As a blogger, I have to give kudos to Jyri Engeström for the way he launched Ditto. You see, as a blogger we're contacted by many companies on their product launches and other activities. Some e-mail you once and almost call you back to ask why you haven't written about their company. Then there are people like Jyri who work to build up the relationship and explain in detail what the thinking behind the service is - over the period of couple of months before the launch. I had a chat with Jyri about the things that took place behind the scenes and how the run up to the launch went. This is one of the best company launches and I think it's worthwhile sharing with others.
I first met Jyri over coffee in December 2010 in Helsinki to talk about "the new thing he was working on". He showed me the app and talked about his thinking behind creating it. He also invited me to participate in the beta, and why not - it's cool to test out new apps (when the amount is still somewhat possible to handle).
He told that he had had similar talks with numerous other people over the duration of the months running up to the launch on 2nd of March. This way he not only talked about the app, but made sure to everyone people were familiar with the product and the thinking behind it.
The PR agency let down
Interestingly enough, he ended up doing all the PR work himself. This wasn't the plan in the first case though. Before the launch he contacted some 11 PR offices all around and asked to work with him. Nobody wanted the case so he decided to go at it by himself. Ironically, 20 or so PR offices contacted him with requests to co-operate on the app itself after he launched it.
"Launching an app is a little bit different than launching a website or an online service", Jyri Engeström says. "An app is always dependant of the approval process of an App Store for example". In the case of the Apple App Store, there are no clear estimates how long it takes to approve an app. He had stated that optimally they would like to have the app at the store by 8th of March. However, due to some misunderstanding at some point - the app was live in the App Store by March 1st.
This meant that they had to speed up the launch process by a week and also launch it on 2nd of March, which many Apple fans remember as the date Jobs announced the iPad 2. Good luck in getting press on a day like that. Nevertheless, all the personal efforts to talk to different members of the press had helped him in getting to know the people well. Additionally, he had build up those relationships over the years with Jaiku and Google.
Running up to the launch, I was also on the e-mail list that was alerted of the launch times and embargoes regarding the launch. From my point of view, it was extremely easy to write things well ahead of time and launch the articles online as the embargo was reached (or actually broken by TechCrunch, but that's how they roll).
The key learnings of the launch
I asked Jyri Engeström about the key learnings or takeaways from the launching of Ditto and what he would suggest to others. Before going into these, he stated - launching something is hard work. It's all about selling your product to the press, thought leaders and other opinion leaders of the industry. You can't simply send out a press release and keep your fingers crossed that everything will go according to your plan. It requires a lot of leg work and just like in raising financing - you should be doing it when you actually don't need the money or publicity, because when the time does come, people will remember you.
The first learning, from launching Ditto, according to Jyri Engeström was the point that you should be careful of PR agencies. While he had had good experiences in the past, this time round it was a complete let down. Furthermore, products and companies need a public face to talk to, who better to be it than the founder herself.
Second learning was that you should be building up your relationships with the media well before hand. Not only did he simply take time to go through the launch process with each press member on the list, but he had tipped them about some other cool things in the past - thus adding value to the relationship. When you give a lot, others will give back to you when the time comes.
This is turning out to be a long post, but I hope you find this useful. Launching your company isn't something you can easily do again so it's more of a one time chance to do it well. In Ditto's case, the launch went extremely well. Not only did the members of the press like the product (we included), the appraisal it received was honest.
It definitely pays off to do your launch well.