This is a chapter from the book Starting & Sustaining which is a system to help you build and launch a web app with less pain and fewer mistakes. The entire book is free to read on the web.

You can also buy the book and additional resources which includes the digital version of the book, the audiobook, a playbook, and hundreds of dollars of discounts.

Launch day is overrated

Businesses aren’t made on launch day. They’re made in the months and years that follow. Slow and steady wins the race. Launching may be an emotionally significant milestone, but it’s important to keep it in context. It’s just one more step and another opportunity for you to improve your product. A great launch is nice, but a bad one isn’t a big deal.

So launch day is almost here. You’re coming out of beta, and you’re dying to let the whole world in the door. It could be a big day–or it could be just any other. There are two things to focus on: planning the day, and not worrying too much about what the traffic means. In some ways, you should really think of this as launch week.

A huge splashy launch with all the traffic pummeling the site at once offers few benefits but plenty of risk. Even if your servers aren’t brought to their knees by the load, there’s still the risk you spent all your attention on a site that may have undiscovered critical problems. Imagine if thousands of people were to hit your new website only to encounter a registration bug that sent half of them packing.

Whether you get ten thousand visitors in a single day or five thousand visitors each day for two days, you’re still looking at the same amount of traffic. But wouldn’t you rather have the inevitable avalanche of traffic, email, and questions spread out over two days than land all at once? Moreover, wouldn’t you want to get feedback and polish things before trying to make a first impression on everyone?

You can still have a big launch day. But have a plan to help spread out the traffic a bit. For starters, try not to share the news everywhere at once. How you go about it is up to you, but I’d suggest using some of the following so you can dip your toes in while leaving yourself some leeway to fix any unforeseen problems.

Low-Key Launch

Go live quietly, and do a smoke test. (A smoke test is a general suite of tests that makes sure every component in your system is working.) Triple-check all your key functionality. This final once-over will help you catch any critical last-second issues. Can people register? Can they submit support requests? Do all the primary links work? Once everything is tested–and fixed, if necessary–and when you feel comfortable, you can move on to the announcements.

Publish Your Blog Post

Unless you have a blog with a sizable following, this is a good way to tiptoe into the announcement. Unlike other mediums, a blog post isn’t likely to bring in a massive influx of traffic all in one moment. A blog post also comes in handy to use as the “more information” link that you send to people in your other announcements.

Announcement Email

Hopefully you’ve been contacting people on your email list long before launch day. You’ve sent out previews, and even tried out some marketing messages to help people know which of their pains your product is going to alleviate. For now, though, let’s focus on the launch day email.

Depending on the quantity of email addresses you’ve collected for your announcement list, you could start with this. If you have thousands of addresses, you might begin by sending the announcement to only a portion–this is your test run. Since recipients won’t all check their email at the same time, you should receive a steady flow of traffic, and that could help you uncover any issues that have been overlooked. Once you feel comfortable that everything is running smoothly, send the announcement to the rest of your list.

Let’s briefly talk about your announcement email. Remember that most people probably signed up to your list months ago, and there’s a good chance that they’ve forgotten what your product even does. There’s just as good of a chance that even if you’ve sent teaser emails, they haven’t read them. So your announcement email should clearly remind them what your product does and why they should care about it.

Social Media

Social media will probably play a central role in your launch. There’s always a better chance someone will visit your site if their friend or colleague recommends it. Take care to craft any social media messages so they’ll make sense even if someone were to see them out of context from the far end of a retweet or similar.

On launch day, you’ll probably see some high-quality traffic from social media. You’ll find that news on social media spreads faster but also dies down faster. So spreading it out and mentioning the launch a few times over the course of the week can help. With Sifter, the launch started off rather uneventfully until word began to spread through Twitter, and to this day, Twitter is still one of the stronger referrers.

If paid advertising is part of your launch strategy, I’d suggest holding off your advertising push until after your launch–I’d wait even a week or two. If you’re going to spend money to bring traffic to your site, make sure that everything is running as smoothly as possible. It’s one thing if free traffic runs into issues, it’s another thing entirely if you paid for traffic that’s blocked by bugs. Your launch day will probably be stressful enough–there’s no need to pile another thing onto your plate that day.

Aftermath

Don’t worry if your launch day doesn’t turn out how you expected. Remember, companies aren’t made on launch day. You’ve got years of work in front of you for that. It’s much better to think of your launch day as a personal milestone rather than some kind of contest to try to crush your servers under a stampede of traffic. Make it happen, but don’t mistake a slow launch for a failed business.

Support Starting & Sustaining

This chapter is just one piece of a much bigger puzzle. Starting & Sustaining is a complete system to help you build and launch a web application with less pain and fewer mistakes.

The Package

An illustration of the checklist, book, and spreadsheet.

The Audiobook

An illustration of Starting & Sustaining on a mobile device audio player.

The Book

An illustration of Starting & Sustaining on an iPad.
An illustration of an envelope with a wax seal.

Once-a-month emails Focused emails on SaaS topics like email, security, onboarding, pricing, and more.