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Posted at 12:00 PM ET, 12/05/2012

The ups and downs of using your product to launch your product

D.C.-based entrepreneur Andrew Mason was searching for a novel way to launch the private-alpha version of his event crowdfunding platform, EventStir.

EventStir allows groups of people to individually pledge money toward a particular event in a process called “crowdfunding” – pledgers are only charged if the funding goal is met by a certain deadline.

Mason decided to crowdfund his own launch party, using his own product. That way, he thought, he could simultaneously prove the concept to investors, sign users up for EventStir, and raise money for the party.

He hoped to host the event on a yacht, which cost $4,500 to rent for the night. He set up a page on EventStir, asking 100 users (mostly potential investors, he said) to pledge $65 each for a spot on the yacht.

As the deadline approached, Mason found only about a quarter had registered for the launch. He worried about whether the event would happen — securing the necessary funding by deadline is “core to the concept of EventStir,” he said. He expanded the potential guest list beyond investors to include other entrepreneurs, and reframed the event to emphasize his party’s networking opportunities. The event was soon funded, and took place in March of this year.

Though he said he’s glad he could demonstrate his product and that it generally ran smoothly, there were “some downsides” to launching his product this way, Mason said, “because you don’t know what’s wrong until people are using it.”

For example, his team had forgotten to implement “simple things” like allowing users to pledge for more than one ticket, or contribute more or less than the host’s set pledge price. Potential investors pointed out both these details to Mason after the launch.

Since the party, Mason and his team have opened the site to the public, and have adjusted EventStir to incorporate the user feedback gathered at the first launch.

They’re launching a new version this week which will allow users to set either a monetary or attendance-based goal for events.

Pauline Idogho also used her own event planning platform to organize its launch party.

The D.C. resident released the private beta version of Vookup, an online platform helping users collaborate to plan events, with polling, payment and messaging capabilities, in October.

She distributed a Vookup link to her invitees, who were prompted to register and R.S.V.P. for the event on the platform. By the night of the launch, she had expanded Vookup’s user-base by 200 people, and had a guestlist for her party.

When they arrived that the launch, “they were already familiar with the product,” Idogho said. She was then able to spend the party demonstrating the product’s features to the attendees instead of signing them up for the service.

But she, too, noticed some downsides. The group of 200 was the highest volume of users for any single event the Vookup team had worked with — their tests had been on a smaller scale of about 12 people. Some features didn’t work well with larger groups, such as a visual display of all guests, or a comments wall notifying all guests with each post.

Idogho said she adjusted the user-interface as people were registering for the launch.

The platform now has 500 users, and after the launch about 100 more people are on the waiting list, she said. But she noted that the platform still isn’t public, and that though her launch party served as a test drive for larger groups, “we’re not worried that if something crashes or happens to the site, the people who signed up may never come back.”

She doesn’t plan to launch to the public until she refines the product more. “It’s not about a threshold [of users] — it’s more about making the features useful for users.”

Deciding not to demonstrate your product at launch won’t necessarily detract from your company’s attractiveness to an investor, said Simon Rakoff, general partner at Fortify, a D.C. based early stage technology investment fund. But, he said, “if you know there are two companies and you can only invest in one of them, maybe there is something slightly compelling” about companies confident enough in their own product to use it.

Even if the product exhibits small glitches, early stage technology investors can usually “see past that to the future, when the software may work,” he explained. “But it’s oviously best to demonstrate software in public when it is fully tested, operational and stable.”

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