Stealth mode · B2B product

When to come out of Stealth mode as a B2B product? NOW or after signing up a few clients?

John Duffield

January 17th, 2014

Hi guys,

Quick one for you - we are a new B2B product currently in stealth mode. Our product is in the hotel space. We have full MVP/demo and are about to sign on our first few early adopter clients. We're in the process of evolving the MVP into the full first release product. We have remained in stealth mode without any product website or lead-capture marketing, for three main reasons: 

1 - to close some initial deals with early adopters so we can bring some credibility (ie show some brand logos on the product website)
2 - to not look too amateur-ish or startupy (if thats a word!)
3 - to stay 'off the radar' from some direct and in-direct competitors

Part of me wants to get the website up, and 'scream to the heavens' with excitement about the product and measure clicks/leads etc to the site. However, the other part is being cautious as this is a B2B product and we feel we'll be looked at under the microscope a little more from prospects as we're selling to businesses.... than we would consumers if we were a consumer start-up. Plus I feel our early adopters won't be coming from any search marketing campaign, they'll be coming from curated prospecting and relationship building.

Should we:
- Stay in stealth mode and sign up one, two or five? clients before launching publicly with a site OR
- Quit worrying and get the hell out there? Even if there isn't any endorsement from business yet?

Aside from LaunchRock and building your own product site, what tools and techniques do you recommend for getting the word out there?

Thanks,
John


Michael Brill Technology startup exec focused on AI-driven products

January 17th, 2014

Competitive concern is almost always a red herring. Nobody cares about your company/product because they've got their own development issues, roadmap, customer requirements, philosophy, biases, etc. And whatever you're doing has already been thought of by 100 companies before anyway. So even if they see it, it's kind of a shrug for them. The big difference is that you ARE doing it. They get interested only when you are successful with it and at that point, who cares what they do.

Depending on how you're funded, I would consider the impact on investors. I have that issue with my B2C product that is in a similar stage. I don't have a problem with putting an early piece of shit in people's hands, but I do have a problem if user traction is a requirement for raising money. That is, it's easier to sell a dream based on potential or real traction. But if you put it out there and the response is kind of meh because the product's not ready then investors will tend to look at that as poor market demand rather than product readiness. It's optics, but important optics.

If you have enough prospect flow right now to effectively figure out what you need to do with the product then you probably nail that first. There is a huge cost associated with responding to inquiries, creating marketing materials, pitching a product that's not ready. And don't kid yourself that you'll just collect names... it's exciting when people are interested in what you're doing.

Alexander Ross Head of Business Development at Verifide

January 17th, 2014

I'd vote with 'quit worrying and get the hell out there'. Its a learning process so the sooner you start the better.

Monica Zent Founder, CEO, Investor; Board Member, Advisor

January 17th, 2014

I've been dealing with this very issue for my B2B business. Assuming you have domain expertise in your market (which I do and presuming you must as well), you know your market best and how they will respond to a half-baked product. Typically, in the B2B space and, depending on your product, you get that one shot to make a first impression and you don't want to blow it. Staying off the radar of competitors is also wise. It's like putting a 2 year old in a 5th grade classroom. Who does that? The baby hasn't matured to the point of being able to take care of themselves if roughed up on the schoolyard. Same thing with startups in my opinion. Get your legs first and then you can compete and when you do, make sure you compete hard. You also don't want to lose credibility by launching prematurely (another approach I've frankly never understood with startups in the B2B space where it's all about credibility, reliability and professionalism). These kinds of plays need to have their act together. Your instict to tread carefully and remain incubated a bit longer is right. However, as the other responders have indicated, there is something to be said for getting out there, acquiring user feedback, asessing it and iterating from there. That is critical for any tech startup and a necessary step. Among the features you have built for the product, make sure that what you have done is pretty solid. Avoid rolling out features half-baked. Test them well, see they are solid before you roll them out to production. You might consider a closed beta followed by your commercial launch. That's what I did and it's a great way to get early feedback while still incubating. Just be thoughtful about who you invite into that closed beta. Then, when you're ready to launch, you already have some feedback, a more solid product and some early customers. I have a ton of added suggestions I can share on this topic so feel free to call me if you need. Good luck!

Ashkan Rajaee Vice President Business Development

January 17th, 2014

I've spent the last 8 years in the travel space. Get it out there. No one will try and compete with you until you have clients anyways. By then you've learned enough to stay ahead. Hospitality is one of the hardest markets to penetrate. Sorry to say, no matter how great you think the idea is, they probably have options to it with someone else in a similar way. The technology wont be the challenge. Sales cycle and marketing will. Thats my 2 cents.

Bernard Desarnauts Entrepreneur, Advisor & Mentor

January 17th, 2014

www.growthhackers.com is a new resource with tons of great articles/tips/tricks/resources in that area. in terms of your decision to unveil or not, I do not think you gain much by unveiling until you have a bit more validation that your solution is really viable aka actually used by others. 

Rob G

January 17th, 2014

certainly in the B2B world a website should do 3 things: 1) discovery, 2) education and 3) validation.  it sounds like at this stage you, appropriately, are not relying on a website for prospects to discover your offering and buy.  You and your team can do a much better job of educating your prospects than a website could ever do short of spending a few $M.  Validation:  you and your team have/will find prospects and educate them about your offering and the first thing every prospect will do is go to the web to make sure that you are legit.  I would suggest building a 1.0 site with the intent of addressing #3.  No need for SEO.  no need to give competitors more info than they need.  

Blake Caldwell

January 17th, 2014

I pretty much agree with Bernard. You have an MVP and clients to test it out. Learn from them...that is the feedback you are looking for!! Spend your time figuring out all your assumptions on which you base your business model and then go validate/invalidate them with your new customers. You may find that you bring value in a different way than you expect...thus, you would brand/design your website differently.

With that said, if you have the bandwidth, create your website in stealth. Get it up and running with all the analytics you are interested in (if you need ideas on how to keep it stealth, let me know). You clearly feel the need to come across well to your customers, so if you can help it, don't wait until the last minute to start going through the process of creating a website. Also, when you get it running, take it to your current customers and get their feedback on it. 

Best of luck!

Neha Palacherla Marketing

March 10th, 2014

This discussion question inspired a blog post by FD member Bernard Desarnauts. Would love to get more thoughts on whether or not stealth mode is worth it for a startup/when it is and isn't. I'm definitely thinking that while stealth mode works sometimes, it's just not as common anymore