deeper and looking for successful launches during big events we realised that unless you’re a Facebook, most probably press will find something more interesting to talk about. There is no chance that our half-baked product would be more interesting than new Jolla phones so we decided to improve our pitch instead. This was definitely a good call.
There is another catch – It is hard to convince blogs like TechCrunch to write about tiny-beta launch of an unknown product just because it is their demo day.
While in Sauna we already had our closed beta – people would leave email addresses and we would send them an invite. So we decided to let the list grow and let them inbit by bit, around 20-50 users per month.
Not of minor importance, in Startup Sauna we met the great guys from Inventure, who saw the value in our vision and joined us with an investment, that allowed us to form a bigger team and work non-stop on developing the product and launching it for public use.
This led to our first media mention on ArcticStartup and drew the first significant traffic to our site and got some valuable sign-ups, and generated positive awareness of Froont and trust around us. Afterwards we got interview requests from local media, better ranking on Google, mentions on Twitter and general presence in the digital media.
The Date Was Set: May 6th
Finally on May 6 we decided to launch mainly for two reasons: to motivate the team by showing that we are building something people actually need and to accomplish a milestone for the investors.
Our goal was to get on TechCrunch and HackerNews, so we asked around some friends who did that before and got introduced to Steve who covers product launches from Europe based startups. First we read the tips on pitching stories to him, then Sandijs sent him our press release, they had a Skype call, and after a week we ended up having a date when the article goes live, which you can check out here.
A tip when working with press: make sure to create some great images of your product and double-check that they are using those. Sometimes, if you leave space for interpretation, you’ll end up having old logos, weird screenshots or something unexpected.
The Growth Curve
So we prepared as much as we could – built a static landing page (in case servers go down, which was a great decision), we read some articles what traffic to expect and, although there was a feeling that we were still not fully ready, we went live.
First day we got 8.5K unique visitors, second day 13.6K, third day 10K and so on.
At first the traffic came mainly from TC and retweets mentioning the post, soon GigaOM and other blogs picked it up, then later it moved to blogs in China, Japan, Russia, and several design blogs all over the world and pretty much all week we had around 100 people sitting in our website all the time. Although we had some problems with our database, servers held up pretty well. As a result this is what we had after 3 weeks: 70K unique visitors, 16K Signups and 22K Projects created, 23% average conversion rate from visitors to sign-ups. Plus 1000 likes on Facebook and over 1000 tweets and retweets.
– Definitely prepare to measure everything your users do and be prepared that you might exceed your current plans, as it happened to us with Mixpanel, when we exceeded the data points in the free account and had to move to paid one to get our data. Get as much useful data as you can process, as later it is easier to prioritise what to fix first. We used a lot of services we got for free at www.f6s.com for all of that.
– Prepare a lot of coffee as you might need to stay up for couple of next nights.
– We didn’t do that, but, even if you aren’t charging yet, it is a good idea to have purchase buttons already in place to simply measure how many people are clicking them and get an estimate on how many of them would be interested to pay for your service.
By the way, we also ended up in HackerNews, but not in a way we expected. Our plan was to post something there after our TechCrunch launch, but somebody did it for us. If you read the comments you can see, that headlines like ‘Keep the developers out of something’ aren’t the ones that work there. Our suggestion – come up with a good headline and post it there yourself. In beta launch case something like ‘We worked hard for a year and look what we made’ might work better.
Besides a few mistakes it was a very successful launch for us.
So what do you do after launch?
After launch we continued on developing the tool, following the feedback and improving the most critical and needed assets of the tool. During the summer we kept a low profile and did no external communication, except minor news on our service performance improvements. Despite that, some media was still picking up our site and tool and we got some more followup reviews and additional users were signing up continuously, which has led us to having 40K registered users and 65K projects created with FROONT to this date.
The next most important step in customer development is working on improving retention, and this became our main focus. It should be any services’ main focus after any number of users is acquired. To work with our users, we have started an approach of monthly newsletters, strictly focusing on useful information about the tool and its news and this has been working precisely as planned, the number of returning users is increasing weekly.
Our next plan is great performance at Slush and launch of payments for private projects.
Editor’s note: If you have any questions for Anna, feel free to comment below or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.