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How to launch a successful digital platform

Harry Cobbold
Harry Cobbold

If you’re an entrepreneur in the digital space, there will come a time when you will finally want to push all your ideas into a solid strategy for launch and beyond. But with so many pitfalls and elements to think about, without proper guidance this can become somewhat of a minefield. We’ve pulled together some of our best advice on how to launch a digital platform.

Launch a digital platform, lift-off graphic

Get advice from those who’ve done it before

Your first port of call before considering how to launch a digital platform, is to ask those with industry or technological knowledge for input on your idea. Reach out to your network of connections or an experienced agency for their thoughts. By doing this you will short-cut to better ideas at an earlier stage of the process, minimising wasted time. We’re mentioning this first, because having the right people on hand from the early stages of your project can save hours of wasted time and money down the line.

In our experience, the most important aspects to consider are:
  • Strategy, viability and market research,
  • User research incl. user personas,
  • Technology specifications and scalability planning,
  • Fundraising & planning,
  • KPI and objective setting,
  • Co-creation and early-stage design,
  • Wireframing & prototyping,
  • Full product design & build,
  • Continuous improvement and optimisation

Market research

If you’re launching a new digital product, initiative or platform, you should conduct market research even if you think you already know your audience. The degree and depth to which you conduct this research will depend on the stage of your business.

Check demand

Google Keyword Researcher – this is probably one of the number one quickest ways to check wider demand for your product idea. By simply typing in a few related keywords, you’ll be able to get real search volume metrics which can offer a wealth of information as to how many people are actively seeking out similar products.

Google trends – Google trends is another great tool offered by Google. One of the really fantastic things about Trends, is that you can see whether your product will be seasonally popular. If you were an ecommerce store selling calendars for example, google trends would probably show you that calendars are very popular at the end and very beginnings of the year, with very low uptake at other times. This is fine, but you need to be prepared for a huge amount of business and output at one time of the year and very little at others. This will need to be thought-through carefully from a logistical stand-point as you’ll have to take into consideration hiring and distribution issues as well as flexible contracts and (very importantly) tech scalability.

Examine competitors

You’re seeking to answer a few questions here;

  1. Is it possible to break into the market?
  2. How will your product or service be differentiated from incumbent businesses? Your competitor’s reputation and the feasibility of improving their service enough to get noticed, should be of paramount importance.
  3. Why should new customers come to you?
  4. What do you offer that current market leaders don’t?

Some things which can give you an idea of how popular your competitors are;

  • Do they have a strong social media following? What’s their engagement like?
  • How big is their team? Do they have vast resources behind them that would quickly one-up any improvements you made? Or are they large and unable to react quickly to a nimble start-up?
  • Are there lots of reviews for them online? Are they positive or negative? (you can learn a huge amount about gaps in the market from this – are they getting any consistent complaints? Is this something you can do better?)
Identify your target market

List out your major service offerings and value propositions that set you apart from competition when launching your digital platform. Think about practical reasons how and why these offerings will help buyers. This list will be foundational, you will build on it throughout your user research.

If you already have an audience you can learn a certain amount from diving into existing customer metrics.

Ask yourself;

  • What are their buying habits?
  • Can you identify any trends?
  • What modes of communication do they prefer?
  • Where do they spend time?
  • What do they value from a service? Ease of service? High quality? Value for money?

If you’re just starting out and don’t have any data yet, you will need to skip straight into interviewing your target market in order to start learning.

Making sure your product is viable

Once you’ve gained some kind of idea of how your product will basically function, you’ll need to assess whether the product is viable.

When you’re just starting out as a business, it’s likely that it will be costing you more to acquire your customers than they bring in. In order to gain a projection of your product and business viability, you need to have a good grasp of the right metrics to make sure you’re steering your business towards profitability.

Unit economics

With so many metrics to keep track of, unit economics attempts to simplify this by measuring profitability on a per unit basis. There are two angles you can examine this from;

  1. Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) : Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) ratio – if it’s costing you more to acquire customers than they are bringing in revenue you will need to refine either your pricing, your acquisition or your costing model. As a general rule you’ll be wanting your customers to bring in roughly 3x more than it’s costing you to acquire them.
  2. Payback period on CAC – this focuses on the amount of time in which the company needs to pay back the cost of acquiring the customer, usually around 15 months.

If you’re over-performing on either of these metrics, that’s great, but it indicates that you aren’t operating to your full potential. Reinvest in acquisition initiatives to maximise on your company’s outputs longer term.

When launching a digital platform, there are some other important metrics to examine from the get-go:

  • Demand
  • Seasonality
  • Price point
  • Competition
  • Is there room to differentiate?
  • Is your target audience large enough, with enough spending power?
  • Running costs
  • How quickly can you earn back start-up costs
  • Projected time until profitability
  • Product lifespan/repeat purchase likelihood

From the above you should garner a good projection of your position in the marketplace and be able to form initial projections for success.

User research

Undertaking real user research is an essential element to this process. Without real user insights your product will be founded on guesswork, leading to poorly made decisions and inferior results. You’re likely to have an idea of user behaviour at a high level already. The aim of this user research is to fully build out your idea and features based on information garnered directly from users.

We create user testing in three main stages;

Problem testing: Asking about people’s behaviours and frustrations as a starting point to identifying whether a business opportunity exists or not. e.g. If you were considering selling “A home CCTV system for cats”, you might ask cat owners “Do you worry about what your cat is up to when you’re out?”

Solution testing: At this stage you show people the idea in prototype form in order to test it and get feedback. e.g Show them the CCTV footage of their cat at home – does your solution solve the pain points revealed in the problem testing phase?

Optimisation testing: This isn’t really part of the launch, but should be considered in your strategy as it will form an essential part of your platform’s future development. Once your product has been launched, we’d recommend implementing user testing strategies such as A/B testing and session recording (we use Hotjar for this).

From this information you should be able to develop clear User Personas for your target market, which will guide your ongoing build and marketing efforts.

Technical and functional design specifications

Technical and design specifications should take into account a whole range of factors including;

  • Objectives,
  • Flexibility,
  • Scalability,
  • Cost,
  • Ease of talent-hiring,
  • Reliability,
  • Timelines.

It’s really important to think through this information in the early stages – just because everyone else uses a certain kind of technology, does it mean you should? What are the most important features of your digital platform? Why are these features important? How feasible are they to produce?

How do you plan to optimise and improve your product on an ongoing basis? How much time and investment will go into this? Which features will you release in which order?


We’d recommend employing a continuous improvement model to all of your builds as this incremental building allows for less wastage and more accurate user-lead decisions. Check out our guide to prototyping for more.

Funding

Green sprouts growing

If you’ve read our post on how to approach investors, you’ll know that funding is something that should be taken into account early on. Try to pre-empt any future funding requirements before you really need them. Not only does a relationship with investors take time to build, but it’s also important that your business is in peak working order before you apply.

There are many funding options to choose from;

  • R&D finance or R&D tax credit loans – a type of debt for eligible companies to access R&D tax credit loans earlier, in the form of a secured loan.
  • Innovation grants – Grants available for emerging technologies and innovation.
  • R&D tax credits – the easiest form of government funding, particularly for tech startups. Companies can get up to 33% of their eligible R&D activity expenditure repaid to them by HMRC.
  • Regional growth funding – growth funding offered locally, often offering less than £1m
  • Business/startup loans – government backed financing – borrow up to £25,000 with 6% interest.
  • Venture Capital funds – managed pools of funding distributed to high-growth potential start-ups or scale-ups
  • Bootstrapping – using your own cash or capital to fund your business
  • Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS)/Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) – two government programs that incentivise investment into startups through significant tax breaks.
  • Equity financing – raising capital through the sale of shares
  • Angel investors – individuals with capital and business growth experience who invest in startups in exchange for equity. Angel investors can also represent something called a Family Office, whereby they manage a pool of family-owned money.
  • Angel networks/Syndicates – Angel networks/syndicates are groups of semi-independent angels often specialising in specific sectors. They’re often more hands-off than completely independent angels.
  • Family offices – a pool of family-owned money represented by an angel
  • Accelerators/incubators – provide support & advice and often an amount of capital for business growth. Where incubators are for ventures in their infancy, accelerators are for businesses in later stages..
  • Crowdfunding, equity, rewards-based – raising small amounts of funds from many investors by selling things like shares or offering rewards.
  • Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) – small competition opening the public sector up to cutting edge technology

All of these are viable options, but some may be more suitable to your business than others. Bake funding requirements and metrics into your launch plan and you’ll be much better prepared for a successful bid.

KPI and objective setting

It is essential to have clear tracking metrics in place. Tracking the RIGHT metrics will not only help you to make clearly informed decisions and improvements, but it will also set you up for success in future funding applications. Being able to track positives and areas for improvement in your digital product will prove that you have a good handle and understanding of your business.

The most important thing here is to avoid vanity metrics, which don’t offer real insight or learning that can help to improve your digital product. Vanity metrics might include website traffic, clicks or impressions.

Instead, focus on metrics which can be directly linked to sales and conversions. We’ve gone more in depth on this topic as well as how to prove and set up ROI tracking. [Link ROI article]

Co-creation and early-stage design

When creating and designing your product, particularly in the early stages, we would highly recommend getting the whole team involved in brainstorming and offering ideas. The more heads offering unique ideas and experiences on a topic the better. Ideas should be offered anonymously (we like post it notes) and should each be given equal consideration. This mitigates the chance of some people’s voices being heard more than others and allows the best ideas to be taken forward.

If you weren’t already aware, we offer discovery workshops which are a fantastic way to do all of the above with the guidance of our supervision and expertise. If you’re interested, we’d love to hear from you.

Wireframing & prototyping

Sketching UX design on paper pad - a key step to launching a digital platform

If you’ve read anything about our way of working before, you will know that prototyping and MVPs play a huge part in our product development process. Plan to build your product out into wireframes to get a shell idea of how it will look and operate and then build out into a fully functioning prototype.

Prioritise building in the most important features first and plan to gradually build up other features over time in a continuous improvement model.

We’ve written a guide dedicated to early-stage design and prototyping which goes into this topic in much greater depth.

Design

  • UX Design (User Experience) – UX is the umbrella experience delivered to users
  • UI Design (User Interface) – The design of the user interface.
  • IA Design (Information Architecture) – The arrangement of the information on the website.

All three of these need to be taken into consideration when considering how to designing, build and launch your digital platform. This is where the competitor and user research you did to begin with will come in handy. You should have a good initial idea of which features are most important to your target audience and which will differentiate you from your competitors.

Remember, if you’ve chosen to build using a prototype first of all, then this version of the design doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) contain every feature you intend to eventually have. The very idea of a minimum viable product is to only launch with the essentials required to start operating. You’ll then be able to learn from users ASAP, testing then implementing what you’ve learned from them.

Full product design, build and continuous development

After you launch your digital platform, keep testing your product and listening to your users using the methods described in the user research section. Really your full build will never be finished. The digital world is fast paced and ever-changing. One of the only ways to guarantee staying ahead of your competitors is never to rest on your laurels. Constant improvement, optimisation, new feature releases are essential to staying in tune with your customers and keeping ahead of the competition.

This is one of the main reasons why it’s so important to build technology scalably and with well-built foundations. It’s also why it’s incredibly important to use accessible tech for which you’ll easily be able to hire talented developers to work on in the future.

We hope you found this information useful – as you can see launching a digital platforms can be an intricate process, and without foresight and careful planning time and money can be wasted. If you have any questions on this process or would like specialised advice, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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