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Too soon? How to avoid a tech product launch fail. [Forbes]

By Gretel Going

April 14, 2017

This article, written by Channel V Media‘s Gretel Going, originally appeared on Forbes.

You have a disruptive tech product, an inspiring vision, and the team necessary to take it to market. What could possibly go wrong?

You launch your product before it’s ready.

Maybe you do this out of impatience – you’ve been working on your product for years and you just want to get it out there. Or maybe you’re a stickler for meeting arbitrary deadlines and operate according to the rule of “it’s never going to be perfect, so let’s just pick a date and stick to it.” Or perhaps you simply cave to pressure from investors, an overeager founder or board members. Whatever the reason, jumping the gun on a product launch can have serious adverse consequences on a company’s success.

Software and cloud-based tech products, in particular, are prime candidates for premature launches. By design, they offer creators the flexibility to make critical updates and fixes after they’re out on the market. And all too often, companies use this as an excuse to begin talking to media about their product before they should.

Having launched more than 50 tech products over the last decade, I’ve seen companies stumble into launch for all the above reasons, refusing to be talked off the ledge. The good news is that just as there are known reasons products fail with the media, there are known reasons they succeed. Tech companies can make informed go-to-market decisions — and effectively push back against internal and external pressures to launch early — by sticking closely to the following five guidelines.

1. There are no known issues.

Tech companies frequently launch their products with known functionality or user experience issues. (Remember Windows 8?) When asked why they’re doing it, typical responses include, “We’ll address it in our next upgrade,” or, “let’s wait to see what users say.” These responses are common from companies that simply want to avoid delaying their launch any longer.

Of course, the media’s job is to poke holes in your product as a matter of basic due diligence, so choosing to come out of the gate at a known deficit only ensures that reporters will question company leadership and decision making from the outset. Not only will they not cover your product, they’ll be skeptical and less receptive in the future. In laymen’s terms: You’ve shot your chance.

2. Your product is better than your nearest competitor’s product.

One of the first things reporters do when introduced to a new tech product is consider how it stacks up against other products on the market. Those who are most likely to write the most valuable stories about your business are also likely to be either somewhat or extremely well-versed on the market and existing competitors and will have the knowledge to push past basic soundbites.

You must be prepared to make a detailed case for what is truly new and different about your product, beyond the surface details. While flashy packaging and branding nuances might differentiate a shoe brand, tech fatigue leaves media cautious of covering products that don’t bring obvious value to end users or solve their problems in different ways.

3. Your product actually does what you’re telling media it does.

It often takes companies years to get to the point where they’re ready to launch, so it’s not unusual for them to be bored of talking about their product by the time they get there. Instead, they fall into the trap of focusing on their larger vision and future capabilities that don’t yet exist, even though the problem their current product solves now is interesting, innovative and mandatory to getting to their bigger-picture vision.

In the process, they confuse and distract media from their intriguing status quo. Just as quickly as they catch the media’s attention with their vision, they lose it when they share the actual product. Of course, their immediate solution is valuable on its own but falls far short of the inspiring vision of a product that doesn’t yet exist.

4. You have the minimum users necessary to showcase functionality.

You know your product’s the next “Seamless of [name of industry],” but getting reporters to know that too means letting them use it the way it’s supposed to be used. In the case of marketplaces, networks and communities, this means it must be at least somewhat populated. This can feel like a chicken-or-egg scenario to companies that are looking to media coverage to fuel user adoption, yet can’t get media coverage without adoption.

Some companies attempt to work around this is by building out a small-scale sample user ecosystem or a showcase profile for an individual user or vendor for use in media demos or desk-side briefings. Members of the media understand that a user base isn’t born overnight, but they do want to see a precedent for the technology at work.

5. You aren’t failing to deliver a good product just to be first to market.

Companies are often tempted to announce unrealized products as a way of staking claim to the market ahead of the competition. We recently saw this when Salesforce raced to announce its AI product Einstein ahead of competitor Oracle, who they suspected might announce a similar product at their upcoming Dreamforce conference.

Salesforce got a lot of media coverage, but now the media is watching their every move and misstep, including the fact that Salesforce is now partnering with IBM Watson to build the product they announced last September. Salesforce has hardly locked down the market by being the first enterprise solution provider to announce its AI: Other companies are now capitalizing on media interest with technology that really does deliver what Salesforce only promised.

Being first-to-market without the product to back it up is little more than paving the way for the competition. Those same reporters who wanted to believe in a groundbreaking solution are now on the lookout for alternative solutions that really can deliver.

In this supersaturated tech landscape filled with companies and products that will fail, there’s no margin for error. With a well-timed launch of a fully-realized product, a company can catch and ride the media wave to awareness and relevance. Launch before your time and, well, just don’t say you weren’t warned.

Gretel is co-founder of Channel V Media, working with tech and media companies to break into new markets or gain visibility in crowded ones.