Long before your startup hits the market, you must begin laying the foundation for its eventual success. This is by no means the most attractive part of founding your own company. But if you want to survive past the development process, then you’ll need to earmark a good chunk, if not the majority, of your time to researching and securing the distribution channels that will best reach your target audience.
Whether it be social media campaigns, a solid organic growth strategy (including app store optimization), or carefully picked influencers, finding the right distribution channels is basically a lot of trial and error. This can be boring and frustrating, but this is your product’s lifeline and needs to be constantly nourished.
It’s tempting, especially for those who are new to the startup scene, to focus 100% of your efforts on developing a minimum viable product (MVP) and worry about nailing down distribution channels later.
Instead, follow the strategy laid out by Eric Ries in The Lean Startup, which postulates that the path to a successful startup is a 50-50 split: You need to spend an equal amount of time on MVP development and distribution.
If you follow this advice, your chances of failure will decrease significantly. Yet, as the CEO of a web and mobile app company, I have seen many first-time entrepreneurs blatantly and recklessly disregard Ries’s 50-50 rule with dire consequences — including me.
A few years ago, when we were was still a relatively young and small company, we started working on a multifaceted dating app, The Game. Tinder had not yet launched, and the market was burning up with dating apps targeting every type of segment.
We wanted a piece of the action. We essentially wanted to be Tinder before Tinder existed. We likely could have achieved that goal, had we not spent six months in development and almost zero time on marketing. We had done a little PR before the launch, but certainly not nearly as much as was needed. The Game failed. In the long run, we sold the app to a longtime client.
If I were to do it over again, I would cut development to two months and focus primarily on distribution. You can always make improvements to your product later; what’s most important is getting it into the hands of the users.
Users will give you the feedback you need, but you have to reach out to them first. This is harder than you might think. Everyone – including the marketing team – is excited and full of ideas about how to make the app stand out, which features to add, and which color buttons to use.
This is where things can go terribly wrong. You won’t know ahead of time which distribution channels are going to be useful, so you need to start plotting a course of action in tandem with development. Sadly, there is no way to fast-track this process, nor is there a magic manual that’s going to tell you exactly what you need to do to promote your product. Marketing centers around trial and error; it also requires a lot of patience.
You will likely have either time or money limitations. If you have a budget for 10 months of life, then consider releasing your MVP after just one month of development. You aren’t going to get everything right the first time around. In fact, you’ll likely have to make a lot of changes once user feedback starts to roll in. You might even have to start from scratch.
Here’s the good news: By releasing your MVP after just one month on a 10-month budget, you are essentially buying yourself nine more months of trial and error. Put another way, you’ll have nine more months to get to know your user base more intimately.
Don’t lose sight of the 50-50 rule during this critical timeframe. Fixing the bugs is no doubt important, but so are your distribution channels. An early MVP release to the general market will help you zero in on your target audience and give you a better idea of how to craft your Facebook, Twitter and Youtube campaigns.
After wiping out with The Game, we did not give up. We learned many valuable lessons from that app that we applied while developing a gay dating and social networking platform, which was released after just two months of development.
Dating apps were – and still are – a dime a dozen. What really sets them apart is their content; the product is the users themselves, which makes distribution doubly important. We struggled at the beginning with marketing and nearly pulled the plug on this one, too.
But then we discovered the power of Twitter campaigns and app store optimization, which helped us optimize our app through keywords in its title and description, boosting its app store search result rankings and ultimately leading to more downloads. After our user base grew, we added a YouTube influencer to our distribution channels, which lead to more than 15,000 downloads.
It takes more than tech know-how, cash and enthusiasm to pull off a successful startup. I like to tell clients that you are only as good as your marketing team. You can have the best idea in the world, but if you don’t invest in distribution, then you might as well flush it down the toilet.