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STARTUP

4 Lessons Every Startup Can Take Away From Failed Product Launches

Not every product is a winner. Fortunately, failure can provide an incredible opportunity for growth.

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BY Heidi Zak - 15 Jun 2018

4 Lessons Every Startup Can Take Away From Failed Product Launches

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

No one likes to fail.

But as the founder of a startup, I've had to get comfortable with the fact that not every product my company brings to market will be a home run.

No matter how much time, money, and thought our team at ThirdLove puts into developing new products, some of them simply don't sell as well as we had hoped. And this is totally natural. Some products really resonate with customers while others turn out to be duds.

Fortunately, failure can provide an incredible opportunity for learning and growth.

The way you and your team respond to failure is key since it's part of what drives your roadmap for future product development. Analyzing what works and what doesn't helps you figure out what to change, where to go, and how to improve.

Here are four things I've discovered that can increase your chances of a smooth product launch:

1. Every product must have a story.

You can have the best product, but if your customers don't know about it or understand it, it simply won't sell.

The key to both is aligning your product and marketing so you can show it in a compelling way. Share how and why you designed it, how it's different or better, and what features set it apart.

Sometimes, this is difficult to do. For example, we had a really beautiful black bra with a lace overlay on the cup. But because the bra and lace were dark, it was really hard to see the pattern of the lace in photos and videos. We even experimented with editing the images so people could see the contrast. Ultimately, though, we decided not to sell it.

If customers can't see a product's features, they can't understand it. And if they can't understand it, they won't buy it. But when you tell your product's story in a way that's cohesive and consistent with your brand, customers are more likely to understand how it fits their needs.

2. Always test with your customers to prevent overbuying.

Many people think one of the worst sins in business is to run out of inventory and turn away customers. But in the short term, it's actually a good thing to sell out of a product.

Having something out of stock proves a product's worth, creates demand, and assures you that it will sell again once you get more in stock. Surprisingly, we found this out when our lounge bra sold out in less than a month. Through this, we realized that "sleep lounge" is not a secondary product for us--it's actually a core product. And within the next few months, we'll have it back in stock, permanently.

It can be difficult to predict which products will be a hit. Sometimes you're right, most times you're wrong. So try not to invest too much up front in something that might fall flat.

3. Not every product is a winner.

When you launch new products or categories, you can plan all you want. But you never really know what will do well. Even my predictions are often wrong.

If you're a new company, it's good to test a handful of products to find what works. In 2014, when we launched our first product line, we actually offered seven bras. Big mistake. We overextended ourselves. But we immediately saw that one item, our 24/7 bra, dominated. So we scrapped the other six bras. We spent the next few years selling just the 24/7 bra (and iterations of it). Today, it's still our core product.

By trying new things and figuring out what customers connect with, you can determine your future roadmap for product development. Just remember, not everything you try will work.

4. You can always iterate and improve.

There's at least one takeaway from every failed product. And you can use that to inform your next product or version of that product.

For example, one of the seven bras we initially launched with was called The Equalizer. It had inserts to balance out asymmetry. Although it was never quite as popular as our core product, women loved it. Since we knew that balancing asymmetry was important to women, we eventually added the original insert feature to a new bra. Actually, several aspects of those other six original styles have come back in new products, just in different iterations.

Once you know what customers like, hold onto that while making thoughtful changes. You can always test and innovate, but stay aware of what your customers love. It's all about achieving a balance between keeping the status quo and staying innovative.

But when a product launch doesn't go as planned, don't let it discourage you. Set yourself up for future success by using these opportunities to learn, evolve, and launch a better product down the line.

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