Day 39

We're building a startup in 80 days in public. Day 39 was on Mar 3 '22. You can find today's entry at Day 67.

Today's posts:

Viral Loops

Getting new users for any new product is no easy task. There are endless channels to try: paid ads, search engine optimization and content marketing, integrations with other products, cold outreach, social media posts… the list goes on.

Of all those options, the holy grail is word-of-mouth marketing. When running a business, it’s hard to imagine something better than your customers recommending your product to others. You don’t need any pushy sales tactics (not everyone likes those!), users will trust recommendations from other people over your marketing material, and it scales really well!

Simply deciding “word of mouth” is going to be your strategy is a variation of build it and they will come, and is unlikely to work. Unfortunately there is no way of guaranteeing in advance whether people want to tell others about your service. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to increase the chances of that, especially if it’s relatively easy to do so we don’t need to give up other (marketing) work for it.

The low-hanging fruit when it comes to improving the chances someone will find your product by existing users sharing it, is to think about viral loops in the product. They’re called viral loops because using the product will cause users to share the product with others, which will then drive new users, and so on.

One example you’ll often see is a “Powered by X” link when you’re interacting with a widget on some website. Another classic example is the “Sent from my iPhone” signature under many of the emails you receive. Or even more basic, the email address itself. Back when nobody had heard of GMail, and you received an email from that domain, existing users were spreading the word for them.

And speaking of GMail, another simple tactic is to try to make the service invite-only at the beginning. The “artificial scarcity” of the invites makes it more interesting for people to share them and ask around who wants any, and makes it more interesting for others to ask around for them. As most of this happens online, it will bring in more users who see this, and get codes to share in turn. At the same time it allows you to slowly ramp up the launch, so you can process all the feedback and fix any initial glitches.

As Diederik wrote yesterday, it’s hard to get significant revenue from very small consumer accounts, and it might make more sense to keep it cheap or free for these users. One advantage of being able to have a free offering is that it might be possible to ask some social media exposure in return. For example, we could experiment with something like mentioning us in a tweet to get free access. Large B2B accounts aren’t going to do this, but word-of-mouth to find those in the first place is helpful too.

A specific features might also lend itself to create some sort of viral loop. To stay with the example of a tweet: for a previous product we tried a feature where you could interact with the app over Twitter. People saw those tweets scroll by in their timelines which drove more traffic to the app. Another feature we might consider is being able to make a part of your Thymer document public. That way people can share things like roadmaps or ideas with others, who will then also get to know Thymer that way.

Finally, it can help to add easter eggs or other fun components to your app which people might want to share. As we wrote about before, we think it’s important an MVP sparks joy in that respect.

Like many attempts to market a product, some of these can be very hit-or-miss. There’s no guarantee it will work, but if they’re easy to do and don’t cost much time, these viral loops are a good way to increase our luck surface in getting more traction with word-of-mouth.

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