We’re launching our app Hollerback in a few weeks and with any new app or site launch there’s an interesting question: To hype or not to hype? By hype I mean launching with press, tweets from influencers, marketing, promotion, getting featured on the app store, etc. The full-on “our app is the next big thing” hustle out of the gate. Of course, the goal of launch hype is to get people so excited about your app that there will be a rush to download it and you’ll shoot up the app store charts. Hell, maybe even buy some downloads and juice the charts and make it seem legit?
From there, users will be in love with the app, the thinking goes. It will live up to the hype. All will be grand. “Bring me a goblet of wine and the head of a pig!” we’ll say. Valuations will rise. Riches will follow. Universes will be dented.
If we time everything just so and the product and viral loops hit just right, we’ll just take off! All we need is some launch press and buzz.
It’s tempting. But we’ve decided not to do it. Here’s why.
Growth vs Engagement
Some might think hype increases user numbers and therefore makes fundraising easier. While hype does lead to larger early user numbers, it will hurt your percentage of daily and monthly active users because people are just checking it out rather than sticking around. Savvy investors look to more than raw user or download numbers.
You can raise a seed round with either of two metrics: user engagement or user growth. Engagement is a factor of the product while growth is a factor of time and money. Products are hard to get people to use. Contrastingly, time and money are just resources (and what investors are good at providing). If either metric is looking great, you can make a strong case for your product’s viability and future promise.
Growth can accelerate with time (and marketing) if real engagement is there. While there are varying schools of thought, our perspective is that engagement can promote growth but growth itself does little for an individual user’s engagement.
Accordingly, we’re optimizing for early engagement over early growth.
Hype only has downside
The unfortunate truth is that hype doesn’t make products succeed. We all know that. Too much hype makes great products seem good and average products seem terrible. There are graveyards full of companies because press and friends exclaim the product “didn’t live up to the hype” and was correspondingly discarded.
And therein lies the true problem with hype: Hype kills evangelists. Hype turns product-loving early adopters into jaded skeptics. It turns users from curious explorers to jurors deciding a verdict.
This app raised how much money? Pssh. It’s not that well designed.
Their investors are who? Hmm. It’s kind of buggy.
Their cofounder is who? Huh. Idea seems played out.
Really, the last thing a start up needs to do is set a bar of expectation too high for itself. Start ups are already under-resourced and in most cases under executing on one or several fronts. Even the best new companies have to simplify the user experience considerably for their first version.
Hedge your product bet
Here’s the argument for going hype-less for initial release:
If your product hits with your demographic out of the gate, phenomenal! Start marketing it. Start spreading the word as aggressively as possible. Start running.
However, if it turns out there are a few kinks to work out, you’ve saved some public scrutiny and avoided bad user experiences. No one knows about your app. No one cares about your app. You still have a largely fresh slate with the early adopter community. It’s all (relatively) still good.
When you don’t impress your early users with the product, you can impress them with your customer service and feature improvements. You can build relationships with your early users (because there will only be a few) and turn them into future evangelists.
The beauty of waiting for your product to gain some traction before marketing is that you already have a core user base. Not only is this important for word of mouth, it’s important for your company to internally know that you’re building the right thing. It can set your direction. It’s honest usage that’s not diluted by drive-by downloads.
Focus on getting your product to level “Wow”
It’s incredibly difficult to make products that make people say “wow.” It takes time, feedback, and tweaking. Doing all that behind closed doors, or even with a group of testers, is extremely risky. Instead, focus on getting something shipped that early adopters (for your market) are going to use and potentially love.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t be pushing to make great product from day one, it just may take some time. By the time it tips past early adopters, it should be surprisingly great. When something is surprisingly great, people will talk about it. They will become advocates for the experience and the product. They will be your evangelists.
Most importantly, they’ll explain to their normal friends why they should use the app. That’s when your product had potential to go from tech app to cultural force. That’s when you can demand your goblet of wine!
Focus on getting your product to “wow” and hopefully your users will be all the hype you need.
As I mentioned, we’re releasing Hollerback in a few weeks.
When we do, we won’t be buying downloads to climb the charts and we won’t be announcing it on Techcrunch. You probably won’t see any “influencers” tweeting about it for awhile.
We do think it’s an experience that will make you say “wow.” But before we market it, we want to prove people are excited about what we’ve built first.
So if you’re a lover of technology and experimental new apps, we’d love to have you try Hollerback when it’s ready. It’s like a party on your phone.
Leave us your email here: www.hollerback.co