Marketing your product during a pandemic — a startup founder’s dilemma
This time last year, my cofounder Jayakumar and I launched SuperOps.ai.
Illustration: Karthikeyan Ganesh
It was just as the coronavirus began taking charge of the world and disrupted life and work as we knew it.
Many wondered why we were quitting our stable jobs and starting up during COVID when the world was under lockdown. It would mean adding another dimension of stress and uncertainty to the tumult we were already in.
But we decided to launch SuperOps.ai anyway. After all, we were still in the early stages of the company, and all we had to do was put our horse blinkers on and build the product.
A year since then, we've assembled a solid team, learned to collaborate remotely to co-build our product with our alpha users, validated product features, and now have the product ready for launch tomorrow.
We've hit our first significant milestone.
Typically, such an event would call for a celebration by way of parties, announcement events, and such. When I launched my first company, Zarget, in 2015, we hosted a grand party for employees, took our first set of customers out to lunch, and traveled across the world to announce the launch of our product.
While something on a similar scale and flavor is most certainly out of the question this time around, we at SuperOps.ai have wondered how to manage the launch.
We know we've crossed an important milestone. We know we want to tell the world about our product and explain how it'll help MSP (managed service provider) businesses. We want to share the joy of creating something new and taking it to market.
However, looking outside our shielded homes, we're hit so sharply by the avalanche of pain, the helplessness, and the fragility of life that the need and desire to talk about software seems almost mundane, selfish, and insensitive.
This dilemma is what being an entrepreneur is all about. The oft-repeated statement about entrepreneurs having to deal with difficult situations and going through testing times - this is one such. We're having to balance intense emotions and rational thinking and make tough decisions.
The quintessential emotional-rational dilemma.
We definitely can't be tone-deaf to what's happening around us and don't want to be insensitive to our customers and partners.
But we are also conscious that living through a period of crisis doesn't stop time, market, or businesses. There's no pause button — mainly when it is a startup.
Last year, we believed that the virus would wither away in six or eight months. Now, we're trying to make peace with the fact that we're in a period of extended crisis and that it will be a while before normalcy returns.
Startups may never run out of money but they do run out of time.
No matter how good the idea is and how desperately the market needs it, startups have only so much time to build their product, perfect the product market, leverage the USP, and keep competition at bay.
In our case, SuperOps.ai is in the SaaS business, which, unlike many other industries, has grown over the last year. The SaaS sector works well remotely and has helped several other industries cope with the pandemic. So we knew that the market is ready for the launch of the SuperOps.ai platform.
Also, we felt like we owed it to ourselves and the team to have a 'launch' — make an announcement and some noise around the product. Employees and customers have put aside their troubles and have spent hours validating the idea, tweaking features, and creating the product, and we owed them this.
Moreover, marching on and staying strong is extremely important for startups during times of crisis. It is essential to look ahead, listen to customers, and engage with the community about the product even during times of crisis.
Only, it needs to be done with empathy and sensitivity.
Tone down the champagne glass and celebration bells emojis, shelve extravagant launch emails to make way for warm notes about how the product will help customers. Later, once the nasty pandemic is history, the startup will be remembered as one that steadfastly focused on customers and the product that was there to make their business processes smoother when other things were being difficult.
Weighing all these factors, the solution to the dilemma was quite clear to us - launch the product, announce our funding details, reveal our plans for the future, all while being conscious of the prevailing situation.
Rather than throwing a party for our employees and customers, we're using the opportunity to let them know that their contribution to building SuperOps is appreciated and that we're grateful to them for having put the startup ahead of everything, even during these difficult times.
On that note, tomorrow, we introduce to the world, SuperOps.ai, the only PSA-RMM platform that's powered by intelligent automation and thoughtfully crafted for the new-age MSP. No popping champagne, no fanfare, but a big launch nevertheless, to record that we are staying strong and looking ahead despite troubles.