Guerilla Launch Tactics

Wow! This takes me back! Please check the date this post was authored, as it may no longer be relevant in a modern context.

Spinto took a lot of work to get into beta. Going public beta meant an opportunity to give the product some exposure. I don’t have a budget for marketing, or an already existing audience. I’m not Internet famous or any other kind of famous. Thank goodness :-)

So Spinto’s launch necessitated some guerilla tactics. Here’s the rundown of how, with the help of friends, I got Spinto about 5k visitors on launch day and over 300 curious users.


The exposure of a launch is a big opportunity. You’re hopefully going to get thousands of visitors, and you need to provide hooks for the few hundred that might be valuable to grab onto. Some prep steps I thought to take:

  • Clean up my blog’s design. Update the social linking buttons. I created two posts on Hacker News, and the beta blog post was my fall-back post if the main one didn’t get traction. Plus, a place for non-HN non-Twitter people to discuss what was going on.
  • Create the @spintoapp Twitter account and customize the design. Hacker News provided the most engaging discussion on Spinto, but there were bug reports and questions on Twitter as well. Plus, as I follow Twitter users who were interested in Spinto today, I can see what kind of audience I have and what interests them.
  • Send engagement emails. Spinto sends you a customized email with tips and help after you start using it. Follow-up emails are like a second chance to catch a confused user.
  • Run A/B tests. I wanted to generate more traffic than normal with a launch, and that means a better chance to learn about my population. I used the Bandit Gem, which adjusts display frequency based on success.

What if you threw a party, and nobody came?

Being very not-Internet-famous, I knew just publishing a post on this blog wouldn’t have the impact I hoped for. I needed an army, a guerilla flash-mob army to act as tinder and get things started. I ended up emailing about 80 people at 10am on Tuesday with a list of specific activities.

Organizing people to do favors for you all at the same time is a little tricky, but it worked really well. A few tips and reminders:

  • Contact a lot of people. If I emailed 80, maybe 5-10 took action right away, 30 over the 2 hours after the email and then a later trickle. People are busy, man! Not everybody can drop what they’re working on right away.
  • Tell everyone ahead of time. I sent an almost identical email Thursday the week before, asking for 5 minutes of help at 10am on Tuesday.
  • If you’re posting on Hacker News, get friends to vote for you immediately after you create the post. This is the best way to bump up on the popular page or get noticed on the new page.
  • Be specific! I asked for a bulleted list of favors:
    • Tweet or post a message to Facebook. I provided two example texts as well, and reminded people to link and @spintoapp.
    • Click “Like”, “+1”, or otherwise share the blog post link.
    • Vote up these two stories on Hacker News. Again, I made two posts so all my eggs weren’t in one basket.
    • Talk about Spinto with one real live human.
    • Then I offered a separate list of “extra credit” activities.
  • Say thanks. These are friend and colleagues and early users. I definitely feel lucky that so many great folks were excited to help me out, and saying thank you was a joy.

Besides the “big push” on Tuesday, I’ve tried for a few other attention grabbers:

  • Posters! I asked a friend in Nashville to design these great posters. I’ve put them up in coffee shops around New York, and before my launch emailed 20-25 co-working spaces in NYC and asked if I could drop one off on Monday. I was pretty surprised that most co-working spaces didn’t have a community board or something similar, but they’re up in at least half a dozen spaces.
  • Play Hangman I made a simple game, mostly as an excuse to learn Ember.js, but it created a couple hundred visits the next week.
  • Keep tweeting or blogging. My friend Karen at @harvest does a great job of curating not just Harvest news, but also links Harvest users will find interesting. I’ve tried to emulate that. Be worthy of your followers!

After the fire is gone

This is the first time I’ve tried to organize a launch on my own. I would love to know your tactics for getting in front of people online. There were a few things I was surprised at, and a few lessons to learn:

  • Once a post gets popular at Hacker News, Twitter bots being blasting out your post. You need to be ready to join the discussion there.
  • Google+ is actually popular, go figure. I got a decent number of +1s on the blog post, and immediately saw the recommended results show up on my Google searches (and I don’t even have a + account). If I was doing this again, I would ask people to +1 not my blog post, but the actual domain so it ranks higher in searches.
  • Stay involved during the launch. React to people on HN, Twitter and your blog. Be helpful and informative, give them something of value. Build relationships and reach out to people directly based on your discussions.
  • Flipboard? I feel like there were a lot of Flipboard users, though I don’t have any hard numbers. This only makes me nervous because I have no idea what looks like in Flipboard. In fact, I’m not sure how it looks like on the iPad browser. I should.
  • “FREE” still matters. My A/B tests showed language with “FREE” leading to more conversions. It doesn’t matter that the audience is tech-savvy, they still react like other humans.

I’m very happy with Spinto’s beta announcement. The project received more attention than I ever expected, and led to mentions and posts at TheNextWeb, MakeUseOf, and One Thing Well along with more independent blogs. What are your tactics for a bootstrapper’s launch?

Discussion on Hacker News