PLH 68 | Product Launch Timing

Time creeps up on you fast. If you’re thinking about launching a new product, you’ve got to think about when you want to be on the market and work it all the way back. Product launch timing is often an overlooked issue, especially with people that are new to product launching. It’s probably the most significant and critical factor to success. It can sneak up on you because it happens in different ways for different people. It’s not the same for everybody, but it is super critical. It’s multi-level because it’s not just the timing of the stages that you do, it’s also the time when you decide you’re going to go to market, the timing of the speed to market, and the timing of doing each of the stages. Discover how you can get it accomplished and have your product launch timing flow quickly and smoothly without a lot of time creep in it.

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We have a big critical issue to talk with you about. It’s really an often overlooked issue especially with people that are new to the product launching. It’s almost not an issue. It’s a factor. Let’s talk about it like it’s a factor. It’s probably the most significant and critical factor to success. It can sneak up on you because it happens in different ways for different people. It’s not the same for everybody, but it is super critical.

What we’re talking about is product launch timing. We’re going to talk about it on multiple levels because it’s not just the timing of the stages that you do. It’s also the time of when you decide you’re going to go to market. It’s also the timing of the speed to market. It’s the timing of doing each of the stages so that you can get accomplished and you can have your product launch timing flow quickly and smoothly without a lot of time creep in it. That time creeps up on you fast. You think, “I’m going to launch a new product and I want to launch it for holiday, fourth quarter of the year.” If you’re in June, you’re already too late. You’ve got to think about when you want to be the market and work it all the way back and people often ask, “What’s the right time to start?” I always say, “As soon as possible.” You should have started already. Speed to market is important. Honestly, what that really means is if you’ve got a product you want to bring to market, you want to bring it at a specific time. You’ve got to start the planning process as soon as you think about it because you’ve got to look at what the reality is.

What I find so often is either people have a sense of overestimating how fast everything is going to take to get to that stage. They were like, “I can launch by fourth quarter and it’s July.” It’s not going to happen because there’s a whole bunch of other factors that you have nothing to do with it. There are tons of packages flowing through Amazon in October and November and the amount of time you thought you could get into the warehouse within 24 hours doesn’t work like that. If you’ve listened to Brenda Crimi, you know that it doesn’t work like that. Then you’re out two weeks and then you miss all the critical sales. You’ve overestimated what you were going to be able to do and accomplish. There are little things like that and then there are big gigantic things that go wrong. You think that you’re going to go and present to a retail buyer and you’re going to be able to get in the holiday sales. You’re like, “I’m starting in January. I’m good. No problem,” but you’re walking into Lowe’s and you don’t know that their timing is two years in advance. You’re way out. These things are all factors and it’s a significant part of the planning process.

Timing is everything. Click To Tweet

There are always exceptions that can be made like in that example of Lowe’s with the buyer. If the buyer really likes your product after they’ve already experienced it, maybe they’ve done a test and had some success. If they want to accelerate things or insert things, they may be able to do that. Until you have some traction with them, until you have some history with them, they’re not going to go out on a limb and make any exceptions. They rarely go out on limb for something new. It would have to be something that was in demand and on request and they had been looking for it, and searching for it to plug a hole that they knew as an opportunity. You’d have to be in the right place at the right time.

We talked with Timothy Bush about it. If you haven’t seen this, you really need to take a look at it. We had an entire week of episodes that were completely focused on holiday seasonal strategies. We had holiday color trends and holiday design trends. We had Timothy Bush share with us seasonal strategies for how to get into retail. Brenda Crimi and I had a great chat about the planning process to running your first product launch or first time you’ve launched a product, even if you launched it earlier in the year, which is highly recommended, how you handle that first holiday season becauseyou don’t have a sense of how it’s going to sell at that seasonal rate yet because you don’t have history. These are fabulous episodes. I learned so much from them myself and I know these are going to be really powerful. Every time they talk about it, there was something about timing.

Timothy Bush was talking about it in terms of the overall timing. Sometimes you’re making decisions and you don’t even have this season sales to know how it’s doing and that’s the way the buyer prefers to work, you have to be timed perfectly for them. These are some of the critical planning things that need to happen. You have to have a global understanding of the timing of it and don’t assume that your time is going to trump everybody else’s. It just won’t work like that.

If you’re launching a product in a different market than you’ve ever used before or access before or using a different supplier than you’ve ever bought from before or it’s a different type of product, maybe it requires a different kind of testing. There are so many different things. You’ve got to find out what you don’t know about that process because it is going to negatively impact your timing. If you make assumptions you think, “I’ll find the supplier and then I’ll order a sample and that should take about this long.” Whatever amount of time that you’re originally estimating and you don’t know from experience, I would double that estimate right away until you know. When you find out and you get more accurate data, then you can start adjusting that calendar and figuring it out. The timing is everything. This is mostly logistical timing we’re talking about.

PLH 68 | Product Launch Timing

Product Launch Timing: Find out what you don’t know about a process because it is going to negatively impact your timing if you make assumptions.

This is planning and timing. I do want to mention before we move on to a different discussion of timing in a different viewpoint on it, that in planning your timing, lots of things go wrong. There are lots of hazards as we talk about constantly in Office Hours here. There are lots of things that go wrong. When things go wrong, time creep happens and lengthening of time happens. We have it happened where everyone assumes, “I’ll get a sample and it will be fine. I’ll be able to make my order by such and such date. Two weeks later, I’ll place an order and then I’ll be able to get it four weeks after that.” It doesn’t work like that, it never has.

We’re professionals in this. We do this every single day and I can tell you even still I am always like, “Tom, you can’t tell a customer we’re going to have that sample in two weeks.” It’s not going to happen because it never does. It usually takes three times as long as you anticipate it is for sampling going back and forth from Asia because there is a time delay in communication, that’s one of the pieces. They ping you but they don’t ping you until late in their day when they realize they don’t know whether they should choose this material or that material and you have to make a choice. The sample’s now on hold, and by the time you get it back to them, it’s not until their next day. Now you’ve lost 36 hours at least. These things compound and add up to delays.

If done, you’ve got photographs of it and it looks great, but you still got to get it in. When you find one minor change or one problem with it, you now have to have another sample. These things go on and it does take longer than you anticipate it to and it’s great to have this. I can also tell you that if you rush things through and approve a sample before its time because you’re like, “They’ll make these changes, it will be okay. I’ll just place the order anyway.” It will be wrong and then you will have inventory, you will have to add cost and you will be completely off your timeline at that point. That is not worth doing. Taking a few extra days, a week or two weeks to make it right and make sure that you’ve made a complete checklist and sample that is a perfect match to what your expectations are of what you’re going to get in your full inventory order, that’s important. This is critical timing decisions. Lots of times we make decisions because we’re in a rush and those decisions actually cost us more time in the overall. These are just things to think about.

The financial aspect of it is another issue of timing. You have your business plan and you’re saying, “I need to make sure we have more revenue at this point in time in our business.” You assume that you’re going to have a product and then selling by then. If that doesn’t happen in that same timing, then you could be in trouble from a cashflow perspective because you’re not selling yet. You don’t have that revenue.

Lots of times, we make decisions because we're in a rush and those decisions actually cost us more time in the overall. Click To Tweet

This happens all the time in marketing. I hear this all the time. We do a funnel, three months later or four months later, we’re still not transacting on that funnel because the testing took longer than anticipated. The team didn’t work fast enough or get the assets right and we had to redo things. These things happen in the process because we’re over allocated. Those of you solopreneurs out there, you know what I’m talking about. You’re wearing too many hats. Twenty-four hours before you get back to someone to advise them on the marketing piece, they’ve gone ahead and done it anyway. Now it requires a redo and it takes three days instead of you responding immediately because you’re over allocated, because you have too much going on. These are where that planning process comes back in again. If you’ve planned right and you’re working on the critical path items that affect your timeline, which affects your revenue, these are the critical items where no matter what happens, you’re going to drop out everything. You’re going to answer your phone if you have to because you can’t take the delay in keeping that going.

We do that with sampling. We do that with certain types of things. We’re working on marketing pieces that have a critical time path. We might use Slack, which pings you or Basecamp or text messages, whatever we’ve got to do with the team members so that they can get us at 11:00 at night before we go to bed. Make sure that they get an answer to that so that they can be productive for the rest of their day. We make that happen but only on the critical path items otherwise we’d go a little crazy with the constant off hours. What we do is we say, “This is an okay thing for you to text me on and I expect you to,” and they know that. This is timing associated when revenue is coming in, you must plan. You must be responsive about it and you must take care to understand which one of those factors are. If you are over allocated, you better hire someone or assign someone to do it to make sure that you stay on top of it.

We can talk about market timing too. I had the pleasure of interviewing Walter O’Brien, who if you’ve ever seen the TV show Scorpion, he has an extremely high IQ to the point at which he has very little EQ. That’s who he is in real life and he’s a genius. I had this great interview with him where we were talking about all kinds of innovation because he knows a lot about the innovative path. He’s always on the cutting edge. They’re testing out a new coding, new technology and all kinds of new things that we don’t even know about that might be in government development or in high private enterprise development. I asked him at the very end of the interview, “What is the most critical factor to product launch success or technology launch success, essentially launch success of any kind?” He said, “Timing.” I looked at him, “Really that?” He said there are two kinds of timing issues; market timing issues, assuming because we’re in the consumer market, it would be market timing issues. It could be society timing issues.

PLH 68 | Product Launch Timing

Product Launch Timing: Not getting there in the right time is more costly than anything else.

Let’s say you came up with something to help provide shelter in hurricanes, but you didn’t finish it in time for hurricane season. There can be social timing or environmental timing. What he said was that there is the timing of making sure that something is right for whatever the market conditions are. Fourth quarter is the biggest sale time of the year, but if your product is a summer beach towel, that doesn’t make sense. It is whatever your market timing might be for your particular category, your particular product, your particular innovation. That’s one factor. It is not getting there in the right time that is more costly than anything else. It’s more of a high risk of failure. It’s okay to be in front of it, in other words, be a little early but not too early. If you’re way too early that you have to educate the market in some kind of innovation or technology, that’s just as big a problem as missing the boat and being behind the timeline. You want to be in the sweet spot of timing. Getting that right is the number one thing.

Walter O’Brien has his Scorpion team there. They have this really cool thing where you can challenge them with a question. They won’t necessarily take it if they think it’s below their skill level or if it’s not important to them. They said that for $5,000, you can challenge them with like, “I have this critical burning question, can you give me the answer to this or find me a solution for this?” He said, “I have yet to get people coming in saying, can you tell me the optimum timing to launch this?”

He’s like, “That would be the best question someone should ever ask me but it’s not the question they usually ask me. They usually ask me how do you solve this or how do you code that or what can you do with this? If they asked me to calculate the optimum timing for success so that they should decide whether or not they should do something.” I thought that’s brilliant, to spend $5,000 and not waste millions in some cases for high technology or high innovation. That’s the kind of timing we’re talking about. What I think happens to most people is that what we don’t understand is a lot why we shouldn’t do something is calculating the cost of that to ourselves, the cost of being late to the game, the cost of being too early to the game.

We were talking about another timing aspect from another company. This company was faced with the option of paying $75,000 in tooling to make a version of their product for a certain market. They opted not to do that because that was a big investment for them at that time. Years later they wished they had done it. Their business would have been a lot better off and be at a better revenue place had they made that decision. That’s an unusual occurrence for most companies.

You want to be in the sweet spot of timing. Getting that right is the number one thing. Click To Tweet

It’s the opposite of what most companies deal with. We spent $75,000 and we can access a certain market area that has lower barriers to entry. There are not a lot of regulations because they were in a regulated industry. It might be an area in which you’re with FDA approval or you might need to get government or Medicare approval. They could go into the segment that didn’t require that, which was going to take them a lot of time and a whole lot of education and paradigm shifting to get that other market going. It’s a more valuable market and a shift in an entire industry so they really were making a big impact. That was going to be a harder way to go. They were early in a startup and they just didn’t have the $75,000 to easier market access. To pay for tooling to manufacture their product in a certain material.

It was a material difference between the two products. It’s like having different grades of a product. This lower grade but it required more tooling in order to produce it. The interesting part about that is analyzing that would have been extremely difficult because it wasn’t a known market. This is truly an innovative solution. It was a 50/50 choice, you could spend the money and still not get traction. You have to scrape together the money and they didn’t have it. At the same time, what he didn’t calculate was, “What if it did take him ten years of almost no to low income before I could get enough traction where I could be successful?” He was very frank with me and he said to me that over the fifteen years, he hasn’t taken a vacation. He’s still barely making enough money to feed his family and keep afloat. It’s just starting to get better but he constantly has to reinvest. He just had to invest in a new machine. He has to spend this money now on that tooling because he has to access that market in order to grow where he needs to grow. All around he’s still at that place and the question in hindsight is 20/20, but you look back and you go, “Had he accelerated it so instead of ten extra years it only took five?”

Personally, I think he would have. I think the example that parallel his decision on this ten years ago and investing $75,000 was to access the youth market. This is a product that the youth market would continue and want to use through adolescence, into adulthood and into their professional careers. Think of Apple computers, there’s a reason why they make the prices for their computers much less if you’re an educator or a student, because they want you to get hooked on the product and then you’re going to want to continue to use it through the rest of your life. It’s that type of situation.

The other thing I want to say about this company and we’re not getting into exactly what the product is because that doesn’t matter, but the issue is this was a company that the owner is the inventor. He was laser focused and decided, “I’m going to dedicate my life to this thing,” and he’s done it. He’s been doing it for fifteen years. If you’re that committed to your product then I think you could say, “We’re going to do this one way or another, I’m all in. What’s the best way for us to grow as a company long-term?” I think there are some other examples like Apple computer and others where if you invest in a youth market and you assimilate the market at an early age, get them hooked on your product, then you’re going to continue to grow and want to buy it. This a product of integrity but it was a paradigm shift. It’s easier to shift that paradigm in a youth market than in an adult market.

PLH 68 | Product Launch Timing

Product Launch Timing: It’s easier to shift that paradigm in a youth market than in an adult market.

Us, parents, are always looking for ways to keep our children safer. A safety product is more likely to happen there. When you’re an adult, you’d be like, “I’ve got to where I am doing it exactly the way I’m doing it, why do I need something new?” You’re entrenched in your ways. This is a really good example. I want to shift to the opposite way of looking at it. We were at this 3D print meet-up event and someone asked us about whether or not they should invest in a 3D print run of 1,000 pieces or 250 pieces or just invest in the tooling if prices were equal.

Let’s say it’s going to cost you $3,000 to tool for the product and then you buy it for a quarter a piece or it’s going to cost you $3,000 to buy 1,000 pieces of something. You’ve got those two things. When you look at that mathematically you go, “That’s a better deal.” However, this is the critical path that we found, unless you absolutely know that the market wants what you have to sell, that your product is refined enough and you’ve gone through enough iterations of it. You’ve user-tested it with the market, not with your family, and you know you’re not going to make any changes. It’s locked, you’re ready for tooling, you’ve gone through that whole stage. Unless you’ve done that first, you should always go with the 1,000 pieces 3D printed or made in a small run, made without tooling. When you go to make that run, if you’ve never done it before, if you’ve never market tested it before, you are going to learn something you did not imagine. If you had tool for it, you might be stuck and now you have to pay for another tooling. I have seen it done again and again.

This comes back to the central issue of timing. There are many issues here in this example. I think people all too often get hung up on the, “I can’t pay eight or ten times the cost of what I really would be paying if I tooled for it for an item. I’ll be so unprofitable.” They get narrowly focused penny-wise and pound foolish. Where in reality, 250, 500 or 1,000 is a really good sample size where maybe you’re not making as much money or maybe you’re not making any money. Even if for those thousand pieces you’re losing $1 per item, you’re sending $1,000 or more out the door than what you’re selling it for. That actual market proof of whether the product will sell and how quickly it will sell and is it at the right price point?

All that information you learned is so valuable to inform what you do next, that it actually accelerates your profit potential and accelerates your path to the market and to better, more profitable sales. People get hung up on, “I’ve got to be making money from the start. This doesn’t make any sense.” I don’t agree with that. You can cause yourself a lot more expense and a lot more lost time and time is money. You’re going to lose even more money than you did thinking that tooling for something twice. That loss inventory that’s sitting on a shelf that you can’t sell because it’s all wrong. It’s just lost sales and lost time to market.

The critical path that we see is the fastest path that you can accomplish two things. The fastest path that you can find or the fastest plan that you can find with good estimates, making sure that you’ve tripled your estimate on the timing. Make sure it’s still realistic within the market timing. The fastest path that you can get into market proof plus revenue, even if you have to sacrifice the truly innovative thing that you want to do. I love the Amazon sellers. I know there are lots of people out there who are just like, “They are just making knock off stuff,” there’s a lot of negativity about that. I love them because they got one thing right. You guys out there who are doing this, you’ve got the one thing right.

Let yourself feel the gratitude in your heart. Click To Tweet

If it’s not working with the marketplace, throw it out and start something new. You do it quickly without wasting a ton of money and time. Once you get that right, that’s where a lot of you Amazon sellers go wrong. You don’t take advantage of that and exploit that and use that opportunity to now do something innovative that makes you competitive proof and does all of those things. You don’t take advantage of this sweet spot you found. You don’t exploit that because you don’t know what it is maybe. You don’t know what that thing you should make is, what that innovation truly looks like because you didn’t come from that invention mindset to begin with. That’s where I look at it, that’s your opportunity to exploit that and make it last as long as possible for you. When you do that, you make your brand truly valuable.

You’ve got the formula at the beginning of this quick start, that timing is going to not only be utilized to prove that you have a market, but it’s going to give you something to keep selling. We use this example all the time. We were just faced with this. We were making a decision on our own business. We’re going to bring some microphones in for our podcast clients. The supplier came back to us and said the thing that we wanted to do, which is just a minor change, is going to require $1,000 tooling, which is not a problem. We could totally pay $1,000 for tooling but it got my mind going pause. If we’re going to tooling and make this one minor change, we have a plan for a slightly bigger change that we were going to do down the road. Is it worth it for us to take an extra 30 days to make sure that we’ve done a little test on that minor change? Make sure that that additional change can be incorporated when we do this tooling so that we can do two things at once because we have to spend it anyway.

The flip side of that is our team in China pushed back on us and said, “You can still buy the other one right now that exists without making your change to it. You can start selling that one.” We’d be saving a third of the cost of what we’ve been buying it for because we’d been doing it in the minimum volume but high test and we’ve already been through that stage. That was like, “That’s our model. Why didn’t we do that already?” We’ll be placing an order initially for one that’s not special at all. It will have our logo on it but other than that, it’s nothing special. It’s not ideal. We won’t be doing it long-term, but it will bridge that 30 extra days for us. We’d be able to make the changes we really want to make and we’ll spend that tooling dollar once. We decided to extend the timeline on something but we still didn’t lose our ability to make revenue in the meantime. These are the thought processes you want to go through, the strategies you want to think through.

When you’re faced with this tooling you’re like, “I’m going to make this change but I know that 60 days to 90 days later I’m going to make another change because I had planned to do that in the process.” That doesn’t make sense to spend that twice. Extend the time, split the timeline, 60 days, we’ll spend the money anyway. These are choices that you need to make, but they are strategic market timing choices. They are strategic timeline management. They are strategic get into revenue fast and get market proof fast timing. Product launch timing success depends on a considered plan and strategy to make sure that you are checking all of those boxes on yourself and you’re not making a gut reaction to the price of something. A gut reaction or any assumptions.

You can't make a plan based on your pocketbook or your checkbook balance. Click To Tweet

You can’t make a plan based on your pocketbook or your checkbook balance. You’re not making smart decisions, you’re not making best long-term decisions, and sometimes you’re not making the best short-term decisions. We see the flip side happen where companies get a ton of venture capital in and they make dumb decisions. I think all decisions in business in some ways are checkbook decisions, but it’s not just about what’s in your checkbook now is the point. The decisions you make now will have a bigger impact on your checkbook balance in the future.

I find too often that people kick themselves more for not spending the money sooner. Delaying and waiting and spending the money later and they spend it any way, but now they’ve gotten lower revenue because their timing was off. That’s usually the biggest critical timing issue that I see happening out there. The other one I hear is that they cycle through too many companies to help them with something. They might cycle through three or four PR firms or marketing firms or experts to help the sales. We see this a lot with sales reps, they’ll cycle through three or four sales reps in a year with no success at all before they find the right one and they feel really burned by that over time. It’s mainly because they hired the wrong sales rep because they didn’t have a checklist of criteria and their expectations weren’t clear like, “Can you do this?” The sales rep goes, “Sure, I can do it,” but they really can’t. There’s no double check on that. This happens in marketing too. I see those as the two areas where it goes wrong the most from bad hires or money spent and wasted and time lost.

I feel like we could go on and on forever on timing. If you have any questions about timing, feel free to reach out to us. Use this Office Hours to ask us these questions. Ask us about the strategies. Ask us about planning and timing. This is your time to be able to get to those critical path items and set up appointments with any one of the experts you think that can help you plan a segment if you need to. It’s critically important for you to make sure that you find the information that you don’t know. It’s also important so that you can make decisions not just on your checkbook balance, but on smart things that are going to make sure that your timing happens and that you didn’t overestimate or underestimate or make too many assumptions that are giving you a false result. Product launchers, product launch timing is everything. Thanks again and please come back to our next Office Hours.

Tune in to Tom Hazzard & Tracy Hazzard next Office Hours. Connect with and find out more about Tom Hazzard & Tracy Hazzard in our Experts Directory.

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About Tom Hazzard

An inventor with 37 patents and an unprecedented 86% success rate for consumer product designs, Tom Hazzard has been rethinking brand innovation to design in success for over 25 years. Tom’s patented innovations provide entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes a system to spread their brand, grow valuable consumers, and diversify into higher converting revenue streams without a lot of time, cost or effort. Tom is co-host of the Forbes-featured fast growth WTFFF?! 3D Printing podcast as well as host of two new podcasts, Feed Your Brand & Product Launch Hazzards borne out of his core business, Hazz Design, where he has designed and developed over 250 products that generate $2 Billion in revenue for retail and e-commerce clients.

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