Monday, July 21, 2008

Startup Tips: How I grew a waiting list of 20,000+ at Part I


Recently I got a question asking

“i was curious what methods you used to build a 20k pre-beta email list, and what were the conversion rates for those emails?”`

I love and if you are not using them for your personal finance then bleh. Anyways, I think for many new startups the largest challenge is distribution (outside of fb apps) to get people to use their service. Many rely on a Techcrunch post or the hope of a Digg article, Mint was rewarded with those but I think it’s even more valuable to have the right audience checking out your site from the beginning.

1- Figure out your objective. You are a promoter at a party and want the right people in line. No ugly people. For Mint that meant we wanted a waiting list of personal finance interested people in different segmentations. As well, we wanted to have a lot of personal finance people aware of us for trust reasons, the longer you know about something likely the more you’ll trust it.

2- Where are these people? This is not hard, they are reading personal finance blogs, searching for help on Google, listening to personal finance gurus, at Credit unions, in schools, etc…

3- Acquisition. Okay this is the good stuff:

a) Email Collection. duh. However, we did this with multiple landing pages. Amazingly done by Jason Putorti. We a/b tested many types of messaging and such to see what was the most compelling. Do people want Mint for savings, tracking, notifications, etc…New idea: Why not get their phone #? These are your customers, this is your livelihood, ask for their # and call them when you launch. That’s freaking memorable.

b) VIP? We allowed people to recommend friends and post badges to their blogs for earlier access, “I Want Mint”. Xobni, took our idea to a new level and was able to track those refers and have them compete.

c) Sponsor. We found smaller bloggers with passionate readers and sponsored their blog for periods at a time. Great relationship builder with influential writers. Thanks PStam for helping.

Important: We tracked all the cost / conversion to see which keywords, sites, methods were the most effective. Make sure you do this ALL THE TIME so you are not burning money if you are a start-up.

Part 2 later. Leave your own idea and the top three will get Ori Brafman’s new book Sway, about how people make irrational decisions.