Launching a product during a pandemic: what we learned

Ammo Somal

Ammo Somal

Ammo is an engaging writer, researcher, and communicator, with a penchant for humor. Back in the UK, he worked in communications and creative for everything from insurance companies to video game festivals. Ammo’s skills as a content/multimedia coordinator have been honed through creating and managing content and planning multiple editorial ventures.

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Launching an entirely new business model in DIY marketing and also being touted as one of the earliest movers in this space doesn’t just happen overnight. We’ve been working on Phlywheel officially for about a year. However, a move into uncharted territory isn’t always plain sailing. Especially when the waters are as choppy as they have been in the ocean of 2020!

Over the past few weeks, I’ve taken the opportunity to speak to various Phlywheel team members about what it’s actually like to build something brand new from scratch. Here’s what they said:

Tara Hunt

CEO & Co-Founder

The hardest part of launching is ALWAYS the uncertainty of it all. I wrote a post called “There’s no such thing as a perfect plan,” and it’s true. You can prepare and prepare and prepare, but if 2020 has taught me (and the rest of us) anything at all, it’s that stuff happens. It’s more important to learn to roll with the events in real-time. Preparation is an essential foundation, but agility is how you survive.

There were several challenges coming up to the launch, including but not limited to a global pandemic that sent us all to work remotely in March! I’ve been incredibly proud of how adaptable the team has been, and I really think it’s brought us closer together. I was a little concerned a while back because nobody on the team has a community engagement background. Pretty much everyone is an expert on content, marketing strategy, or growth marketing, which are VERY different disciplines to community management. I think that the pandemic somehow taught us (and re-taught me) the value of community. I’m really excited about how everyone has grown.

I’d have to say that I did the most panicking, throwing out random, ridiculous ideas, and overall pacing back and forth while ranting. Ha! While this is funny because it’s largely true, I’d like to think that I balanced all of this with helping guide and inspire this talented team to make the vision happen.

That being said, there was a hilarious moment a few weeks ago when Kristine was trying to get us all organized to pick a painting for a virtual painting party exercise for team-building. There were a few “camps” who were passionate about specific (and sort of ridiculous) choices: a cow and an elephant. The creativity that went into the lobbying efforts had me laughing so hard in my home office that my husband came running in to see if I was okay. (I was laughing so hard I was crying) Somehow, the organizing of the team-building exercise became a team-building exercise. It was a perfect (and hilarious) illustration of how much fun this team has on a day-to-day basis… even when we’re remote.

For Phlywheel, I have measurable goals and emotional goals. First off, when it comes to measurable, the goal is to have 1,500 sustained members in 3 years, which means that we should be at ~350 members at the end of this year. We’re at 97 (including our team, so 85 non-internal), which is a good start, but the most important caveat to this goal is that we SUSTAIN the members. Not just for money, but as a testament to how essential Phlywheel becomes in our community members’ lives.

The emotional goal is to see real success stories and an amazing, healthy community emerge from all of this. This is harder to measure through numbers, but I think the metric of retention will be a good way to gauge how successful we are here! Another metric that would come of the success stories could be referrals.

Stefani Forster

Creative Director & Co-Founder

I’d never launched a product before, so there was a big learning curve for navigating parts that I was less familiar with – things like Product Hunt and Indie Hackers, and even figuring out how PR actually works. Then we had the issue of 2020 just being terrible. Between the pandemic, anti-black racism protests, and more, we made sure to read the room and always ensure that our messaging was empathetic. Not only that, but it was also important for us to use our platform to take action and actually help in times of crisis, rather than promote ourselves.

In terms of my own work, it’s hard to choose one “biggest” contribution to launching Phlywheel (other than the courses, ‘cause they’re B-I-G). Still, I’m proud all the creative and editorial pieces that we were able to pull together for the launch – things like topics and Knowledge Center descriptions and content, making huge Master Lists of content or graphics we needed doing (and checking them off, one by one – that felt really good), editing and publishing content, etc. And, I’m excited to do some webinars and present some of my courses live as part of my own Phlywheel month of programming! 🙂 

I was proud of figuring out the instructions for the card deck (that was a real doozy for me), but welcoming our wonderful Beta Testers was really exciting, and made me feel very proud of this team. I would love to see us grow our member list, but if we keep 90% of the people who join the trial – and they are sticking around and engaging – to me, that is an absolute win.

Kristine Squire

General Manager & Co-Founder

My biggest contribution to launching Phlywheel was managing the launch as a project. There were a lot of moving parts that we needed to keep track of and make sure were done right. Overseeing processes like web design, content, graphics, video, copy, courses, video conferencing tools, and MUCH more was not an easy task. I found that using 13-week “sprints” and breaking each element of the whole project down into individual, and actionable tasks worked the best.

Launching a product is unchartered territory, so when all of this year’s events unfolded, the project became even more complicated. Do we postpone the launch? Hold off on branding? etc. It was a big learning curve for me.

Something especially difficult for me was the technical aspect, we had hired many web developers to help us build the community and went through many variations. Despite the workload, I also made sure to enjoy some parts of the process. Shooting our promotional video was a lot of fun. I’m not one to get in front of the camera, but I enjoyed it and loved the results.

In terms of post-launch, I’d love to see us have a solid community of marketers who all help each other to grow their businesses. It’s great to see peoples’ progress already!

Celestina Aleobua

Producer

My main task in creating Phlywheel was producing all of the video content. From conception, writing, shooting, directing, and editing all our promotional and course videos, my year has been very busy. Would I call it stressful work, though? Nah, the art of storytelling is what I live for!

One moment that makes me feel proud was during our virtual launch party (which, might I add, was perfectly timed and coordinated) when I looked at the live comments and saw: “This party is better scripted than most of the shows I watch.” It looks like I just might have a future in producing live events, haha!

What I will say, though, is that the hardest part about launching was accepting that we were launching whether or not we all felt ready. This was before the pandemic even struck! There were some things that I wanted to perfect, as well as more content I would have loved to have created before launch. Launching with the uneasy feeling of not accomplishing all I wanted to accomplish taught me that sometimes, you have to just ship it. This anxiety and a lack of sure footing is par for the course when treading new ground. The pressure to be perfect and over-deliver could lead to your product never even launching. You don’t have to wait to have everything ready that you have planned, and you don’t have to be perfect. Most times, people are forgiving, and you can update things on the go. 

With current events causing a massive trend in online events, I hope to see our webinars become increasingly popular. I’d also love lots of feedback from our members that our content is valuable to their business. I also hope for Phlywheel to gain tons of attention within the business world!

Angie Liu

Content Strategist

My task during the Phlywheel launch process was researching various industries and publications to target for our PR efforts. Then I would go onto coordinate with our PR team at Illume to create a PR storm around our launch. Having a PR team working so close was very useful in terms of holding back our messaging during the initial COVID-19 outbreak earlier this year.

There are just so many moving parts to a project like this. The most difficult part is finding a balance between focusing on the launch of our own product (which secures our future) and still producing fantastic work for our clients (which secures our present). Ultimately, It’s important to cast aside the myth that a product has to be absolutely perfect at launch. This is never the case, and as with literally every business to ever launch a product, we still have some growing to do! Luckily, we’ve been getting a lot of great feedback on what our customers enjoy and also what they want moving forward.

A particular highlight on this project for me was definitely shooting our promotional video. It was a lot of fun, and I’m happy that other people find it as funny as we do. 

I hope that our customers are super satisfied with the community and the resources and guidance we have provided to help them succeed. And of course, that end up with lots and lots of happy customers 😉

Fernanda Sana

Graphic Designer

As a graphic designer, there was obviously a crazy amount of assets for me to create in a short space of time. Organizing all of these moving parts on time, managing expectations, and understanding what a marketing community might look like were all difficult for me at first. What do communities even talk about during a global pandemic?! But I think that the teamwork was so tight, and the assignments and goals were so clear that it made it easier for me to be so successful and grow my community management skills.

At first, I had contributed to the initial visual style, icons, “memphizing” of images, social assets, headers/banners, and much more. In recent times, I’ve been focusing more on client projects, and while I am enjoying the change of page, I’m looking forward to working on some original Phlywheel illustrations soon. 

I think what pops out the most for me is the conceptualization and production of the Brand Personality Cards. It’s a difficult task and full of many, many minor details. I was very worried to see if the first sample from the factory would be as I’d projected. Turns out that the outcome was amazing. I loved seeing that ready, the team was happy with it, and I felt super proud. However, my favorite contribution was creating each team member as a llama, so full of personality! It was meant at first just to be a community banner, but it turned into a very fun animation — and very on-brand, too. 

I hope we’ve created something that our customers will love and makes them want to stay with us because there is so much ground to cover space to grow. I know that Phlywheel will get better and better as we grow.

Maxwell Asper

Community Relations

My task on Phlywheel was managing the onboarding plan and making new members feel welcomed and informed by creating the membership handbook. It’s been a great experience getting to know so many of our beta testers and new users! After my first onboarding sessions with new members, they sent some great feedback and also expressed how great it was to have the option to do a 1-on-1 onboarding session. It seems like many smaller enterprises are really looking for that personal touch, especially now. Being able to provide value to smaller businesses and entrepreneurs (two groups heavily affected by the pandemic) was a great feeling. I felt proud that my work had made their working lives easier and aided in building their businesses.

The hardest part about launching was working towards a fixed deadline. There was so much to do, and time was fleeting. But despite having to scramble to get ready to go live, we pulled it off and, so far, things are looking good! Now the challenge is keeping this momentum going and keeping our awesome community well, awesome.

While it would be amazing to see a huge influx of members, I think it’s more important to cultivate a sustainable and helpful community with the people we have. A community isn’t defined by the size; it’s defined by its characteristics. Are people getting the help they need? Do people feel like they are surrounded by like-minded people? Are we helping them to achieve their goals, while hitting ours, too? I will be satisfied if, by the end of the year, we’ve proven to be a place where people in need of marketing help come and have found the solutions they need.

Zachary Green

Growth Marketing Specialist

I handled 3 main things prior to launch:

  1. Scouting out and kickstarting Phlywheel’s channels so the brand would have somewhere to live and grow upon launch
  2. Stashing my biggest secrets to growing your business in the Phlywheel’s knowledge centre. 
  3. Getting our data analytics program up and running between our channels, Google Analytics, and R

Launch itself was hard because I was not involved much in the conceptualization phase of Phlywheel. My role is to take what the team creates and put it out there into the world. I got sneak peeks of Phlywheel over the last year, but didn’t see the shiny, launch-ready brand until launch day.

It was challenging for me to help launch Phlywheel being so new to the brand. Overall though, it was a good lesson in managing my productivity and marketing effort under pressure. 

I am quite excited to see Phlywheel continue to evolve into a data-driven brand – in terms of both culture and processes. I’m hoping I can rally the team around data-driven approaches to marketing, and by that point processes like data collection and reporting will be fully automated.

So far, so good: We hit the top 10 on Product Hunt and got tweeted by Gary Vaynerchuk in the same minute on launch day. That was pretty cool.

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Image credits:

iStock.com/Gugurat

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