The myths “We had 25,000 users sign up on our first day” or “We told our friends and they told their friends” are both likely to have a history that stretches back a couple months or even years. Overnight success is rarely created overnight. 1,000 true fans is a company’s first milestone as outlined in this famous blogpost by Kevin Kelly which is a must read.

As I research anything that may help succeed, I researched innovative starting points by many of the companies I love. All of them have a great product (See: Seth Godin – Purple Cow.) which I strongly feel is the most important factor for success, but beyond simply a great product, this is what they did…


  1. Made early adopters brand ambassadors
  2. Influencers tried before launch – Robert Scoble, Kevin Rose, Leo Laporte & MG Siegler
  3. Automatic posting to twitter
  4. Influencers pushed it to blogs
  5. Influencers ranked it high on app store
  6. Influencers used product extensively.


  1. Seeded with successful friends and connections
  2. He refused to meet potential investors until they adopted LinkedIn
  3. Deployed Outlook contact uploader for viral spread among professionals
  4. Deferred revenue until after growth (1.5 years.)
  5. Invitation reminders expired after two weeks


  1. Built forums and made observation craftspeople were unhappy with ebay.
  2. Sellers wanted everything they own to be craft, thus bought from other sellers
  3. Buyers of craft products are brand advocates
  4. Sellers told larger craft community forums
  5. Many sellers had no other e-commerce presence, so sent all new customers to Etsy.


  1. Mentored by
  2. Cover large events when hotels were overbooked
  3. During economic downturn when renters needed additional income to pay rent
  4. Went to bloggers with CNN keywords, then local news with CNN keywords. CNN searching their keywords covered them.
  5. Spammed Craigslist. (See Blogpost by Dave Gooden)
  6. Went door-to-door.
  7. David (Barry Manilow’s drummer) rented out his full apartment, as opposed to just bedrooms which they met in person.
  8. Video by Brian Chesky


  1. Email Marketing: “I think I personally wrote to the first 5,000 users.” Silbermann
  2. Psychology of the invite-only beta.
  3. Engaging and frequent notifications.
  4. Design demographic = design blogs coverage.


  1. Emailed friends and sent emails to several mailing lists.
  2. College Newspaper
  3. Cross-school friends connections and artificial scarcity.
  4. At a time when camera phones were just taking off.
  5. Hub strategy, take on strongest competitors first (startup at Columbia), then expand to where no competition exists.
  6. Aggressive use of email notifications to acquire, engage, and retain users. Defaulting users to receive comment updates was especially clever.


  1. Posting demo video to that moved from 5,000 to 75,000 signups.
  2. Many failed experiments.
  3. Word of mouth / Social worked for Dropbox much more so than search.

Warby Parker

  1. Hired a Fashion PR agency (Bradbury Lewis) that landed them in GQ, hit their annual sales target in three weeks.
  2. Made the office into a store.
  3. Co-branded with other stores – the readery.
  4. Took the store on the road – the schoolbus.
  5. Held a bazaar.


  1. Monthly video contests with decent prizes
  2. More contests.
  3. Even more contests.
  4. Loose adherence to DMCA.
  5. Ad-free through Sequoia funding in early days.
  6. Comments, subscriptions, user profiles and embeddable flash made it easier to embed than windows media player, popular at the time.


  1. One month free trial.


  1. With many ideas, not writing a line of code unless 1,000 signups to alpha page.
  2. First Skillshare class around poker.
  3. Controversial article ‘Why College is overatered.’
  4. Kickstarter Student loan crisis


  1. Blogpost on that embedded the product on their page. (3D file embedded like a youtube window.)
  2. Attracted great 3D artists via twitter

  1. Previous users from (although only XX% came.)
  2. Viral invites invite three friends to gain referral credits.
  3. 200,000 users at launch. 38% of visitors came from email campaign, 30% from typing in, 10% from twitter links (Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore), 9% Facebook.
  4. Giveaway of 10 Vitra Eames Elephant
  5. Understanding that people cared more about status when referring than discount. I.e. first on the site outranked 10% off.


  1. Emailed all our friends + family
  2. Sent personal emails to our network of DJs and radio presenter friends
  3. Went to SXSW 09 and managed to get in a frontpage BBC News article
  4. Built tools for DJs and radio presenters to promote their Cloudcasts


  1. Initial closed beta – 100 companies to test the site
  2. Apply for an invitation allowed after blog coverage – 300+ more companies added.
  3. Students joined through word of mouth, working with societies on campus.
  4. Hired FT Community Manager to kick off social media.


  1. First YC company to ever launch which grabbed press’s attention
  2. Early days, they submitted all the content under different user names so it always seemed popular (by Liam)
  3. Blogged about by Paul Graham (by Liam)
  4. Grew organically through word of mouth (by Liam)
  5. Digg had a redesign that made all the users move to reddit (by Liam)
  6. Stickers ($500) that were given out and stuck many places


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General Assembly

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  1. Winning TechCrunch50
  2. Try before you buy.
  3. Anyone inside of an organisation can set it up.


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