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Business Unplugged™
This blog features Carol Roth's tough love on business and entrepreneurship, as well as insights from Carol's community of contributors.

How to Successfully Launch a Product: First Impressions are Everything

Written By: Dan Soha | No Comments

Coming up with an idea is fun and easy. Pursuing that idea through a business model is difficult and time consuming. A roadmap to success is often too hard to predict and for some, unattainable. A startup’s profitability can be nearly impossible. Though there are many hurdles along the way, nothing is more critical than the product’s launch. Your product launch can determine the fate of your company; it leaves the first impression on your audience and, more often than you want to realize, it may be the last.

“First impressions are everything”—it’s a saying we’ve heard all throughout our lives. When your product’s first impression happens online, you have literally seconds to prove your site worthy of potential customers’ eyes. The first thing visitors notice about your site is what is wrong, not what is right. So, when launching an online business, the first step is to make sure that nothing is wrong. The next step is to make things right.

In March 2011, an unusual turn of events led me to starting an argyle sock brand. My obsession with argyle socks sent me on a hunt for the best pair. I bought a lot of socks and they were all either childish, poor quality, or very boring. Call it “arrogance” or “insanity,” but I decided the best solution was to make my own. 

This wasn’t supposed to be a business. Rather, it was supposed to be one large order of socks for myself—I half expected to never buy socks again. Well, when I ordered my first shipment of socks, I ordered a ton (literally 2050 lbs.). At that point, it didn’t become a business, but the need to build a business was definitely there!  Argoz (www.argoz.com) was born… or so I would have liked to think. The truth is that my little sock empire was only in its first trimester. So began the start of a long nine months of launch preparation.

Of course, the socks were already absolutely perfect for my own tastes: perfect length, just the right fit, high quality cotton, no pesky toe seam, and the exact thickness that I was looking for. No concerns there.

When constructing the packaging, I started by learning what wasn’t possible and how much everything would cost. I learned that I couldn’t mail a package that was too small or oddly shaped or I’d run into issues with the USPS. I also learned that “storing air” could make business very difficult, a concept that never crossed my mind. In other words, a shipping package that is either an un-flattened box or tube will take up an extraordinary amount of space. To put it in perspective, a stack of constructed boxes could easily take up 100x as much space as when they are not yet constructed.

So, my parameters were defined. It then became time to make sure that everything that I did to make things right were within those parameters. I worked with a company to decide the shape of the box and a designer to make the graphics perfect. I worked with a separate company to make the envelopes and everything fit perfectly into the little (but not too little) box. Think about what could have happened if I did this in the opposite order. Maybe I would have been “storing air”, maybe they would have been made out of metal, or maybe they would be un-shippable.

Simultaneously, I repeated the same steps with SEO, website design, website development, shipping, product photography and a whole lot more. There were many little features that I knew we’d launch over the year following the very first shipment, but it was important to get the basics down. The end result was a very clean website, a good experience from purchase to delivery, low-cost storage, and literally nothing I would do differently. Argoz was, even before launch, a fine-tuned machine. With just one full-time employee and no outside help, Argoz could comfortably handle managing all aspects of customer support, packaging, and shipping for over 150 orders a day.

I sent out an email to friends (and friends of friends) and family in preparation for the website’s debut. No surprise, all of the comments that I received were about the details. With very few corrections that needed to be done to the site, I have been focused on expanding the business, adding more products/features, and working on the company’s future. So far, Argoz has been featured in Daily Candy, GQ Magazine, San Francisco Chronicle and Thrillist to name a few.

Now eight months after our launch, the first impression that our first customer experienced is nearly identical to what the most recent one has experienced. Had it not been for doing it right the first time, I’d probably still be cleaning up after my early mistakes.

They say the devil is in the details. How do you ensure that your customer’s first impression is a great one? We would love to hear about it in the comments below.

Article written by Dan Soha
Dan Soha is the founder of Five Mill Ventures, and builds, incubates and markets startup companies that he funds. By the age of 30, he had started more than 15 businesses. Most of these have succeeded, while only a couple have failed. One of his latest ventures, a premium argyle sock company named Argoz, is an e-retailer that has been featured in GQ Magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, Daily Candy and Fab.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DanSoha.