Guide for Launching a Startup

Craft a brand name that summarizes the promise of your product in one word

Perhaps the greatest mistake a startup can make is to fall in love with a cute word and then struggle to find a product to fulfill the promise of that word. To avoid this trap, startups should first determine a resonating product concept and then discern a brand name using various naming and branding techniques.

The most successful brand names become commonly used verbs for a product's main function. In the 1980s, office workers began to "xerox" copies. In our own day, "to google" has become the world's favorite way to search the Internet.

A brand name should be a natural nickname for people to remember via a mnemonic device. A brand name is for recall and not for introduction. It should come from your product. It should not define your product.

If you engage a logo designer for the brand, you will typically go through a creative brief with him or her. You will be asked about the nature of your target audience, the reaction you are seeking from the audience, the purpose of your website and the message you are seeking to convey and more. It will be di"cult to answer those questions if there was not a thinking process behind the word around which your logo is built.

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Claim your name everywhere before others can hold you ransom

Building a brand in these first decades of the Internet can be a bit like oil prospecting in the American West in the mid-1800s. It's a race to get there first.

After you determine your product and select your brand name, it is imperative that you claim that name in every corner of the World Wide Web. This includes registering your domain name with the common domain suffixes (.com, .org, .net, .tv, etc.) as well as securing the brand name (as close as possible) on all of the social media sites. If your chosen brand names are already taken, pick a variant of the name you can get everywhere and stick to it. This will reduce confusion for customers searching for you in the social media space.

It is helpful to create a unified email account to manage all these resources. Never share access to an email account so you can always reset and re-claim an account if the security is breached.

A note about social media sites: it is important that your logo has an attractive rendition in a square format that will work well on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Sometimes, even the most beautiful logos do not translate well into a square format. The Facebook Timeline cover and the Twitter graphic space are valuable real estate. It's important to keep them in mind during logo design to enhance brand identity and aid recall.

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Measure your market through early advertising

Can you only advertise when you have something to sell? Absolutely not.

In the first weeks and months in the life of your startup, it may be advisable to advertise a product that is "coming soon" to gauge the level of interest in some of its features or tools—as well as to test various advertising messages. You will find your audience may react favorably to some features and messages and poorly to others. Getting this feedback at an early stage can help you build your product and hone your message in alignment with the needs of your target market. Don't build a product that people don't want.

Google AdWords can be an inexpensive means to test and validate your product, brand name and message. These ads could lead a user to a landing page where you can start collecting names, e-mails and other details. From these ads, you can learn what topics and words are being searched and what leads users to your page. You could find basic statistics of the search volume for specific words even before an ad click.

As you create an ad, it forces you to succinctly summarize your value in a few words. Do this continuously and concurrently with your design process as it allows you to validate your assumptions without restricting your ability to dream big ideas.

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Tell a compelling story about your company and people will repeat it

Hollywood producers and New York publishing executives will tell you the same thing: the key to selling a story is creating sympathetic characters in the midst of a compelling story. The audience needs someone to root for. Perhaps the same could hold true for even the most utilitarian startup.

Your product is your star. And it needs a compelling reason to exist. How is your product going to change the world? How will it make life easier for the masses?

Once you are a success, you can hire advertising agencies and public relations professionals to help craft your message. But, before Don Draper joins your team, spend some time thinking about the story you will tell about your product (and maybe even yourself and your team).

The default state of the public toward your product is apathy. To make the people care, you must relate your offering to market trends or current events—and convince your audience why the status quo desperately needs to be changed.

Instead of waiting for the New York Times or the Plainville Gazette to call you, begin telling your story on a blog and through social media. Test out different angles and approaches. If you are able to hit a nerve with even a few people in the blogosphere or on Twitter, you may get helpful comments and a respectable number or retweets. The messages that resonate are the ones you later pitch to the professional media.

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Create a video that can stand alone as a piece of entertainment

The best way to demonstrate the functions of your product is to show it in action in a video. But, the days of boring industrial films are over. You cannot create a video that simply demonstrates what your product does. You need to create a dynamic video that both illustrates your product and is at least somewhat entertaining in its own right.

Most product demonstrations can be realized as a series of screenshots, possibly stitched together into a single page narrative (see how Apple explains the features of a new product on its website).

When making a video, choose one unique aspect of your product that would wow people. This is not the time for an exhaustive description. Staying focused in this way could reduce your time spent and costs while increasing the chances a user will hit the "share" button.

Focus on something that would entertain. If even you are bored with the video after three views, it will not go viral.

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Reflect your best thinking on your front page

The front page of your website needs to reflect the best of what you have to offer. If your product is clean and smart, your front page should reflect that. If your product is quirky, your front page should be just as unique. You need to build a front page that presents to the world what your product and service is about and allows you to build a list of prospective users even at an early stage of development.

Is your front page a personal invitation to a few—or a flyer for all? That's something to keep in mind through the various stages of design. Don't fall into the trap of speaking to no one in particular. Consider how specific you need to be in different steps of your launch. Make it a conversation.

As you unveil your product and your message evolves, change your front page to reflect those developments.

It is easy to neglect your front page since most of your product development efforts are usually focused on the guts of your app. Be sure to find a way to showcase the new features as they are released. You never know if a minor feature upgrade becomes a major reason why a prospective customer starts using your product.

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Love those who love you back

In business, as in life, sometimes our early presumptions turn out to be wrong.

Sometimes the customers or users whom you presumed to be your target market fail to swoon over the result of your hard work. At the same time, it's occasionally the unexpected user who sends you love notes.

To quote the songwriter: Love the one you're with.

It is the people who fall in love with your product first that you need to love back and give them everything they want and need to move your product from an idea to a thriving business. To identify who is loving you back, look for signals of unexpected success or messages saying you have solved a real problem. Strive to be a breath of fresh air.

It is tempting to identify a group of people as early adopters, especially people that follow tech blogs or influential bloggers in your field. However, as everyone is gunning for their attention and affection, their needs are largely well met.

There is often a neglected population (that doesn't have a product constantly pitched to them) that would be happy to use a new product that solves their problems. These people can be hard to find so you have to spread your net wide, looking for signals of unexpected success. When you find a beacon of excitement and appreciation, you should use all the communication tools at your disposal to make this group of people fall in love with your product. These are people investing in your brand and your mission and they deserve all the love you can give them. They will love you back in return and propel your product to the next stage.

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