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Startup School Winter 2020
January 20, 2020, Online, USA
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Kat Mañalac - How to Launch (Again and Again)
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About the talk

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

Transcript and lecture slides here: https://www.ycombinator.com/library/6i-how-to-launch-again-and-again

This lecture is part of YC's Startup School, a free online program and global community of founders. Register and join the community at https://www.startupschool.org/

Timestamps

00:00 Expect to launch more than once

1:14 Ways to launch

1:35 Why launch continuously?

2:32 Types of launch

3:50 Friends and family launch

5:05 Launching to strangers

6:28 Online communities

10:20 No jargon

11:30 "Request access" launch

12:52 Social media

15:35 New feature launch

17:02 Build your own community

00:00 Intro

01:14 Ways to launch

01:35 Why launch continuously?

02:32 Types of launch

03:50 Friends and family launch

05:05 Launching to strangers

06:28 Online communities

10:20 No jargon

11:30 "Request access" launch

12:52 Social media

15:35 New feature launch

17:02 Build your own community

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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I'm Camila, partner at Y combinator and one of the things I helped out as 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 lunching 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 six 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 their, your stop is probably going to be dead before you get another chance to launch do in the same. I've heard of spirit at always be shipping. I want you to think about launching as thing you can continually do. I want to destroy the idea that launching is just It's 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 and we'd have done a previous, start a lecture on price matches and I'll share a link to that and some resources are things that you should be doing. While you're in start of school. She'll 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 B test it. 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 and launching through different channels, will give you an opera. I'm ready to see how people will respond to that early version of the product launch in 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

the right user for what you building. So let's talk about some of the types of launches 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 the start of start of school, that's incredible. I click 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, a short description of contact, in a

call to action suit, for example, this is a random start of school company that I found was founder. Who posted on the form. Their company is They have a domain name a company named, they have their, you know, short one line pitch, a short description and they're called to act in which is get in touch. The call to action, can be something like you, subscribe to our newsletter, or subscribe to hear more when we launch a 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.

Super 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 the action, which is subscribed. 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 launch. So if you're an idea stage, you can test out your short pitch on family and friends and see how they respond. And once you have MVP do a friends-and-family watch as

quickly as possible. So in its earliest days read, it was shared among the founders of their batch at YC. Are, 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 and hasn't changed that much. But if you look closely, this is actually, before they called up, both up boats. They were calling it the 2005 in 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 want to 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 your building and who 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 and their parents might have been like what the hell is this? Can you get me to get out of that? Little family and friends circuit as fast as you can? And so the next move would be to launch to

strangers. So one of my favorite examples of a y c company launched. Its launching to strangers is a company lug-sole. Egg 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 looked people who were having a particularly difficult time, trying 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 needed. This moment, download the app. Click the button and then the founder would run back to the parking lot. In his truck and I got it to you and it was a real hustle at the beginning, like I was working on the backend, but it really confirm for them. This was a hair on fire problem for their users and customers. And so they decided it makes 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 a community. This is actually one of my favorite ways to launch. I think you should plan a lunch for every single community that you are part of someone a company goes through y combinator. They have the option of launching on Bookface before they launched publicly. So I'm Bookface is our internal platform at YC. It's like they stuck me to LinkedIn with Cora and there are currently

over 4,000, other Founders on Bookface. So it's a fairly low-risk way to watch 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 know, want to see you succeed. And so they they launched 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 so you have thousands of other Founders at your disposal. So, I think that, you know, that this new kind of gives you a life care, he was 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 helping. So they decided to test out another idea that we had. So they sent a link around her friends and family and it just looks like that. It's basically said, like Texas phone number and we'll make anything happen. Like magic was very, very basic and their friend, one of their friends thought it was so cool that they shared it on Reddit and Hacker News, and basically overnight. But over the course of a weekend, forty thousand people signed up to use magic and so of course, they were like, oh my God, this is crazy.

And, and let's, let's be honest. This is an extreme case and almost no one who watches on Reddit and Hacker News is going to get forty Thousand Years 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 them early users and you'll get some great feedback. I'm so many of these trucks that go through. I see launch on Hacker News and product hunt time of looked at. The stats of how well these monsters convert to, you know, it's a crunch launch versus the product, launch

versus The Hacker News launch. And in terms of converting to users are, 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 them 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 community's, 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 isn't ask them for advice, ask him for the best way to watch, 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 sure before you at 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 or self the biggest piece of advice, I have for launching an 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 talked 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, but just make sure liked that sort of this community asking and asking them for advice and try to cut down as much of you Jordan and marketing as possible out of his pitches. Add a request for Access launch. The magic story that that I share 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 40,000 users immediately. So they launched a waitlist 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, 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, a superhuman to superhuman is building a better email experience to. You can go to their site here and requests access. 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 super human and so I'm a superhuman user and I get a ton of emails. I'll send a 10 out of of my emails out to people and I get a ton of smells asking me for referral since you know people I knew email say, hey, how did you like superhuman? Would you mind referring to the product? So if you have a product that you can build a sort of viral element into I highly recommend it. So we don't have a huge amount of time cuz I obviously social media and launched into bloggers is a huge long and well covered topics, but I I wanted to

skim them break 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 there, early growth like an alarming amount of there really early growth was due to being placed on a number of life like this. They essentially Google's, they looked at, you know what, I see on the 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 me. Know we can get 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 for responses made a huge impact for their early growth. And so OneNote that I want you to keep in mind is that some bloggers and influence our opportunities are paid to play.

And joy, did not pay early on and I do not want you paying really on either. If folks are asking you to pay, please find other or creative roots to get around this, because I start up his early, say, shut up. You just don't have, you don't have the money to do it. And so I'm it is definitely possible and to go through a ton of money to figure out, you know, what routes around the expensive, sort of sponsorship dollars. If you're a hardware or physical product, you can do a pre-order campaign. So honestly be a whole

presentation of its own, but take a look at some successful campaigns and get a sense for how they Del Taco Bell on strategy. So for example, here text me the company NYC that was making unbreakable sheer pantyhose. The founder Catherine made a great for the compelling video because 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 unbreakable pantyhose, but they loved it. They thought it was very clever. They thought, you know, that 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. I'm, she want some product hunt. She asked her friends and family and batch mates, and investors to help spread the word, and she didn't credibly successful campaign. And so, of course, there's a new feature or new product launches to two very different companies that do this incredibly well, are stripe and glossy. A to both companies are incredibly smart about how They launched new products to stripe is always

been great from the very beginning and they've been really great and engaging the community. So every time they launch a product. So for example, when they launched stripe Atlas, they launched from Hacker News, and the founders were in the thread talking to all, you know, tensile 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. They pitch press and this is something that they do over and over again. If you look at Stripes blog, if you look at hackernews, 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, but I sat at 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. 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 inside of school. You should start to build your own communities and you this, you can do this even really product. So, there was one. Why's he found her Daddy ever on Whose Founders to Metreon particularly. Successful TechCrunch, Logitech 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 the product, he started to build his own email is 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 us 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. People that he did, you know, he taught ever talk to other startup, Founders and 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 account. 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 your 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 hundred? Maybe maybe even thousand. I'm so I would definitely recommend

that you start doing that now. So 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 your 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 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 not. 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 cat at Y combinator, and I'm also on Twitter.

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