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The Anatomy of a Successful Marketing Launch

Jan 12, 2023 · 8  min

TL;DR:

    • Plan your launch not as a singular event, but as a crescendo of marketing efforts.
    • Pressure test your messaging before launch to ensure it’ll resonate with your ideal customer and that you’re targeting the right channels.
    • Set clear, agreed-upon goals—even if they feel like a best guess because you haven’t launched yet. 
    • Don’t lose sleep over small slips in the plan; just move forward.

“Marketing cannot be handled by committee. There are frameworks for gathering ideas that can be done in a group setting, but in terms of decision making, it needs to be one person. Some CEOs will want to sign off on everything; others will simply want updates. Before going down this path, you have to know which one you’re working with.”

That’s Ron Harnik, vice president of marketing at Endor Labs. No stranger to building and scaling marketing programs at well-known enterprise companies like Scalr, NetApp, Palo Alto Networks, and Tastewise, Harnik moved in September of 2022 from Tel Aviv to Seattle to launch Endor Labs from pseudo-stealth mode into the public eye—following the aforementioned “path.” 

Bringing a company out of obscurity and into the minds of customers is both an art and a science. In the case of Endor Labs, Harnik executed a multi-faceted, two month plan to launch the company and recently debriefed on some of the key takeaways. If there’s a central, core truth to running a successful–but stressful–launch process, he reiterates that bosses have to trust the people they appoint to run their teams. 

“I’m very fortunate to work with a CEO who has a bias for action, for just getting things done, and trusting people to just run with things. That’s really my central advice for technical founders,” Harnik says. “If you hire a marketer to handle your launch, let them do their job.”

Step One: A Messaging Framework
For Harnik, everything starts in a Google Doc. At the top of the document, he and CEO Varun Badhwar captured company and brand messaging, marketing goals, and measurable key performance indicators (KPIs). 

Messaging starts from the founder’s perspective. Whatever drove the inception of the company, the experiences and pain points—these insights should drive the initial framework for messaging. The crucial step, says Harnik, is testing and validating those ideas. 

“You have to talk to the people you think will represent your customers. Launching a company with messaging that was developed in a silo without actually touching the market, I think is a huge mistake.” 

The team tested the messaging using two different approaches. 

First, Endor Labs maintained a public website with the company’s early vision. A common tactic for a new company is to conceal any traces of their existence—save a splash page that collects email—until the official public unveiling. But Harnik questions the necessity of such secrecy. There are of course, certain companies that must avoid attention due to intellectual property or a need to time a big customer announcement, but most invest needless stress and hassle into their pre-launch confidentiality, he says. “You’re not Nike and you’re not releasing the new iPhone.”

But Harnik went a step further by mining his engineering team. He asked them for articles which interested them—highly technical pieces that he imagined would be relevant to Endor Labs’s eventual customers, such as the pros and cons of monorepo versus polyrepo architectures. He posted those pieces to LinkedIn under his name and the company’s brand page, not only to spark early interest, but to analyze the responses and use that feedback to sharpen Endor Labs’s messaging even further.

“I wanted to see what type of people engage with the posts—what do they say about them?” 

Then, they engaged Redmonk, a developer focused analyst firm to help get Endor Labs in front of possible buyers for their product. Redmonk pressure tested the same technical messaging with potential customers. Through both processes, Harnik and team discovered that while engineers understood the messaging, the chief security officers Endor wanted to engage didn’t — so they went back to the drawing boards and honed further. 

Step Two: Focus Your Efforts with Goals
Without clearly defined goals, it’s easy to get overwhelmed deciding which of the many possible marketing tactics are right for your launch. To help frame your marketing launch, Harnik suggests aligning on the specific answers to these three broad questions:

“What’s the goal of the company?”

“What are we hoping this launch accomplishes?”

“What does success look like for the launch?” 

Giving carte blanche to a marketing lead isn’t for every founder and that’s ok says Harnik, so long as the founder understands a lot of decisions will need to be made quickly—and if that’s not possible, expectations for what marketing can accomplish should be altered. 

If you do have a technical founder who’s a first-time founder and doesn’t have a full grasp on the business side of things, then it’s your job along with your sales—if you have a sales department—to help educate them and help them set reasonable goals,” he says. Whatever the goals are based on, put something on paper as a north star to guide you.

Endor Labs Tactics

Endor Labs’ list of efforts for and following launch.

When you set measurable outcomes, it’s ok to guess, says Harnik. “Because there’s no historical data yet, if you’re going to say ‘I want to get 10,000 unique visitors on my website, you can get into a whole back and forth around how you came up with 10,000.” In order to save valuable time, Harnik recommends avoiding these reverse engineering discussions. Your goals will change as you gain more insights. 

“I’m very fortunate to work with a CEO who has a bias for action, for just getting things done, and trusting people to just run with things.”

Step Three: Implement a Marketing Strategy
As Endor Labs tested its messaging, they found themselves asking whether to let the product drive company growth, or target key customers for growth—a common conundrum for most new companies and realized they needed to do a lot of education around the product to create excitement. 

“Startups no longer have the luxury of running for a few years just on buzz and user growth,” Harnik says. “We have to show revenue, we have to grow quickly.” He and Badhwar re-consulted the list of goals; it said the company needed to hit a key revenue target within the first year. “What’s the quickest way to revenue? Partners, enterprise sales, it’s leveraging our network,” Harnik says. “It’s getting the product to a place where it’s so good on proofs-of-concept that we get big wins before the end of the year. That’s the bet that we took. And that led us away from product-led growth.”

“Startups no longer have the luxury of running for a few years just on buzz and user growth.”

With a clear vision of growth, Harnik’s team was able to weave in the finer points of messaging feedback from industry experts and potential customers. That helped them narrow down which marketing channels they wanted to use as their megaphone.

“Once we understood how we’re more of a security play rather than a development-led or an engineering-led play, then LinkedIn became more of a priority because that’s where a lot of the audience is.”

But messaging means nothing in a vacuum; it needs to fuel a machine that captures, tracks, and manages leads and interest. Harnik worked with two different agencies to design a website and flow along with HubSpot to automate information gathering, communication and customer conversion. These, he calls, “the basics,” the foundational tech stack infrastructure for launch. In addition he and his team were crafting pages and pages of content that delved into all the critical details of the product—a step Harnik learned was necessary after their customer interviews.

“We’re selling something where a lot of market education needs to happen,” he says. “A customer needs to understand why Endor Labs is different from how they manage vulnerabilities today. They need to understand our positioning when it comes to the supply chain of software security.”

Step Four: Decide on a PR Launch Approach
The question of media strategy rests at the heart of every launch. Does a company take a quantity approach and target a range of outlets with embargoed news of their launch, or a quality approach and only target one or two high-volume publications with an exclusive?

Before deciding on an approach—Harnik outlines some important considerations:

  1. If someone is asking for an exclusive, are they going to hide it behind a paywall?
  2. What are your story ingredients? Do you have a first-to-market technology, large funding round, notable investors, or well-known founders?
  3. Does the publication have a journalist who will understand your product? 

Once you’ve answered these questions it’s easier to decide whether an exclusive is right. 

The team chose broad media outreach because the funding was significant and because Badhwar was a repeat and well-known founder. Still, careful attention was paid to selecting reporters to engage based on their demonstrated interest and understanding of enterprise security. This approach earned coverage with TechCrunch, VentureBeat, SiliconAngle, Built in SF, and a half dozen security-related outlets.

“Being on TechCrunch is nice, but that’s not going to drive the pipeline,” Harnik says. “Don’t treat the launch as one day.” Instead his team employed a “rolling thunder” style approach to their marketing campaign, viewing the launch day as the start of a more extensive dissemination of content. 

On the back of a paid marketing campaign that built on the press buzz, Endor also developed video testimonials from recognizable leaders in enterprise technology and security. Harnik, Badhwar and the rest of the team scoured their contacts and developed a list of nearly fifty targets; after countless pitches, follow-ups and scheduling they managed to land six that would record an interview, including David Sal, the CISO of Instacart and Aparna Bawa, the COO of Zoom. 

“The idea was to create a moment on social media where all of these industry leaders were talking about the problem Endor is solving,” he says. “It made a pretty big splash.”

Like any good offensive, the testimonials weren’t a lone point of attack. In early November, the company kept the thunder rolling with the announcement that over thirty chief information security officers had personally invested in the company through the Silicon Valley CISO Investments (SVCI) group, an angel syndicate powered by GGV Capital. Dovetailing with the funding the company soon released another piece of video content, a mock courtroom scene where a “code custody” battle ensues between engineering and security teams—a humorous take on a real but often dry (and heated) debate. The idea was for CISO’s to share the video into their networks with a smile.

In the second half of November the team paused thunder as attention waned for the Thanksgiving holiday but re-upped Endor-centric content in December with a research report on software security. This was published by an internal research team at Endor, with its own name and branding. 

“Even after a month or so, we’re still launching,” Harnik says.

All of these public releases tracked back to the Endor blog posts where potential customers could read more deeply on the company and become a potential lead.

Things Fall Apart: Breathe
Of course, Endor faced numerous hurdles. The visualizations on the website stopped working the night before the launch. The company blog lacked the amount of content they hoped would accompany the first wave of press coverage. And initiatives started to fall out of order: Harnik wanted the courtroom video released earlier but due to production delays they had to push back. For a while this caused him to lose sleep, but with enough pieces in play he could be nimble. 

“In retrospect it was fine,” he says. “It usually just ends up being fine… but the more things you do, the more things that will break.”

The key, he says, was level-setting with Badhwar and the management team about the potential pitfalls. And when things did go wrong, he says, it was essential to keep the magnitude of the hiccup in perspective—something Harnik says he certainly didn’t always do.

“Unless you have some specific internal considerations, he adds, “It’s not going to make a huge difference in the order in which these big things happen.”

And that gets at perhaps the last key: have fun. Not only for yourself, but because it’s good business. Readers and potential customers want to be involved with energetic, engaging people. For instance Harnik realized one afternoon that all of Endor Labs’ competitors had purple visual brands—”every one of them”—as though each one was lined up to offer the same thing. 

Endor Labs went the other way: a deep green and black branding. The aesthetic calls to mind deep lines of code while tipping a hat to the origin of Endor Labs’s name: the densely forested moon home to the Ewoks in Star Wars. Still today, long after the launch, Harnik plays up the Endor reference throughout the company’s social posts. 

“When you’re new, you have to give people a reason to have an affinity towards you,” he says.