The pre-launch process can be a daunting time for founders, who need to find future buyers and convince investors—sometimes even without a prototype in hand. But Susie Harrison found that this was time well spent.
Susie and her co-founders spent years developing a product and raising money for Hearth Display, a digital whiteboard that helps families organize schedules and chores. The problem of managing a family’s commitments and tasks falls mainly to mothers, and the founders of Hearth Display noticed that most families were still using inefficient analog solutions, like physical calendars and to-do lists.
While this was a problem worth solving for Susie and her team, investors needed a little more convincing. That’s where the team’s pre-launch strategy kicked into gear.
5 strategies for a successful product launch
“One of the points of pushback that we received from potential investors was around whether or not somebody would actually pay to solve this problem,” Susie says. So she and her team got to work on an extensive pre-launch process to prove that the problem existed and to build a solution that people would be willing to buy.
Learn how Hearth Display made the most of its research and development phase to make its launch a success, and glean tips for pre-launching your own product.
1. Get to know your customers one-on-one
The earliest validation came from customers, when Susie and her co-founders did hundreds of 30-minute one-on-one calls with potential customers, learning how their household functioned and what the pain points were.
“It was so important to us to really develop genuine relationships to actually get under the hood of what that problem was and what the solution would then look like,” Susie says. It wasn’t a scalable way to do research, but it proved to be invaluable. “Especially in those early days, there’s no more important way to spend your time than to talk with your customers and learn from them directly,” she says.
2. Build trust through online communities
As the demand for Hearth Display grew, Susie and her co-founders moved to conducting surveys and building Facebook groups. The company now has two private Facebook groups with thousands of members. “We’re constantly talking to them in real time on a platform that feels native and comfortable to them to get their honest and candid feedback,” Susie says.
These groups often helped guide the company to prioritize different features in its product roadmap. Then Hearth Display would drum up demand by sharing sneak peeks at the Hearth Displays throughout the development process.
3. Educate customers on crowdfunding
The Facebook groups also helped Hearth Display transition members to financial backers. Hearth Display launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo in 2022, but knew it would be a challenge to get its target audience to participate, because seven in 10 backers of crowdfunding campaigns are men.
“We had to actually really build trust with our customer before ever launching the crowdfunding campaign and educate them as to why we chose crowdfunding, why we chose this specific platform that we chose, and why it was best for our business stage,” Susie says.
Hearth Display raised more than $600,000 as part of its Indiegogo campaign, and it helped it find beta testers for the product.
4. Demonstrate demand through pre-orders
Hearth Display decided to build both hardware and software for its namesake product, but it was going to take more funding to complete both. To persuade investors, the company ran a small pre-order campaign on Shopify, asking people to put down $50 deposits to show their support for the product.
“It’s still really scary to ask people to put down those deposits when you have no idea if you’re actually going to make it to the stage where they can fulfill their remaining balance and then you can fulfill their order,” Susie explains. “It was a giant leap of faith that we had to take as a business.” She says the company had to trust that the pre-order campaign was going to unlock the next stage of business. And it did. The company was able to raise $2.8 million in its first institutional seed round.
The pre-order customers were able to complete their purchase a year after that initial deposit, and the first Hearth Displays started shipping almost another year later. “I think it’s just been a testament to how acute this problem is and the fact that there is not a better solution in the space,” Susie says.
5. Iterate on your product
Throughout beta testing, Susie and her co-founders continued to tweak the product. They added a monthly calendar view to Hearth Display. They built chore streaks for kids, so that they had another incentive to complete their responsibilities.
Building hardware and software simultaneously actually helped shape the company’s approach to product development. “You can make tweaks to your software weekly or bi-weekly and have that show up instantaneously for your users,” Susie says. “You can not do the same with hardware, of course, because there are such long lead times in hardware development. That’s why it was so critical for us to actually establish that baseline of research before ever moving into product development.”
Hearth Displays are now for sale more widely, and the brand is taking pre-orders for its next batch. To learn more about Hearth Display’s beta testing and research process, listen to the full interview on Shopify Masters.