“5 Steps to Launching a Product” Cloudflare Head of Products Jen Taylor (Video + Transcript)

The vision of exceeding sales, establishing credibility and successfully launching a product is no small task, especially when striving for that perfect introduction into the world of consumers. With so many articles, investors, and outside opinions, the true, simple tasks of launching can get lost in the noise. In this session, Jen Taylor, Head of Products at Cloudflare, will share her expertise and teach you to forget the noise, stick to the basics, and use 5 easy steps to turn that idea into a reality.

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Jen Taylor | Head of Products @ Cloudflare

FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW

I’m Jen Taylor, head of product at Cloudflare. And I thought I’d go ahead and get us kicked off and talking frankly about one of my all time favorite topics. So I spent the better part of my day working with engineering, marketing, and design to build products. But the thing I’m truly passionate about is launching them. Because especially in a SaaS business, leveraging the launch moment to grow and drive adoption and engagement is critical. If you step back and think about it, in a SaaS business, what you’re really trying to do is drive awareness, drive adoption, and drive recurring engagement to keep and grow that revenue stream. And so using the launch moment and using that as a way to really facilitate that adoption is critical. And that’s a big part of what I’m going to focus on today.

First things first, where I see teams go astray. It’s about when you start thinking about your launch. Teams tend to go astray if they wait until the very bitter end. This is a software development process for those of you who may not be familiar with it. Where teams really go straight, is they sort of like, “Great, we finished coding it. We’re ready to develop it. Okay, I’m ready to push it live tomorrow. Let’s engage and write some marketing message and push it to the website.”

Not going to work. If you really want to leverage your launch moment to drive adoption in your business, the best time to start planning your launch is actually when you have decided you’re going to build the thing and you’re in the process of working on your requirements because you’ll be amazed as I go through how many of those requirements are going to tie intimately into how you think about develop and deliver that product.

Next question you need to ask yourself. Okay, I know, I know what I’m going to build and I know what I want to deliver to my market. Now, what kind of launch is it? Is it like a big bang, like big sizzle, juicy one O like headline making moment for me? Or is this a more incremental moment? Is it a Beta release? Is it additive capabilities and functionality that I’m adding to my product? Again, in a subscription business, you’re going to have both of them. For the sake of your sanity, your team’s sanity, and frankly also your customer sanity, you need a healthy combination of both over time, right? You’re going to wear everybody out if it’s constantly like everything’s a headline, headline, headline. Also, you want to make sure you take advantage of the opportunity to have some of those more quieter moments and to really expand and deepen the relationship.

The next thing to think about is when do you want to launch it? Do you want to basically make a moment out of it? Or do you want to build upon and leverage on a moment that is already there? Now, in terms of making a moment like the classic make a moment opportunity is like, “I’m going to put on my black turtleneck, and I’m going to stand up with my iPhone and I’m going to launch it to the world.” But those moments are actually few and far between. Those events tend to be expensive and difficult. And often more difficult for startups to create at scale because they tend to be expensive and you may not actually have the audience that you can pull into a room directly.

But you can’t think about making a moment in other ways. So one of the ways we do this at Cloudflare is we actually just did this few weeks ago. We bundle a bunch of our launches into what we call like a week. We did speed week recently. We took a bunch of our smaller launches and bundled them up into a moment around a central topic. And then we did a lot of community outreach to effectively create a moment and create visibility and awareness.

The other way to do it is actually leverage a moment that already exists. And this is great, especially for younger companies where you may not yet have awareness or attachment with your audience. You might want to look to a moment where there are things happening in the ecosystem that will pull your audience towards them. So, for example, if you are working with a developer audience, do you want to do something a JS conference. Are you trying to reach those developers? That would be a really good time to do an announcement and have a moment. Again, sort of think about what is the balance, how do you want to invest, and how are you going to be able to reach and engage your audience?

Okay. Now I get to my five steps. Those are my cheat steps ahead. Really if you think about what you’re trying to do here as you launch your product, is you really want to help take your customers on that journey. You want to go from the moment of being able to drive awareness all the way through to the ability to retain and grow that customer. I tried to get my design team to make this a circle, but it didn’t happen. So this is a circular experience and I’ll talk about more of that towards the end of the presentation. But imagine a circle.

The first step is driving awareness. And when we think about launching a product, this is typically like the classic moment that are basically like, “Okay, I need to write some messaging. I need to create a website. I need to get out there,” and like this is what I need to think of on a launch. Yes, you need to create this, but a couple things to consider. Make sure you step back and think about like who’s my customer? What’s the problem I’m trying to solve? How do I articulate that value proposition and that solution in the language of the customer?

One of the things I’ve noticed specifically we struggle with at Cloudflare is we’re a bunch of old nerds with social skills. And we’ll go way deep down into the technology, and oftentimes I go right over the head of the customer. So be very thoughtful about the tone, the approach, and the way you’re talking about actually solving that problem for that customer. The second is, whenever possible, leverage the community to help you tell that message for you. The example I like to use here is if I tell you I went fishing last weekend and I caught a fish and it was that big, you guys were like, “Oh, it’s kind of interesting.” But if somebody here in the front row said, “No, no, no. For real. As I saw her fishing last week and she’s a mad woman, she caught like a mako shark, it was huge, it was amazing,” my story starts to create more weight and more credibility.

So to the extent that you can find people who will help you articulate the benefit that you’re delivering to your customers, leverage that. Never shipped anything before? Brand new company? Think about how do you leverage your Beta customers? How do you leverage your early testers? How do you get those testimonials and those value propositions? Don’t have customers you can talk to yet? Think about what are some of the statistics and value propositions you can ascertain from what you’ve been able to tell. For example, we anticipate you’ll have a 20% performance gain as a result of this. Again, the value proposition, really compelling. You want to hook them and get them in.

But the next thing is once you’ve actually hooked them in, and this is what … Part of the reason why you start the process so early, is you want to make sure that when you create that awareness, when you make that investment, whether you’re putting money on the table to buy ads or an event or you’re spending your own time and energy, you want to make sure that as you’re taking those moments to drive awareness, you can enable your customers to take action on the information directly.

And this is often one of those times where again, that hook into your product organization and your product development process is critical because you want to make sure if you’re a brand new service, please come sign up now, the signup flow is up and it’s working. You want to make sure that they have an opportunity to jump right in and seize the moment.

This actually is one of the most critical successes for SaaS launches and one of the ones that I often notice that people really struggle to remember. It’s like your design team is going to convince you that they are better artists than Picasso and that they have built the easiest, most intuitive product ever known to man. And that may be true. But don’t risk it. What you want to make sure is that once that person takes action in your application, in your experience, whatever, they have an opportunity to get started and be successful immediately. And this is that tipping point where you’re really converting that I’ve acquired the user and now I’m trying to think about how I get some modicum of adoption to kind of engage them and lock them in.

Some things to think about here specifically as you’re thinking about your development process is how do I have simple, easy guided flows? How do I help users get started? How do I onboard them easily? What sort of product documentation and tutorials can I make available? How can I make it easy and intuitive? How can I help them achieve their top three value propositions, the things I was telling them I’m going to do for them? How do I help them achieve all of those things in less than 15 minutes?

My main suggestion on this one is test it. Because this is the other thing I’ve noticed specifically for us at Cloudflare when we’re moving fast and we’re trying to launch something, sometimes we get so caught up in our own ether, we write documentation for ourselves and we’ve skipped steps. So this is a great activity to enlist everybody’s parents and grandparents and stuff like that to actually test the onboarding flow, test the documentation, test the getting started.

This is also another critical one and one that I think is also requires a great deal of forethought and training upfront, which is make sure you have resources to help your customers get successful. Because again, if you’re thinking about what you’re trying to achieve with these customers and with these launches, you’re trying to drive awareness, adoption, engagement, and retention. And support is often a critical opponent for retention. So again, think about how do I provide different types of support for the different types of customer experiences. What types of customer supports am I at scale to provide?

Fairly easy. Provide some documentation, some scalable sort of one to many resources like knowledge base articles. But also make sure that if you decide, you’re like, “You know what? We’re going to put a Slack channel up. And if customers have questions, they can just post to the Slack channel.” Make sure you staff the Slack channel and make sure you have that SLA and you follow through, because again, this is part of the engagement and the experience that customers are having with you and their company.

Other critical thing is to remember like many of us are small. We may not have support organizations. That’s okay. Just make sure you have a team or staff or somebody who can actually pay attention to the questions that’s coming in and can route them. Also, make sure that the people who are paying attention in routing these products, projects and questions understand and know the products as well as they need to. Again, because these are going to be the representatives and this is going to be the glue between you and your customers.

Okay. So congratulations. You’ve launched your project. You’ve gotten it out into market. People are using it. Now is the time to think about how do you continue to deepen that relationship. And if you’re lucky and successful, you’re going to continue to ship incremental things as you go.

But the way I like to think about my customers is they’re like my friends who live at a distance. My friends from university like to keep in touch with me over Facebook. My friends of mine from elementary school like to get my Christmas cards. And other people actually like me to call them every once in a while. It’s important to understand a little bit about your customers and how they like to engage and to have a variety of different mechanisms and channels and to experiment with them.

Expect the unexpected. Launches are intense and exciting and emotional times. But it is for this very reason that I think it’s critical for everybody at the outset of a launch process to clearly define the criteria for what we’re trying to achieve, what we’re trying to do from a product perspective and a market perspective, and to have consistent check-ins on how we’re proceeding to that goal.

Other thing I recommend is have a decider. Decide who the decider is because in the moment that you actually have to make a hard call about like, do we slip the launch? Do we go with this without this feature? Is the bug count okay? Is the marketing okay, but it’s not local? You need somebody who can help you crisply and cleanly make those decisions.

I also recommend highly having a plan B because more often than not, there are going to be aspects of that plan B that you’re going to have to pull in. And that’s okay. I mean, again, the most important thing is you have, one, that you have launched, and two, that it’s successful, but most importantly that the team knows how to do it.

The other one that I didn’t include on this slide that I was thinking about this morning as I was brushing my teeth is, this is like super tactical but really valuable and something I’ve learned the hard way time and time again. Create a little bit of buffer from the day that the engineering team says they’re going to be done with it and the day that you want to push it out to your customers. Just saying. Sometimes things slip. Just give yourself a little time and space.

Okay. How do you know if your launch has been successful? Well, ideally you’ve set out at the beginning with some goals and objectives about what you hope to achieve in terms of the blast, the radius, the attention and the market you’re going to be able to drive. You probably set some goals for yourself in terms of how many … what the conversion rate is going to be and how many people are going to sign stuff up.

Instrument all of the things. We live in an era and a world where so much of what we do, we’re able to actually literally calculate and we’re actually literally able to measure against those. And people were like, “Well, can’t you put down what your conversion funnel is and show them?” It’s different. Frankly for us, for each of our different products, we had different goals and objectives. Some of the projects that we launch, we launch as a result of trying to frankly build a better internet and launch new protocols at scale and it doesn’t necessarily convert to revenue. But we definitely have other projects where it’s like, actually, we were looking at this one to drop some cash, so let’s see how it goes. So the funnel and the metrics that you define are going to be unique to your goals and your business and the importance of the product to you.

The important thing though to remember in this moment of the quantified life that we all live in is don’t forget the opportunity to do a retro with the entire team. I think of launches as basically learning experiences again and again from the team. And I think it’s often really important and powerful to bring together those cross functional teams to debrief and talk about what went well and what could go differently. I’ve been amazed at how much insight and innovation we’ve seen in our launch process from people who aren’t necessarily in the core of it, but have been seeing it on the edges, been a part of our community and have been able to help us hone and drive it.

If you’re successful, this is hopefully what your life looks like going forward. You start, you launch one product. Nice job. Get your first went out. Then you’ll have an incremental release, another incremental release. Maybe launch a second product. Part of the reason and the purpose of the point I’m trying to make here is thinking about how do you start building a launch machine within your organization and using this, using every launch as an opportunity to experiment. Try different things, big bangs, little bangs, incremental making those moments. But again, there’s this pattern and there’s this ongoing rolling cadence that is critical to the long-term success of your business.

But don’t forget. Again, every time you take your customers on a journey, you want to take them through that moment of driving that awareness to driving that of the adoption and growth and deepening of the relationship you have with customers. Launching products is a very exciting but often emotional time, and so partner closely across your organization to really make it a success for your customers.

Published on August 22, 2019

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