The Lost Art of the Soft Launch


In the past two years we’ve launched a lot of things at Zapier. Whether it was the product itself, big features, or separate products I’ve grown to love the soft launch.

The soft launch traditionally refers to launching a product to a limited audience in order to work out the kinks. But one thing many entrepreneurs fail to remember is that if you are launching your startup for the first time, the odds of you attracting anything but a limited audience are slim to none unless you have influential friends or a big following via an email list, Twitter, Facebook or some other soapbox.

So the first launch of a product is likely to be a soft launch whether you want it to be that way or not, because it’s highly unlikely you’ll get in front of a mass audience.

This might be discouraging, but in many ways a soft launch is to your advantage. This week’s Startup Edition explores how to launch. And here’s why and how I like to do soft launches.

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Posted on December 15th, 2013

How To Validate Your Startup Idea - Anti Tom Haverford Style

Tom Haverford Business Ideas

If you’re anything like me or Tom Haverford from Parks and Recreation, you constantly have ideas for new products you’d like to build a company around someday (If you aren’t good at finding ideas, check out this article on having good ideas).

Some of those are good ideas and some of those are terrible ideas. Unfortunately, it can sometimes be difficult to identify the good from the bad.

To adapt a quote from John Wanamaker:

"Half my ideas are good, the trouble is, I don’t know which half." - Wade Foster, This Blog Post.

So what can you do to figure out what ideas are most likely to generate a viable company and not wind up like Entertainment 720? This week’s Startup Edition tries to answer the question: “How do you validate your startup idea?”

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Posted on November 18th, 2013

How to Create Routines While Navigating the Maker/Manager Transition

This post is part of Startup Edition 21. Once you’re done with this article, jump over to Startup Edition and hear how other entrepreneurs tackle building routines.

If you’ve been in the startup space long enough, you’ve likely read Paul Graham’s essay on the Maker’s vs. Manager’s schedules. If not, go read it now…. I’ll wait….

Ok, back now?

When you first start your company, you and your co-founders are on the maker’s schedule. At some point, if your company grows large enough, you’ll likely end up on the manager’s schedule (if you’ve managed to avoid the manager’s schedule at a big startup, please do share in the comments, but for now we’ll assume the manager’s schedule is inevitable).

I’ve found that building routines isn’t too tough when you are on either the maker’s schedule or the manager’s schedule. Either you wake up each day and be a maker. Or you wake up each day and be a manager. Obviously that’s simplifying things a bit, but for the sake of this post we’ll go with it.

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Posted on September 30th, 2013

How to Raise Money as a First Time Founder

Fundraising Money

This week’s Startup Edition question: How did you raise money for your startup? Here’s everything I wish I knew the first time around.

In September of 2012, Zapier closed our seed investment round of $1.2MM. In May of 2012, I had no idea where to start when it came to raising money for a company or if I even wanted to raise money.

Raising money one time certainly doesn’t make me an expert at raising money. But since I’m relatively fresh off of the experience I get asked by first-time founders how they should go about raising money for their startup.

Without further ado, here’s my ultimate guide to raising money as a first-time founder - leaning heavily on the experience and advice I’ve learned from other smart people who understand raising money much better than me.

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Posted on August 13th, 2013

The Customer Is Always Right… Except When They Aren’t

Fancy Contact Form

A few months ago we implemented a fancy form on Zapier to help us collect better information from our customers about their requests of us. Over the course of nearly two years of operations we had a pretty good idea about the typical buckets that a customer’s request will fall under.

One of the major buckets? Features requests.

In fact, over the last few months we’ve had almost 1,000 new feature requests that were explicitly marked by the customer as feature requests. That doesn’t include requests that were actually feature requests, but marked under a different bucket by the customer.

So how does one go about balancing that many feature requests with the long-term vision of a product? This week’s StartupEdition digs into that topic.

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Posted on August 6th, 2013

Building a Blue Collar Company in a White Collar Industry

Blue Collar Work

A few weeks ago there was an excellent interview in the NY Times about all the data Google had crunched about their internal hiring process.

There were a few interesting insights, namely that test scores and GPA were fairly poor indicators of success at Google:

One of the things we’ve seen from all our data crunching is that G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless.

So if all that is worthless, what actually works when hiring?

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Posted on July 15th, 2013

How to “Pick the Brains” of Busy People Without Them Even Knowing It

Picking Busy People's Brains

Busy people often get requests from advice seekers for “coffee” or “to pick their brain” for just 15 minutes. It’s a tough request for a busy person because often they really would like to help, but many times they are simply too busy to fulfill these request. Also, often times they’ve been burned by helping someone out, who then progresses to do nothing with that knowledge.

It’s this type of request that drives awesome people like Dharmesh Shah to write posts like this basically turning down all advice seekers which is really unfortunate for when you are searching for advice on a topic that for whatever reason (confidential info, competitive reasons, personnel issues, etc) can’t be summed up in a tidy blog post.

So if you genuinely need help about a topic, you can’t find the answer somewhere online, and you know for certain that INSERT_BUSY_PERSON is the right person to answer the question, then how are you supposed to make it happen if the default answer is no?

Simple: Interview the person.

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Posted on July 1st, 2013

The Founder’s Dilemma: Personal Blog or Company Blog?


It’s pretty common these days for founders to have a personal blog where they write about personal and professional experiences and lessons learned.

But as soon as you start a new company you now have two places to write: the company blog and your own personal blog.

And since most founders aren’t oozing with spare time, it becomes a constant issue figuring out where to publish that next post you write.

Do you instantly drop all your writing on your personal site in order to jump start the company blog? Or do you not worry about your company blog at all in favor of keeping up a regular schedule with your personal site readers? Or do you split the middle somewhere?

This might seem like a trivial decision, but if you suspect that content marketing might be a major part of your marketing plan in the future it’s worth thinking through the pros and cons.

So let’s get started…

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Posted on June 25th, 2013

4 Shortsighted Startup Legal, HR and Accounting Mistakes

When you start a company it’s usually just you or just you and a/some co-cofounders. Because you’re the only person working for the company, it’s pretty easy to play it fast and loose with some things like accounting, payroll and health insurance. After all, you aren’t making money and you aren’t spending money. It’s just you with a laptop, putting in the hours to build a product.

But once you start to get some traction that all changes. You’ll start making money, spending money, hiring employees and contractors and maybe raising some money. It’s an exciting time because you’ve got a real business on your hand.

But the transition comes with its fair share of landmines to watch out for. Here are some of the ones I’ve personally maneuvered through - some successfully and some less successfully.

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Posted on June 18th, 2013

The Anatomy of a 1,000 Page View Blog Post

At the beginning of the year I started writing on this site and have managed to publish 21 posts. Of the 21 posts, 7 have been viewed over 1,000 times so I thought it would be fun to do a deep dive and see if we could dissect what exactly makes a 1,000 page view blog post.

Why 1,000? Because a 1,000 page view post is achievable by anyone, but still large enough that it could be seen as a challenge. Plus it’s a nice round number.

So lets jump right in…

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Posted on June 12th, 2013

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