1000 Users

The myth of “we had 25,000 users sign up on our first day” or the line “we told our friends and they told their friends,” are both likely to have been backed up by a smart strategy. I am still figuring out the plan with www.fabsie.com and researching other playbooks for inspiration. All of the startups below have a great product which is central to their success, but beyond that are some very important findings that led to their growth.

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  1. The founders weren’t scared of letting people try it before launch. They just kept showing it to people and taking feedback.
  2. They got everyone they talked to be a brand ambassador.
  3. Early adopters used the product extensively.
  4. Users posted their photos to twitter attracting new users, (many early adopters had ‘000’s of followers.)
  5. Early users became huge advocates and pushed it on blogs and in reviews on app store.
  6. Showed it to influencers. (Robert Scoble, Kevin Rose, Leo Laporte and MG Siegler)


  1. Reid Hoffman seeded the product with successful friends and connections. (The company would have been doomed if there had been massive adoption of have-nots, instead of people who were hiring, recruiting etc.)
  2. He refused to meet with potential investors until they adopted LinkedIn.  Entrepreneurs and aspiring executives would follow their lead.
  3. Deployed an Outlook contact uploader (very painful to build/support) to allow viral spread among professionals.
  4. Deferred any features related to revenue or engagement until after the growth path was established, which took nearly 1.5 years.
  5. Invitation reminders that expired after two weeks were another key feature.


  1. The original founders built forums and started reading through the conversations people were having. The overwhelming topic was, “I wish there was a place I could sell my crafts! Ebay sucks – it’s hard to use, doesn’t care about us, and charges high fees.”
  2. Craftspeople buy crafts in other sectors than their own trade. Sellers were also buyers and brand advocates.
  3. They told their friends at even larger crafting community forums about Etsy, which brought even more sellers.
  4. Sellers previously had no e-commerce presence, so for them to accept any online transactions at all, they had to send customers to Etsy.


  1. Mentored by Justin.tv
  2. Found spikes in demand and tried to cover those events (from SXSW to London Olympics.)
  3. Went to bloggers with CNN keywords, then local news with CNN keywords. CNN searching their keywords covered them.
  4. Spammed Craigslist. (See Blogpost by Dave Gooden)
  5. Went door-to-door.
  6. David (Barry Manilow’s drummer) rented out his full apartment, as opposed to just bedrooms which they met in person.
  7. 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 Digg.com 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. Winning TechCrunch50
  2. Try before you buy.
  3. Anyone inside of an organisation can set it up.


  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 blendernation.com 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 faboulous.com (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 www.fab.com, 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. Andy Baio blogposts
  2. First project – New York Makes a Book
  3. Finding more info


  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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6 thoughts on “1000 Users

  1. I know more about how reddit started!

    1. Early days, they submitted all the content under different user names so it always seemed popular
    2. Blogged about by Paul Graham
    3. Grew organically through word of mouth
    4. Digg had a redesign that made all the users move to reddit

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