Course  Startup School 2019
July 22, 2019, Mountain View, CA., USA
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Kat Mañalac - How to Launch (Again and Again)
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About speaker

Kat Mañalac
Partner at Y Combinator

Kat Manalac was Chief of Staff to Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of reddit, before joining YC as its Director of Outreach. Prior to that, Kat was at WIRED Magazine where she managed brand and strategy. Kat has a BS in Communications from Northwestern University.

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About the talk

Topic: Business

YC Partner Kat Mañalac presents on how startups should think about launching and why you should do it repeatedly.


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I'm too manalac. I'm a partner at Y combinator and one of the things I help Founders you a lot is prepare to launch. That is what I'm going to talk to you about 6, so I want to change the way you think about launching. So most people think about punching as something that you get one shot at but I so for example, I just talked to a team that's been preparing to launch for 6 months. They were only trying to get every Pixel Perfect on their product before they shared it with everyone and now they are stressing over every line on their landing page and you know, they're trying to line up

everything right with time. But if you're like most startups that you will launch something no one will care and if it took me six months to get there your stop is probably going to be dead before you get another chance to launch. So in the same as heard of spirit at always be shipping. I want you to think about launching a thing you can continually do I want to destroy the idea that launched it is just One Moment In Time because assuming you do well and assuming you ship new products and new features, you are never going to not launching. So let's talk about

all the way that you can launch a different opportunity to launch that we're going to go through today. I'll go through each of these except press launches. I'm wheat have done a previous start lecture on press launches and I'll share a link to that and some resources over a most of these are things that you should be doing while you're in startup school still talk about first why you want to continue with launch sit before you even have a fully functioning product you get a chance to practice your pitch and you can refine it you can a be tested and I see how

people actually respond to the idea and then once you have an MVP or you know, very early version of your product, I'm launching through different channels will give you an opera. I need to see how people will respond to that early version of the product, you know, and then launching two different channels will help you determine whether you're even talking to the right users because you know, you might want on one channel and get no response. You'll want another Channel and you'll get huge response. And so that will help you identify whether you know, you're identifying to write

user for which building. So let's talk about some of the types of lunches and that you can do while you're in start of school and I'm excited to hear that, you know a thousand of you have launched so far since the start of startup startup school, that's incredible. I clicked on 10 random start of school companies from Founders who posted on the Forum and only about half head landing pages. So this is what I called the silent launch and you do not need anything fancy for this, you know, all you need is a domain name your company name short description a contact in a call to action

example. This is a random part of school company that I found most founder who posted on the form their company is They have in a domain name. They have their company name. They have their you know, short one line pitch a short description and they're called actin witch is dead and touched the call to action can be something like you're subscribe to our newsletter or subscribe to hear more when we launch product hunt for example has an actual product for pre-launch companies called ship and it's a way to collect potential interest from potential users to for example,

this is something called designer school and it has a quick intro from the founders a short description of what the company does and call to action which is subscribe. So, you know, you can go on product hunt and set up one of these pages. But of course, you can also build your own landing page incredibly quickly and easily in this should be something if you don't have one yet that you do this weekend. So the next thing is the friends and family launched. So if you're an idea stage, you can test out your short picture on family and friends and see how they respond and once you have MVP

do a friends-and-family launch as quickly as possible. So in its earliest days read it was shared just among the founders of their batch at YC, you know, there were only eight companies over there really small community. I use the Wayback machine to actually see what read it looked like in its earliest days. It hasn't changed that much. But if you look closely at this is actually before they called up both up boots. They were calling it boosts the 2005 and July so that's how they got their very first users to share it among their community of Founders. And so

you know, what I recommend you do is share the product with your friends and family watch the music, you know, sit down next to them and ask for feedback, but don't stay in this face for too long because your friends and family might not be the exact right ideal user for your product or what you're building. I do sometimes their feedback isn't quite as helpful as a real users is so for example, you know, if Alexis and Steve had showed it to their parents their parents might have been like what the hell is this? Get me to get out of that little family and friends circuit as fast as you

can until the next move would be to launch to strangers. So one of my favorite examples of a y c company launching launching to strangers is a company lug sole Ugg is an app that lets you call movers and delivery people on demand. So even before lughead build a fully functioning app or product they would rent a truck and they would go drive to Ikea and they would sit outside of Ikea so they would watch Shoppers and they look people who were having a particularly difficult time time stuff to the top of their cars and they'd run up to those customers and a tail. Hey instead of trying to tie

this your mattress on top of your car. Would it be cool if you could just push a button and someone with a truck would come and help do this for you? And your the customers would be like sweating and if you like, yes, that's exactly what I need at this moment. And you know, they did they download the app. They click the left button and then the founder would run back to the parking lot. I'm up in his truck and then that the custom be like, oh my God, it's you and they were like, it was a real hustle at the beginning like this was working on the back end but it really confirm for them. This

was a hair on fire problem for their users and customers and so they decided it make sense for us to really build this out and spend time on this product. That's so will help do that for you. It will help show you whether people are actually willing to download and pay for what it is. You're building an online community. This is actually one of my favorite ways to launch. I think you should plan a launch for every single community that you are part of it. When a company goes through y combinator. They have the option of launching on Bookface before they launched publicly. So I'm book

face is our internal platform at YC. It's like Facebook Meats Linked In with Cora and there are currently over 4,000 and other Founders on Bookface. So it's a fairly low risk way to launch cuz it's not totally public but there are Is enough of an audience there to get some feedback on your launching in front of you know, fairly friendly people who you know want to see you succeed. And so they they launch their and what I think you guys are particularly lucky because you have start of school and you've the start of school for him, which about 40,000 Founders are on. So if you have an

early version of your product, there is literally no reason that you shouldn't be wanting to the start of school community in the next few weeks. And so, you know, I also think that Sounders and other people making in building stuff they give the best early product feedback. I'm sure you have thousands of other Founders at your disposal. So I think that you know that this new kind of gives you a life peer here's a sort of extreme example of a company that successfully launched an online communities. Some magic is an on-demand personal assistant when they started in y combinator in 2015,

they were actually building a blood pressure monitor and app so they were trying to get this Blood Modern app to grow and it wasn't growing as quickly as they were hoping so they decided to test out another idea that we had so they sent a link around her friends and family and it just goes like this. It's basically said like Texas phone number and we'll make anything happen like Magic. Mike was very very basic and their front one of their friends thought it was so cool that they shared it on Reddit and Hacker News and basically overnight with over the course of a weekend 40,000 people signed up

at to use magic and so of course they were like, oh my God, this is crazy and and lets you know, let's be honest. This is an extreme case and almost no one who watches on Reddit and Hacker News is going to get 40,000 years is overnight. But my point is it's definitely worth putting yourself out there because you know, you might be one of those like extreme cases, but at the very least you'll get some early users and you'll get some great feedback. I'm so many of these structures that go through. I see launch on Hacker News and product hunt. We overtime of looked at. The stats of how

well these monsters convert to you know, TechCrunch launch versus the product launch versus a Hacker News launch and in terms of converting to users, you know, they're starting to even out in terms of their impact didn't end conversion for you know, whether it's you know, your sign ups or you can bring to customers. So if you're launching in these communities aren't active members of these communities yet. My suggestion is that you spend a little bit of time looking at the communities you understand the rules, especially if you're if you're posting to subreddits, right? They all

sort of had their own moderators have their own rules understand the best way to talk to these communities and if it's a community that's known for being helpful ask for advice ask for feedback. If you're not part of these communities, I'd reach out to someone who is and ask them for advice ask him for the best way to launch because they're going to be tips for every community and you know, for example one company in this batch. You know what building something that he wanted to get more need a woman's perspective and they're going to mail Founders and one of the uses of Elsa which is a

community for women in Tech said, hey, I'll post that to you know for two for you and all I'll tell you what kind of feedback they got. So I recommend like connecting with someone in the community and asking them for help. If you're not part of the community yourself, the biggest piece of advice I have for lunch online communities is right like you talk to not talk like a marketing robot people hate that so don't use marketing language or deep Jardin talk like a human when you're when you're dressed in the community. So all you need in these, you know, when you introduce yourself in these

post introduce yourself talk about what your building talk briefly about why you're doing it or how you came across the problem people on Hacker News for example are super intellectually curious. So are there any interesting insights that you've learned from talking to potential users or users? Is there anything surprising or delay? People that you could share with the community could people love that and they also want to ask you questions, but sometimes don't know exactly how or which questions I should ask you to Tee It Up for them say hey, I'm an expert explains and I'm happy to answer

questions on these topics. Otherwise you rest people going down all sorts of weird rabbit holes. But so and just make sure like that you're sort of this community asking and asking them for advice and try to cut down as much of the Jardin and marketing as possible out of these pictures. Add a request for Access launch the magic story that that I shared with you actually reminded me of this other type of want you can do. So when magic launched, you know overnight they got forty thousand people signing and of course, they couldn't serve 40 thousand users immediately. So they launched

a wait list and they also gave people wasting skip the line. So for example, if you tweeted about magic you get note skip a few spots in line, so you can build these viral elements into your launches that will help get people to spread the word for you. One of my current favorite examples of this request for Access launch is superhuman who superhuman is building a better email experience. So you can go to their site here and request access and you can also ask a current user to refer you and then that'll help you skip the line so in the signature of all emails that are sent by

superhuman users is a little tag that says sent by superhuman and so I'm a superhuman user and I get a ton of emails. I sent a 10 out of of my emails out to people and I get a ton of smells asking me for a referral since you know people I am email say hey, how did you like superhuman? Would you mind referring to the product? I'm so if you have a product that you can build a sort of viral element into I highly recommend it. Do we don't have a huge amount of time? Cuz I obviously social media and launching to bloggers is a huge long and well cover topics, but I I

wanted to skim them and give you an example of a company that we worked with it. Did it very well as most of you know launching to popular blogs that cover your industry or trade can be incredibly powerful to Joy's a free wedding website builder and they were one of the fastest growing companies in their batch and a lot of their early growth like an alarming amount of there really early growth was due to being placed on a number of less like this. They essentially Google's they looked at you no ser and a Google do, you know best wedding website Builders and figured out who was coming up

on, you know, the first couple pages of results on Google and they reached out all those bloggers and you know, they said, hey, we have this new product, you know, we think your community would love it. Would you be willing to added to this list and they they said that they reached out and basically did a drip campaign 2 / 50 50 bloggers and only got responses from 4, but those four responses made a huge impact for the early growth. And so one note that I want you to keep in mind is that some bloggers and influencers opportunities are paid to play and

joy did not pay early on and I do not want you paying or lie on either if folks are asking you to pay please find other or creative roots to get around this because I start up since early say shut up. You just don't have you don't have the money to do it. And so I'm is definitely possible to go this route without paying a ton of money to figure out, you know around the expensive for sponsorship dollars. If you're a hardware or physical product course, you can do a pre-order campaign. So, you know honestly behold presentation of its own

but take a look at some successful campaigns and get a sense for how they Del Taco Grand strategy, super simple sheer text with the company NYC that was making unbreakable sheer pantyhose the founder Catherine made a great for the compelling video. She launched on Hacker News where you know Hacker News is probably you know, it's a very male audience so we were curious how how they would respond to something like sheer Pina unbreakable pantyhose, but they loved it. I thought it was very clever. He thought you know, the technical peace behind it was really interesting and you know, so I would

recommend like any company try to launch in and see how different communities respond time. She wants a product hunt. She asked her friends and family and batchmates and industrious to help spread the word and she didn't credibly successful campaign. And so of course, there's a new feature or new product line launches to two very different companies that do this incredibly well are stripe and glossy to both companies are incredibly smart about how Launch new products to stripe is always been great from the very beginning and they've been really great at engaging the

community. So every time they launch a product. So for example, when they launched stripe Atlas, they launch a hacker news and the founders were in the thread talking to all you know tencel users and and talk about the product and why they're launching it. I'm the problem that they felt it was Solvang they blogged about it. They spread the word on social media that they pitch press and this is something that they do over and over again. If you look at Stripes blog, if you look at Hacker News, you can kind of see the history since the beginning they've been very great activating the

community which is Beauty Brands is incredible at launching new products in the way to think about it is actually very scientific. They released on a very specific Cadence at specific intervals and every product they essentially hit every single launch button again, and again to community social media press advertising through each time. They new product launch of just basically like every 6 to 8 weeks. They have the cycle going. So there's a constant drumbeat about glossy a out in Uno out in the world one. Last note before we jump in the questions is while you're in

start of school. You should start to build your own communities and you this you can do this even really pretty product. So there was one wifey found our daddy. I brought him who is Founders to Metreon really particularly successful TechCrunch launched a tech crunch much is a story about what they were doing watching Tech Crunch, and I noticed that they had a ton of shares a ton of Engagement. So I asked him to share. You know, how did you how did you set this up? What did you do to share and spread the word about your lunch and he said that over the years even before launching a product. He

started to build his own email list. So every person he met that he discussed to start up with even, you know, even very Loosely he would add them to an email list and they would get Email updates about what he was working on a semi-regular. Like I said my regular intervals. So when the TechCrunch article came out, he said he sent that email to the list full of all the people that he'd you know, he taught ever talk to other startup Founders investors friends family and asked for their help in spreading the news and he said the response was significant and he's even

saw VCS who had invested in them sharing the story from their own personal Twitter accounts, and he said, you know, you would be really surprised by who comes out of the woodwork to help when you asked for it. So I would recommend while you're in start of school and you have the opportunity to talk to so many people about what you're building and then start and ask them. Hey, can I add you to my update list and overtime, you know that you'll get that into a hundreds. Maybe maybe even thousand I'm so I would definitely recommend that you start doing that now. Until

just some up I want you to stop thinking about launching as this one moment in time. I don't want you to spend all of start of school getting ready for this one big day this one bit launch day that you're kind of line up. All these things for this is something that is a continuous process that you can do over the course of the next couple months and and into the life cycle of your company. If you didn't catch him the first time these are all the opportunities that we went over and I'm cat. So if you ever have any questions it's coming up so I might be slightly slower than usual to respond, but

you can always reach out to cat at Y combinator and I'm also on Twitter. With 10 minutes per question. So does anyone have any questions about watches? Yes the red shirt. Vs. Christian is what do you think about watch parties? I mean as an early-stage startup, I wouldn't I wouldn't necessarily recommend you spend a ton of money right back in the day. I don't know what like back and I work at Wired Magazine right out of school and people were spending like tens of

thousands of dollars on these elaborate launch parties and it's bananas and I would not recommend anyone do that. But at the same time with you if you want to have something small and you know, if the especially if you have a community and you want to celebrate, you know, I'm no sure why not but I would not spend a ton of money on lunch party is wouldn't do it, but I'm not going to stop you want to do something smart and and fun. in the front did that and the question is if you have different ideas and you're trying to test out different ideas or different approaches to solving a problem.

How do you recommend launching a 10 and so, you know, I think you could definitely say you have two different ideas and you're trying to kind of what industry just really quickly. Okay, so do I would say this is a case of like where it's really important to talk to your users really quickly. So it was so getting in front of you know, potential customers in your launching to not just friends and family but potential customers and asking them what what it is they want. What's what approach do they think would help them best and and getting those like talking to customers getting in front of

those users as quickly as possible will help. Which direction to go in but that is a case where I definitely think it's it's better to to launch sooner and even just need a pitching the idea to your customers. What kind of spot campaigns have better results. That's a good question. So the question is if you were launching on Hacker News what types of companies are better suited to watch a Hacker News B2B consumer. Deadpool's suit The Hacker News Community

it is, you know, a lot of fiber smart technical people, but if you would be surprised so I'm I would recommend you go to if you go to news. Y combinator. Com / launches, you can see less or even show hn you'll see a list of all the companies / launches will show you a list of all the YC companies that have launched show hn is is all General companies that has heard of shared with their building on a John and I think you'd be surprised by which companies get the most upvotes. So I'm one of the top by sea companies of all time that launched on Hacker News in terms of upvotes and and

engagement with a company called 70millionjobs and was a solo non-technical founder building a company that would help get people on your permanent record than we had previously been in jail connecting them with jobs. And the community really loved what what sound was building and asked a lot of questions and really really really engage so I know when I've asked this question to The Hacker News moderators there like, you know, I always thought in a sort of before I talk to them that devtools right like something very technical. Would you fasten Hacker News and they said that's absolutely not

true. If you actually look at the numbers all sorts of companies do well and what does really well on Hacker News is really lean leaning into the intellectual curiosity. Like is there something really interesting that you've learned from your user is that you can share with the community. Is there something surprising or you know that they might not have heard elsewhere. And so that's that's one recommendation. I'd have there is it doesn't matter what industry you are but really try to speak to the community in a way that wall. Connect with them and then I would look at previous ones

that have done well and see how they describe themselves and how they kind of TWP the community to start asking questions ranging really depends. So I'm what I would recommend with you target subreddit that is very specific to read. It has a lot like me and the different subreddits on every single topic so you can find subreddits on YouTube TV shows all the way to like Fitness and took men's fashion advice and history Buffs and and to what I would do is I would figure out what is the subreddit that you want at Target

first and then that the demographics are going to be different depending on what subreddit you go after but of course, it's like on average. It's probably like younger male audience even somebody that likes only women are part of so it really depends one more question in the green. What's your thought about? What was in that mean that's homepage with a short boyfriend having a lower case with my stuff. Keep it short. Yeah, I think I mean I think it for your landing page you wanted to be really clear what it is

your building and who it is your building for but once you know start getting you know into too much detail, I think it can get really it can get money or confusing and you can you can certainly add a little bit more detail than just that but I would keep coffee really tight. Like people people's attention span of a really short these days and I think it's if you can kind of you have a huge Community here to help you ABS at messaging and that end. You know that front page copy so I but I would recommend to keep it as short and succinct as possible. Okay?

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