Launch events build buzz for startups

May 22, 2000


President Clinton addressed the assembled technology community at the Spring COMDEX show in Chicago in April in order to capitalize on the event's power to support his message about the Digital Divide.

For the same reason, legendary advertising executive Jay Chiat used the 1984 Super Bowl to launch the Apple Macintosh.

What presidents and visionary ad men everywhere are learning is that offline "launch events" in the physical world can be crucial to success online. In fact, the launch event is becoming a marketing art form unto itself-particularly in the nonstop world of high-tech marketing.

Human nature hasn't changed much since ancient times. People love to come together around the hearth, share nourishment and converse. AOL chat rooms achieve something like this in cyberspace and launch events accomplish it in physical space. Aristotle said we are by nature gregarious; both online and, surprisingly, offline, the Internet phenomenon proves his point. But that's not the only reason launch events are so important.

"Launch events… force the company and the team that's building the product to draw a line in the sand and say, 'At this point in time, we have to accomplish x, y and z,'" says Louise Webber, senior vice president of marketing at New York-based Internet Financial Network (IFN).

In March, IFN launched InfoGate, a free personalized information service and desktop tool that provides customized information to users wanting to track financial and investment information in real time. It's a cross between Yahoo! Finance, the Bloomberg financial news service and Windows, enabling users to customize their computers and have their chosen selection of daily financial news and information delivered to their desktops. Like many Net startups, InfoGate needs eyeballs, and a launch event was a way to generate awareness and trial by building buzz through the media. InfoGate hosted a satellite press conference at which executives demonstrated the product and beamed the conversation to reporters all over the world.

But awareness-building was only one of InfoGate's launch objectives. The company markets its product through intermediaries: Partnerships with financial services firms such as Salomon Smith Barney and DLJdirect lead InfoGate to end-customers. The launch event helped InfoGate gain credibility with these strategic partners.

Then there were the investors. InfoGate wanted to demonstrate its product and success to investors from Citigroup and share the new invention with the Silicon Alley community.

Perhaps most importantly, the team at InfoGate, like Internet teams the world over, just wanted to celebrate after a lot of hard work. And, they did-from dusk 'til dawn, beginning with a press conference at the Cyber Café in midtown Manhattan and finishing with a late night gala at IFN's Wall Street offices, InfoGate was born.

What does it take to hold a launch event? Here's my list of seven secrets to success:

  • Sweat the little stuff. Define a clear, minute-to-minute game plan.
  • Pick the right venue. The location can make or break a launch event.
  • Set clear objectives. Launch events may feel like parties, but they have a business purpose. Set measurable goals for what constitutes success.
  • Look for synergy. The best launch events achieve multiple ends with multiple audiences.
  • Aim for edgy creative, not over-the-edge. Go for it. Be unique, but remember that business purpose.
  • Rehearse. Review the details with the entire team and have contingency plans ready.
  • The reaction is all that counts. No event runs perfectly, so smile-never let them see you sweat.

One of my favorite launch events occurred when Austin, Texas-based Trilogy Software Inc. was marketing its affiliated Web company, To make a splash, build awareness and knowledge and basically capture eyeballs, the company put a banner up on San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge offering free tolls for the day in honor of the new venture. Then, as reported by Forbes magazine, it was slammed the next day in the press for desecrating a national landmark. As the launch event moved to New York, however, battle-scarred company President Joe Liemandt went on talk radio and asked New Yorkers if they cared if he give away free tolls for the day in the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels.

As you'd expect, the New Yorkers didn't mind.

Liemandt was lucky; he got a second chance. Most are one-shot deals.

And then there's the other problem with launch events: They're only the beginning.

Even as the hangover arrives, you have to begin delivering a great product and great customer service 24-7 and every day thereafter.

Michael Krauss is a partner with Diamond Technology Partners in Chicago.
He can be reached at






 ©2004 Marion Consulting Partners