Launch and Learn

now open sign, tempe town lake (pic 2)

When we launched Kitchen Table Companies, we didn’t do any market research. We started with the understanding that what we’d accomplished on Third Tribe Marketing could probably be offered to a small business crowd, and we found Joe Sorge to lead the community, and we launched. We made mistakes. We fixed lots of them, and we’re constantly on the prowl for ways to improve it more.

Launch and Learn

Have you ever heard of “lunch and learn?” It’s something big companies tend to hold for groups of employees, where you agree to get together, eat a bag lunch (or maybe order in some pizza) and someone will give some teaching from their experiences that will help the group. The idea is that people will learn something new that they can carry forward into their business.

What I’m doing with my business efforts all the time is “launch and learn.” The idea is similar. How am I going to gain the experiences to know what I want to do or not if I don’t test it in the real environment? Sure, there has to be some planning, but thinking about something is really different than doing something and seeing how it really works.

What do you do differently? Here are a few thoughts about how to launch and learn:

Launch And Learn Checklist

  • Live by execution; die by overplanning.
  • Write no more than a one page plan.
  • Shop the plan around to no more than 3 people for improvements.
  • Plan a test version of the offering, and plan to reassess after X amount of days.
  • What does success look like? (You might not know, but put a metric to this.)
  • Revise a few things. Launch again.
  • Give yourself no more than 2 smaller launches before you go real and go big.
  • Have real metrics in place to measure your success or failure.
  • Revise and tinker constantly.

Your Mileage Will Vary

Testing things is different to different environments. If you’re testing out new french fries for your burger joint, it’s easy to risk a few complaints, but you wouldn’t want to do it over a week. Testing things while flying a plane might not be a great idea. But testing things in your small business or even in your marketing isn’t a huge deal, if you keep your eyes on what you intend to do.

The big point is to keep iterating, keep working on it in the “live” environment as best as you can, and keep your eye on actual metrics that let you know whether you succeeded or not.

Have you tried this? Talk us through one of your own launch and learn experiences. (Remember, if you add a URL to your post as part of your explanation, it takes a while to clear the quarantine.)

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  • http://www.bloggingteacher.com Paul Cunningham

    I always admire your persistence Chris, it is very inspiring. You’re right, trying and measuring and then improving based on the results you measured really is the way up.

  • http://www.mattaboutbusiness.com Matt Mansfield

    Oh man – bullet number 3 really speaks to me!

    It’s incredible how so many smart people can have so many different opinions. It’s wise to limit the number to avoid confusion and the risk of “analysis paralysis”.

    -Matt

  • http://twitter.com/chamcon Chameleon Consulting

    I started my career in big corporations but after owning a business for almost 20 years, the ability to try ideas out, test the waters, and keep in close touch with clients without layers of authority and fear is my greatest business joy.  Launch and Learn is a great strategy!

  • http://vernacularninja.com Vernacular Ninja

    Ah Chris … this is so damn true:
    “Live by execution; die by overplanning.”

    A consistent sticking point and struggle for most. My most recent launch experience started with a soft entrance, soft response and several months of iterating, some tweaking (though I slapped my hands a few times on this one) and a lot of learning by living.

    I’ve managed to simplify the focus of my writing … so the biggest takeaway I can offer is to, at some point, step out of your own way and let the “it” live and breathe on its own. Test, refine only what needs refining, and keep chopping wood. Rinse and repeat.

    I don’t claim expertise in launching and learning … only in the learning part, primarily via doing something wrong, laughing it off and then shifting my approach.

    Great stuff my friend.

  • http://drewcdavid.com Drew C David

    “Live by execution; die by overplanning.”

    I love that thought. I like to launch new things (perhaps neglecting the planning too much).

    How do you keep people on board that don’t feel as “easy” about jumping into a project/idea without first having everything planned out?

  • http://twitter.com/RyanCritchett Ryan Critchett

    It’s nice to see you talking about this. I’m for this completely. 
    Ya know Chris, you see a lot of people now a days talking “mitigate risk,” and “have the battle plan set,” and it just seems hard to fathom that the battle plan could ever be set, or that there will somehow be no risk. I agree, and call it “ship and listen.” 

    I launched my blog (imarketinghacked) in January, and it was 100% different than it is now. The design was different, the topics were different, and even my writing style was different. I’ve since listened to the market, solicited a bunch of feedback and refined everything. I made 5 changes in the last week alone. I’ll continue tinkering. 

    Similarly, I just started a consulting company here in P.A. Have I ever ran a company before? No. I’ve tried starting one though, twice, and ultimately failed (or learned). I sat with a client yesterday morning, talking social media and web presence. Am I some business bro with years of experience? Nope. But I’m ok with being uncomfortable. I’m ok with being intellectually challenged, and I’m even ok with not knowing what to do. Eustress is king in an entrepreneurial world and this post totally helps reinforce that. Great post. 

  • Michael Bowers

    I like the points in this post. I run a Small Business Development Center and often times people forget the plan and reassess parts. Unless the entrepreneur has a lot of money to make mistakes the plan and reassess part is critical. Laying out a plan, executing, reviewing and adjusting is the best way to launch quickly while not being reckless.

  • Rob Liver

    Great article.  It really stresses learning from our mistakes instead of researching possibilities.  With the rate of change in so many industries, opinions and past experience are useful but have a limited shelf life.  If there’s one thing I would add though, I’d think the amount of planning needs to be proportionate to the amount of risk.  Drawing on the “kitchen table” analogy, an idea might be worth risking the kitchen table, but you’d want to plan more before risking the whole house.

  • http://www.wpdazero.it Stefano

    Chris, it’s the same approach I’m taking in these weeks with my “WordPress da Zero” video course (it’s Italian for “WordPress from scratch”).
    I can’t suggest a best way to “get things done”!

    I took these steps:
    1) While I was developing the introductory content I put up a simple landing page with a basic course curriculum and a field to collect emails from people that could be interested.
    2) When the content was almost ready (around 40 of my 60 videos) I put online the website in it’s basic form (built on Studiopress Genesis, so I could iterate on it with ease). Nut not opened the enrollment to the wide
    3) I emailed those some hundreds of people who signed in on the pre-launch list inviting them to join the course at an introductory price.
    4) Then I started to fix and enhance. I empowered and simplified the process on the backoffice. I cleared some legal issues etc.
    5) In the same weeks I sent out free invites to join to some well know “guru” I have in my network, asking them to join and review the course.
    6) Finally I invited all the subscribers to a 5 question survey about the course.
    7) Obviously the feedback from early subscribers, from the “gurus” and from the survey are used not only to fix and enhance, but also as “feedback” and “recommendation” on the site and landing pages
    (..and in the meantime I already had covered the start-up costs)
    8) I revised the landing pages, focused on benefits, then opened to the public announcing the WordPress course on my twitter account, my blog (a well know resource in Italy about WP). It still isn’t the big launch, but bigger that the “invite only” opening I’ve done few weeks ago…

    Now I’m building the content for the “real” launch that I plan to have in the next month.

    I think that being a “quasi-solo” entrepreneur, the “launch and learn” strategy is the one that let me meet in the best possible way the needs of my customer and in the same time let my business grow.

    Stefano
    p.s. Sorry for the long comment and for my bad English ;-)

    • http://raulcolon.net Raul Colon

      Good Stuff.. and about the Bad English that makes a few of us but the comment was of good quality! 

  • http://raulcolon.net Raul Colon

    I think @23519ff2fa81d27d14590dcf25a5aa29:disqus covered many of the things I do. 

    I think where I have gone when launching something was over planning and creating documentation that you would not even look at it again. 

    I think keeping it simple and measurable is the key to getting everything running and being flexible to learn while you monitor. 

  • http://www.retirepreneur.com Donna Kastner/Retirepreneur

    Launch and Learn checklist is solid, especially the point about shopping the plan to more than 3 people.

    As we launch, perfect, and relaunch, sometimes we’re so busy studying metrics and clicks, we forget to have actual conversations with buyers — both those who keep buying and those who move on.

    How did you like the french fries? How can we make them even better next time?

  • http://www.howdoesthatmakeyoubuy.com Doug Rice

    Great thoughts, Chris! Planning is definitely overrated. I constantly find myself overthinking and underdoing. Great things are only accomplished by implementation. Thanks for the reminder and for the inspiration.

  • http://twitter.com/susangiurleo susangiurleo

    This is all so helpful as I plan my own pre-launch for an education community forum in a few weeks. I can get stuck on planning and know that I need to get into doing….

  • http://www.charleslau.com Charles Lau

    I am exactly in a similar situation as you when I attempted to start a social media community called “Foodflag” on 1st Jan 2011.  I took the whole project as an experiement even though it is a real scenario.  Spoke to a lot of businesspeople and investors.  Made partnership with 2 guys.  The entire journey was like a drama to me.  From a very simple idea of asking people to flag food, it turned out to be an idea of going to the food companies and be their solution provider.  And when money is still not made, I have a partner who is asking for a salary when he has not even contributed in the capital startup.  Time really flies and we are now in May 2011… I have asked the two of them to leave, and is now relooking into the entire plan again.  The only regret I had is that most of the leads were derived from one of the partners.  But I think it is ok from a bigger perspective where I would rather give up this small thing for a bigger thing to happen in the near future.

  • Anonymous

    You know I’m a lawyer by education and profession, so I tend to have a more conservative approach.
    While I think Launching and Learning is great, you have to balance this with “You only have one chance to make a first impression”.  If your first iteration is disappointing, have you blown your “trust” or trial opportunity with folks, and how many of them will stick around or come back to check out the improvements if the first iteration seems clunky and not well thought out?  If you go to a restaurant and have a crappy meal, how many more times are you going to go there to see if they finally got their act together or if the chef went to cooking school?  Not many, I’d guess.
    There’s got to be a sense of ‘ready for prime time’.  It doesn’t need to be perfect, but the pathway for folks to take and a reason to purchase or buy should be clear.  It should look like it is more than half-baked.  This is why there are alpha and beta launches, where people are helping you work out the bugs in advance of the big launch.

    I worry too many “launched too soon” projects end up earning a company a reputation for slap-dash versus excellence.  

    The trick here is that there is a sweet spot in between “perfection” and “Not quite the way we’d like it to work” where it’s time to open the doors and test the waters- a soft launch so to speak. People are patient with soft launches and beta.  In soft launches for restaurants, friends and family come in and there’s a dress rehearsal before the show opens to the public.  There’s less patience after the business is open to the public as “Ready for business” and then, there’s no actual food or silverware inside the restaurant, with excuses made for, “Well, we’re working out the kinks.”  The early reviews can haunt a project, business or product even if it improves greatly with age.  So I think in the rush to launch and ship, there is still a place to ask, for a moment, “If not now, When?”  Do an upside/downside look, and if the downsides are few, send it out!  It you know its buggy as hell, does an early launch really help you or hurt you in the long run?

    Only your market and customers will know.

    • http://rickmanelius.com Rick Manelius

      Very true. The sweet spot is key. Wait until it’s perfect and it’ll never go into the wild. But it out there at the speed of thought and you’ll waste hours of time cleaning up your mess.

      I’ve been web programming a lot lately and I can tell you this balance is key, particularly if you already have a live site up with 1000′s of users. One glitch can result in 100 customer service emails you have to unpack.

      I think the point of this post is 2 fold. 1. We tend to err on the side of perfection and thus should be more actively launching instead of waiting. 2. Be smart about phasing it.

      • Anonymous

        I agree- I just think you have a limited amount of social and attention capital with folks, and you have to really balance the rush to the marketplace with creating something worth the rush.  As you can see from the tablet market, Apple waited until they had something well executed; products like the Xoom and other tablets are a bit less polished, and their market share suffers and people go with the competition who offers a more complete and elegant solution.

        The thing Chris failed to address is the post was also it depends a lot on the marketplace and the competitors in your niche.  If you’ve got competition and look like a poor substitute, you may drive buyers into the arms of your competition while you work out your bugs and issues.  Which may be fine, but I think you get limited numbers of chances to get your act together before people switch to substitute solutions/alternatives if you have a product or service that’s meant to solve their problems.

        Pet rocks, maybe not so much :)

        • http://rickmanelius.com Rick Manelius

          You read my mind. I was going to reply to Doug Rice below stating that companies like apple do a ton of planning and with big results.

          It is definitely market/context specific. Intel rushing to market and introducing a computer bug would lead to potentially billions in lost revenue and/or damages.

          But if you have a pet rock idea, I don’t know if you ever really need a business plan :) You need speed!

  • http://rickmanelius.com Rick Manelius

    It’s kinda yin-yang.

    Launch to Learn
    Learn to Launch

    The first tests our ability to analyze our experiential results and correct course.
    The second tests our ability to push go/publish/send and get started. I’m still working on this one.

  • http://www.talkingmediasales.com Ben Shute

    A great post Chris and so true.

    When my business partner and I launched Talking Media Sales in 2009, it was a completely different version of what we have now.

    In fact, what it is now is in fact a much slimmer and lighter version of the original. It was one of the first sites I built, so the design was basic and we crammed in a whole heap of stuff that we thought would be cool, and people would love to interact with. Wrong.

    After about 6 months, we decided to drop the pages that weren’t getting traction and focus on our core intent, which was providing help and guidance to direct media sales people and we went hammer and tongs at posts, which proved the right way to go as we now appear at or near the top of Google for our main search term.

    But I’ve never really stopped tinkering with it. It has been through 4 different designs in its time, each with the view of presenting the information better. I’m constantly working on the share functionality of it to make it easier for people to share the content and discover more.

    To be honest, I don’t think it is something that will ever be completed – as our users grow and evolve the way they consume the content, so will the site evolve.

    • http://twitter.com/monk51295 monika hardy

      diff between living and dead.. no?

  • http://twitter.com/Ad_Media AdMedia

    Completely agree. Some planning has to take place, but most of it should be at a macro level. Planning every little detail will drive you crazy. Sometimes, simply knowing where you want to go, and having a general idea of which direction to head to, is enough to get you started. Mulling over all the twist and turns will not only delay the endeavor, but by the end of it all, you could be so scared or discouraged, that you end up not doing anything at all.

  • http://jeffkorhan.com Jeff Korhan

    Chris – You need to start a list of ‘Brogan-isms’ ….. “Your Mileage May Vary” is one of them :)

  • http://mogostyle.com Raiman Au

    I was taught:

    “Go fail your first 2 or 3 businesses”

    =D

  • http://mogostyle.com Raiman Au

    That said, your checklist is a godsend, especially these two items:

    – Write no more than a one page plan.
    – Shop the plan around to no more than 3 people for improvements.

    Enough of my projects “died from overplanning” because I lost the momentum for action somewhere in that planning.

    • http://twitter.com/monk51295 monika hardy

      we’ve blown both of these – along with most of the rest of the list..  :)

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  • http://twitter.com/megfowler Meg Fowler

    If you’re going to obsess about anything before you launch, obsess about customer service processes. If you’re not ready to serve your customers properly (communication, policies, care, etc.), then you’re learning your lessons from inconveniencing them. You’ll gain knowledge and tweak as you go, unavoidably, and make mistakes anyway. But if you’re going to obsess about anything, obsess about service. A passion for that will always lead you in the right direction.

  • Sbutler

    I have to agree. I sold a very successful business last April and will be launching my new venture next week. I struggle because I want it to be where my last company was, but I need to remember that it took 7 years to get there.
    I am launching knowing and knowing that better things are to come. Launch and learn!

  • http://karezonaphotography.co.uk/ wedding photographers bristol

    Lunch and Learn is such a very good things for Learning Something best on Lunch. i am Impressed by this Lunch and Learn Activity.

  • http://www.online-business-virtual-assistant.com/ Virtual Business Assistant

    Lunch and Learn sounds very great and new ideas can be passed over from employees to the employers and this will create a good reputation of the business and good relationship between the both.

  • Anonymous

    Chris, this very much reminds me of Henry Ford’s famous quote “if I’d asked people what they wanted they’d have said faster horses”.  I’d not heard launch and learn refered to as that before, but I’m certainly familiar with the process.

    I’ve used it a number of times. When I decided to work on my own as a consultant and interim manager, I didn’t do any research, I dived straight in and got on with it.

    A few years before that I was looking for a wedding photographer and decided that I could do a better job than the guy who was showing me his work, so I lept it and became a wedding photographer (pretty succesfully too bringingin in $50-60k a year as a second income).

  • Brigidblas

    I heartily concur except on one point… “Testing things while flying a plane might not be a great idea.”

    Testing things when flying an airplane is done all the time (I’m a pilot). How else are you going to test things in a real situation? What would the Wright Brothers have done?

    When testing systems on an airplane you have to have a good working knowledge of your craft’s capabilities and plenty of altitude.

    Translated into a business setting – know your limitations and have a back up plan.

  • http://ClimbingEveryMountain.com Mary E. Ulrich

    Love your “launch and learn” concept. In Special Education, Marc Gold had a slogan called “train, don’t test.”

    The idea was many people thought the students needed thorough testing with multiple tests before there would be any actually teaching or training. Since most of the existing tests were bogus anyway, people spent lifetimes in the “getting ready to learn” phases. i.e. You have to know your colors before you can read (duh, so if you are color blind you can never learn to read); You have to know how to count to 60 before you can learn to tell time (duh, you can go to the busstop when the news comes on TV)…. What we discovered was we can look at the function of the task, the individual learning styles and creatively teach what a person needed to do. The IQ and Our Children Left Behind standardized nonsense told us nothing. The tests were a waste of time, money and our children’s lives. When we just launched (with planning of course) we could face each problem and figure out a solution.

    • http://twitter.com/monk51295 monika hardy

      i love this Mary – can i quote it in a movement kids are working on to redefine school?

      • http://ClimbingEveryMountain.com Mary E. Ulrich

        Sure, if you need more info let me know. There’s tons.

  • http://twitter.com/ToksOgun Toks Ogun

    Great Post. Solves the solution of never starting.

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  • http://www.stickyJesus.com Tami Heim

    I appreciate this post Chris. Thanks for keeping it real and simple….
    now I am off for a little R&T – ‘revise and tinker.’

    • http://www.danieldecker.net Daniel Decker

      R&T… I like that Tami! : ) 

  • http://www.smittyboros.blogspot.com Smitty Boros

    Actually, Chris Brogan was the inspiration for my tiny launch, and I quote him often. 

    Not very glamorous, but my launch and learn was starting a blog about old, middle aged guys who are intimidated by the new social media – like me!  I figured if I’m willing to be vulnerable and make mistakes in a public forum while learning, others might be at least willing to try to explore the flourishing social media platforms. 

    Probably the biggest challenge is overcoming the fear of looking foolish.  

  • http://www.theinfopreneur.net/ TheInfoPreneur

    Live by execution; die by overplanning.
    Not sure if truer words have ever been written.  Just get out there and do it for pete sakes. ;)

    Brandon

  • Joseph @ Blog-Tweaks.com

    Hi Chris,

    I recently started Blog Tweaks to provide technical services to bloggers, and I took the launch and learn approach based on Seth Godin’s phrase “ship it.” I realized that overplanning has killed all of my ideas in the past, so I decided to ship. The concept is not fully thought through or elaborately designed, but I’ve learned more about the types of services that customers want and how much they’re willing to pay for them simply by shipping.

    Any tips you might have would be appreciated. I look forward to meeting sometime in the near future.

    Best of luck to you.

    Joseph

  • http://twitter.com/YouViewMedia YouView Media

    Launching and learning YouView Media right now. It’s a youth media org to inspire kids to get more involved in the world. We were planning to launch in a few months with a lot more planning and a clearer mission and programming schedule under our belts. BUT, I saw an opportunity to cover a really big local event and jumped on it.

    The kids ended up getting press credentials to cover Desmond Tutu! Our thirteen year old correspondent asked a question at the press conference and got to meet the Archbishop! First gig!!! We were all pretty freaked. None of us had ever done anything like this, but it was the best leap I’ve ever made or witnessed!

    The kids did a great job and generated some amazingly professional video highlights, despite the need for tweaking along the way. We are writing down all our mistakes so that we can teach other kids what not to do when they launch as our affiliates. And we already have a really big follow up gig lined up for early next month. You know what that means? Almost no time for the traditional business process. We are just going to keep leaping and trust that what isn’t working that great (The website, thrown together in three days, for example.) will eventually get sorted out.

    Totally couldn’t have done this ten years ago. Thanks, Chris, and others for changing up the dynamic and encouraging the fear forward organizational model. Going to nap now . . .

  • http://www.NahyanInc.com/ Nahyan

    Great lesson there, thanks.
    …i gotta go do that thing I’ve been “thinking” of doing now :)

  • http://www.safehouseweb.com Scott Kindred | SafeHouse Web

    Checklist is very meaty (no offense to vegetarians) and not just an abstract “to-do” list from the world of the unobtainable. In fact, these are all obtainable actions, goals and results, which you’ve proved through your own success.

    Glad you are sharing it here!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Copy-Grove/100001732510248 Copy Grove

    Whatever you do, don’t LURCH AND BURN!

  • http://www.danieldecker.net Daniel Decker

    I’m a big proponent of the launch and learn mentality. Too often I see people plan into paralysis which often causes them to miss an opportunity. Not only that but most of our “plans” don’t work like we planned anyways. We can’t PLAN for exactly what is going to happen… how the market will truly react and what variables will be tossed our way. We can only attempt to anticipate, act, and respond (not react). I’d rather give it some good thought, strategize and go than sit and sit and sit trying to make it perfect (because perfection is a myth anyways).

  • http://ajleon.me ajleon

    Yeah, Melissa and I, live by the “launch and learn” code -> launch, learn, iterate or quit (and start something else). Love this post, hope you are well, my friend. :)

  • Anonymous

    Your checklist looks like it could be a five year plan, as far as the #168Project goes. Will have to write about this soon. Thanks!!!

  • http://www.k9stud.com/viewalldogs.aspx Dogs For Sale

    We can only attempt to anticipate, act, and respond (not react). I’d
    rather give it some good thought, strategize and go than sit and sit
    and sit trying to make it perfect.

  • http://www.whatspinksthinks.com David Spinks

    This is absolutely the way to start a business today in most cases (not all).  

    Sometimes, you need a platform that’s built right, from the start.  Usually for companies that are getting a ton of buzz prelaunch have to plan a little bit more than the quiet up and comers.

    Think about it from the user experience pov.  A user will never tell you “take this feature away, we don’t need it”.  If it’s a valuable concept, the will tell you when they want a feature.
    Keep it as simple as possible, and get something out the door.  Then, iterate constantly until you reach a market fit.The launch and iterate process is how Google executes on all of their new tools/projects.  They’re a great example of how it can work, and how it can fail.The tough part is figuring out when you should just stop iterating, and call it quits.

  • http://togotutor.com/forums/forum.php Togotutor

    I am really impressed with this post as Luanch and Learn is the main motive for me. I have started my technical website and added the content which I am expert in, but with the new demands, I have learned a lot by adding new things after doing some hard research from which I learned a lot.

  • http://www.basecandy.com free dating site

    I soo agree with this post, the biggest problem many people suffer from , including myself, is analysis paralysis

  • http://www.shelley-ann.com Shelley West

    Will be trying this approach. I either spend too much time doing research or trying to make a decision. In the end not enough gets done. Perfection is an idea killer. :)

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