Soft Launch vs Hard Launch for a Startup

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

When dreaming about the launch of their first app, an aspiring tech entrepreneur would visualize it as a lively party that draws the line under the product development stage. No judgment. Doing so is good for lifting your spirits when you get tired of chasing success. However, from a practical standpoint, it’s important to keep in mind that the startup launch is as much hard work. It’s rather the beginning of your story than the happy end.

One of the first steps to a successful app launch would be to stop seeing it as a one-time event. Even mature companies now tend to release their products gradually avoiding big-bang rollouts.

It seems that more and more businesses are choosing soft launch over hard launch to bring new products to the market. Let’s do a quick run through the difference between the two approaches and get one step closer to building the right launch strategy for your startup.

What is a soft launch?

A soft launch is a test drive of your app that precedes the official launch. This approach involves releasing your product to a small audience (up to 100K users) with a little marketing push. It allows you to see how the product performs and improve its product-market fit before taking it to the target market.

A soft launch of your startup would require you to reach the inhabitants of a particular area or create a community of early adopters. For this, you would most probably run locally- targeted marketing campaigns on social media or gather a group of beta users via beta platforms or similar communities.

The mechanics of the soft launch varies depending on the niche but the main goal of it remains the same. You need to expose your product to people, whose behavior patterns, welfare, and mentality are close to those of your potential customers, see whether it resonates and sticks with them, and find ways to improve its performance.

Why do a soft launch?

A soft launch would give you an opportunity to mitigate your business risks and make sure your product is viable. You might decide to soft launch your startup before the official release in order to:

  • Test pricing and business model
  • Estimate product KPIs and improve performance
  • Track in-app metrics and optimize the user experience
  • Find and fix bugs before the official release
  • Change or rollback features users don’t like or don’t need
  • Refine onboarding mechanics and improve user engagement
  • Test marketing channels and optimize user acquisition
  • Gain positive reviews, case studies, and testimonials
  • A/B test communication strategy: ads, copy, calls to action, etc.

If done properly, a soft launch will result in creating a stable and sustainable product.

What are the main pros of a soft launch?

A soft launch gives you an opportunity to start with a minimum viable product (MVP) and finalize it through a proactive conversation with your first users. You get the privilege of fine-tuning your product in response to the real needs and expectations of users. This may help you optimize the cost to develop your app. At the same time, you avoid exposing your app to the most promising category of potential customers until it’s fully developed.

What are the main cons of a soft launch?

The main objection against soft launch concerns the fear of losing time and giving competitors a chance of winning the main market first. The risk is real if you have competitors following the me-too product development strategy and can replicate your product fast. To avoid this, you should protect sensitive information from leaking and do your soft launch shortly before the official release.

Anyway, even if you start small, a successful soft launch will lead your startup to a harder launch. The day will come when you’ll have to create some buzz around your product and open the floodgates allowing your customers to come in full force.

What is a hard launch?

A hard launch is about creating hype around your product. This approach involves releasing a fully-fledged product to the entire target audience with a lot of marketing effort. It allows you to capture a larger audience and make the maximum impact to get good sales traction on day one.

Hard launch can be a good strategy for mature companies operating in competitive industries. Having a good reputation, big budgets, and proven techniques at their disposal, such companies can do a hard launch for every new product leaving their competitors with no chance. Still, doing a hard launch can be an option for a small startup that relies on the assistance of expert mentors and marketing agencies.

What are the main pros of a hard launch?

If your niche is oversaturated, doing a hard launch can be a good way to ensure your product wins the market sooner than the competitors’ ones. The hype around your product can help you boost sales and get a huge competitive advantage from the start, which raises your chances of getting a return on your investments more quickly.

What are the main cons of a hard launch?

A hard launch campaign requires long preparation, significant investments, solid go-to-market strategy, and confidence in the quality of your product. If you don’t deliver what you’ve promised, it can cost you money and reputation. That’s why a successful hard launch is possible only when you have a complete and thoroughly tested product, optimized processes, and strong sales, marketing, and support teams that can cope with the explosive growth of your customer base.

Takeaways

“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” — Reid Hoffman, Co-Founder of LinkedIn

Hopefully, Reid Hoffman’s words will encourage you and help you take out some fear from launching your startup. If you are not 100-percent confident in your product, you can opt for a soft launch as a go-to option for tech startups striving to minimize risks. You can launch your startup with an MVP and turn it into a stellar product even if your team is small. To make it happen, you should let the early adopters be your co-creators. Seeing that your product becomes better and contributes to their own success, they’ll become your brand advocates. Their case studies, reviews, and testimonials will come in handy during the official launch of your startup.

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