How to Announce Your Company
A conversation with Ryan Narod of Mutiny
Not everyone is a late-stage, overvalued company laying people off right now. There are many founders out there who are gearing up to announce their company — and they want to make a splash, hire people, and bring in customers!
What are the components of a top-notch announcement plan?
How do you work effectively with the tech press?
How should you prepare for the aftermath of the announcement?
I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did, and feel free to reach out to me with any thoughts. Let's dive in!
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As always, I’ll share a few leadership roles at companies I’m excited about:
Allison: Ryan, thank you so much for joining us today.
Ryan: Glad to be here.
A: You have done really incredible things for marketing at Mutiny, which is itself in the marketing space. So I think folks who are listening are going to learn a lot from you about how to prepare for their launches. I'm excited to pick your brain. Do you mind sharing just a little bit about your background and a bit about what Mutiny does?
R: Sure. I lead marketing at Mutiny. We help marketers increase conversion rates on their website. If you think about the market downturn that we may be entering when the era of growth is fundamentally coming to an end, the idea of you needing to get more out of your existing channels and spend is actually more important now than ever before. We help marketers personalize their website, show relevant content to folks that are coming to your site, so that they convert at higher rates.
I've been here for about a year, prior to that have been a Mutiny customer, one of Mutiny's earliest customers at a company called Radar where I led marketing. Before that, when I was at Google, I actually built a product internal to Google that was similar to the problem that Mutiny solves, so I've been in and out of this space for a while.
A: You've been knee deep in marketing in one way or another, whether you're leading the function, or building products for it, I'm sure you're drinking the champagne as you go.
To start, I'd love to talk about timing. So what factors do you think should impact the timing of a launch?
R: It depends what kind of launch you're doing, whether it's a funding announcement or a product launch. I'll assume you're talking about a funding announcement because that's what most of the launches are geared around. The thing that influences when you want to launch is not when you get the funding, it's what do you want people to think about your launch? When do you have something interesting enough to say that essentially the main takeaway of your message will be, this company raised money, but they've also launched a solution to this really interesting problem. I always try to bundle funding announcements with some sort of product innovation that connects to the category that you're trying to create or disrupt.
The second thing is market conditions. You want to be sensitive to the times that we're in. You can never predict the market conditions, but you want to be flexible. And so if tragedy occurs in the world, you need to be respectful of that. I'm sure there were companies that were planning a launch around March of 2020. It was important to be able to take a step back, reassess, and think about, is the problem you're solving appropriate for the times that we're in?
A: Those are really interesting factors to consider. Notably, you didn’t mention when your competitors are launching. Should you try to rush to be first to market? How should the competition influence your decision?
R: It's hard to know when your competitors are launching. You should in general have an eye towards the future, and competitors tend to be in the rear view mirror, or at least it's helpful to think about it that way. Yes, you should be first to market, but you can never know when a competitor's planning something. And certainly that shouldn't be the guiding principle behind when and how you launch.
A: Let's say I'm creating the launch plan. What are the components of a great plan?
R: It starts with clear goals. Those are numeric goals, but also the non metric based goals. What do you want people to think and feel when they see your message? What problem are you solving? What category you are creating or disrupting? I always start there and fill in the sentence: “When people see this news, they will say X, Y, Z.” If you're able to articulate that, I think it guides the type of launch that you have.
The second thing is, don't lose sight of the news. Like, what are you actually launching? I think this is where folks get really, really tripped up. They try to bundle the products with the category, but what is the news? What feature did you launch that people are now needing to pay attention to? And with that, what are the key points you want to get across?
The third component is the CTA [call to action]: what do you want people to do? This is where I've seen companies have way too many CTAs: we're hiring, contact sales, play with our demo. An example of something we did was, we created a low-friction way for you to interact with Mutiny and try the product without requesting a demo, without contacting sales. You can go out our website, you can punch in your website domain, play around with the product, and see what personalization can do. We built that purely because we knew a lot of folks would hit our site, not all of them would be ready to talk to sales, and we would've given them one really unified CTA to try our product and experience the magic.
Think about what channels you want to activate. PR is typically one that folks prioritize, but also social. Do you want people talking about the product in Slack communities? Figure out all the channels where you want to launch.
Another one is your advocates. You're not going to do this alone. You have customers who are your advocates, your investors, your employees. I think this is something a lot of people who are doing launches tend to forget, but you have to think about each of these audiences and preparing a plan for getting each of these audiences to amplify your message.
I use the word plan because I think a plan is what pulls all of this together. It's a lot of work to pull off a complex launch. It takes many months, it has a ton of dependencies, and it's really an all team effort. You need to be a good project manager to facilitate all of these pieces coming together at exactly the right time, like clockwork.
A: That's very comprehensive. Are there certain milestones that you think folks should keep in mind in terms of the timeline? For example, I've noticed some companies being really thoughtful about first, the TechCrunch article comes out, and then we've got another blog post that's teed up. How should I think about the timeline?
R: Well, when you are trying to get press, you typically want to do an exclusive, which means you give the reporter the first right to publish the story. Typically they don't want any news coming out before the story is public. You have to sequence everything based on that. You'll agree with the reporter on, here's the date when the news is able to go live — it's called the embargo date. After that, you think about all of your follow-on launch assets. Then your blog post can go live. Then all your customers can go crazy on social, then all your investors at that point.
A: You mentioned a little bit about this, but how do you tee up an article with the tech press? Do you have any tips on working with them?
R: The most important learning I've had is being intentional with the reporters that you're targeting. I've seen a lot of PR firms give pretty bad advice around, you need to build a list of 50 reporters, and then you need to either batch email them or email them one person per day, give them a 24-hour turnaround period to respond. The reality is most tech companies are not Tesla and you're not Elon Musk. So you need to give them enough time and be patient and intentional. What I like to do is pick three to four reporters that are the perfect fit for your company. These are the ones that you're willing to give an exclusive to, and you should be able to articulate why are they the right ones to cover your company and then find every single way to get in front of them. Don't just like cold-email them the same template, but write really bespoke intro blurbs, and try to get in front of them through intros from your network or from investors. Cold emails can work, I've seen companies get creative, use their own products to get in front of reporters. It’s okay to get creative, but it's not okay to get annoying. It's a delicate balance.
Some outlets are cut and dry. If you have a funding announcement over a certain amount that you raised with top tier investors, TechCrunch should usually cover it. They're pretty formulaic with how they approach funding announcements. They have a standard set of questions that they'll ask you. If you're trying to go for more mainstream media, you need to connect it to a broader trend.
For us, we found this perfect reporter at Forbes who cover CMOs. The angle that worked for us was that CMOs are putting their own money into this company, they're angel investing in Mutiny and this company is solving this problem that they'd been facing. There was a lot to that story that we were able to bring for the reporter. We were able to get the reporter access to interview top CMOs, who rarely give interviews. As a reporter who covers the CMO beat, we became an offer that he couldn't refuse.
A: That's a really interesting example. It sounds like in your case, the reporter was really familiar with the space that you were operating in. Do you ever find that some reporters are less familiar and in those situations, how do you educate them about what your product does? I'm thinking, especially for more technical products, this could at times be a challenge.
R: The first thing I would say is when a company is early stage, it may not be best to ship for the moon and try to go for The New York Times. There happens to be plenty of great reporters at outlets like TechCrunch, who do cover all kinds of niche, technical topics from cloud security to infrastructure and everything in between. Really try to find a reporter who covers your space. In the off-chance that there's no reporter in the world that has written about a company similar to yours, which I would find hard to believe, then I would ask, what is the closest similar industry and who is that reporter? I think it'd be interesting to them to draw parallels like, hey, you cover this space, we're kind of like that, but we're different in X, Y and Z ways, and connect what you're doing to a space that they're deeply familiar with and educate them that way.
A: You'd mentioned earlier, when we were talking about the components of a good launch plan, that you should include your customer advocates and your investors in this. Can we talk about the more detailed tactics for exactly how to do that?
R: The first thing I'll say is with advocates, be it customers, investors — they want to help. Investors always tell us that they feel underutilized. Most companies underutilize their networks. Customers want to feel that they are on the cutting edge in using your product and want to brag about that. We may be guilty of over leveraging our networks, but it's really baked into everything we do, it's baked into our goals. As an example, investor referrals are baked into our growth and demand gen targets. There’s someone on my team who owns that number.
The other existential thing to keep in mind is that in exchange for helping, investors and advocates want to feel like they're in the loop, that they're not just being used but that you are giving them the inside track, whether it's giving them that feedback loop, “thank you for the referral” or “your post really helped us in this way.” That's the way to think about the give and get there. For launches specifically, I would say, make their lives easy, be specific about what you want from them. If they have a podcast, maybe you want to join an episode. If they're active on Twitter, ask them to post on Twitter and make it easy for them. We write blurbs for every single person that we ask to post. We'll write a blurb and say, hey, feel free to put this in your own words, but we would love if you could hit on these key points for us.
For customers, we created images that they can post on social containing screenshots of the experiments that they ran and the leads that it drove. It really helped pave this unified message where, when we had our launch, everyone was saying, "we're seeing you all over Twitter, all over LinkedIn." We had really amazing control of the message through these assets that we created for folks. But it wasn't all coming from us, it was being shared with all of different networks of folks that we have access to.
A: Let's say you execute your launch plan. You're very successful. Now you've launched and you've started to receive a lot of inbound attention, whether it's from potential customers, potential hires, potential investors. How do you prepare for that potential onslaught?
R: Everything arrives at your website. Your website is your front door. So we created a checklist to think about what will leave our website most compelling and reduce friction. You mentioned hiring: every hiring manager should have their roles open. It's a simple thing. Messaging is a little bit more complicated, but you now have talking points that you used with the press, and you have what people are saying about you on social that you are orchestrated, so the last thing you want to do is have your website messaging not be aligned to that. Align your messaging with the campaign.
Next thing is case studies. Folks are going to come to your site because they think what you're doing is really cool. Well, they should see front and center how other customers just like them are leveraging your product and what kind of results they're seeing.
I mentioned the CTA. I highly recommend having a low-friction CTA for folks who aren't ready to book a meeting, but still want to see what your product is all about. If there is an opportunity to build a demo environment or somewhere where people could poke around with your product, without submitting a demo request, that's always a great way to deliver on the value and impress folks who are coming to your site after launch.
The last thing is, some people will want to meet with you because you solve a problem that they have. You want to make sure that they can book a meeting right away without having to fill out a form and wait days for you to process through hundreds of leads. Whether you’re using something like Calendly or Chili Piper, both are really great tools for making sure you’re giving your prospects the calendar availability that they could book in real time.
A: When do you think it's appropriate to get external help with your launch, whether it's from a PR firm, agency, a consultant?
R: I think there probably comes a point where that makes sense. I would say we recently announced our series B, and I still don't feel like we're at that point. We went down this path of exploring external help from agencies and PR contractors. They’d say, you want to get an article in Forbes, that's impossible. There is a lot of bad advice out there. It's really hard to select the right partners for something that's mission critical. This isn't that hard to do yourself, and a lot of the hard work is actually has a lot of internal dependencies. It's like digging up interesting data. It's really like deep message development. That's something that it's hard to outsource.
Outsource things that are easy to outsource, for which you don't have an in-house competency. We outsource the creation of graphics to a designer. There are certain aspects that don't have internal dependencies, and I recommend outsourcing those.
A: Let's say I'm a founder who has really deep technical expertise and experience, but marketing is not really my strong suit. Maybe I'm a late seed company, or I just raised my series A, and maybe I have a junior marketer on board. Do you think it's typical in situations like that for this founder to delegate to that junior marketer to run the launch plan, or is this something that the founders should take on themselves, or should they be hiring a more senior marketing leader?
R: It's a great question. I think there are a lot of great templates out there on how do you run a launch. Play Bigger has a good template and framework for how to create what they call a lightning-strike moment. The piece around project management, wrangling all the stakeholders, I think that can be delegated. This is something that the founder can delegate entirely, not be involved in so much in early stage. Much of the message development comes from the founders' own words, and I think the founder is going to need to be really highly involved, but I think some of the pieces around, let's go email all of our customers or let's go email all of our investors, I think the tactical pieces can be done by more of the junior person. But I highly recommend that the founder stay involved specifically at message development, figuring out the right reporters, strategically what are the goals. Ultimately the founder is the spokesperson for the company and so they can't just take the approach of, tell me where to show up and I'll be there.
A: What do you say are the most common mistakes that founders make when they're launching?
R: The one that I see most often is thinking that press it's going to be the silver bullet. When we got press, I'm pretty sure we drove more traffic to Forbes than it drove to us. My biggest advice there would be, use all the channels you can to get in front of your ICP. Ultimately the press becomes a super valuable proof point. A lot of founders get an article at TechCrunch and then sit back and expect that their inbox is going to be flooded. But TechCrunch probably puts out dozens of articles a day.
A: Really good advice. Any final tips for founders or marketers out there who are trying to gear up for launch?
R: My biggest learning here is just be really intentional. This is not a volume game of, go and email some half-baked message to hundreds of people, reporters, press, analysts. This is a game of intentionality, being intentional with your messaging, thoughtful about your CTAs, being thoughtful about what products you are bundling together with this launch and ultimately being thoughtful about who needs to hear about it. So it's less about doing a broad scale and more about homing in on who are the people that will care about this most, because once you nail a really good story, it's up to you to distribute that and get that in front of as many people as possible.
A: Ryan, this was an awesome conversation. I took away so many learnings. Thank you so much for spending time with us today.
R: Awesome. Thanks so much for having me.