Customer acquisition, Entrepreneurship

Traffic hacks: Growing your user base at someone else’s expense

Most startup entrepreneurs are obsessed – rightly so – with figuring out the magic formula to get their product to go viral. But few are able to launch a product which goes viral completely on its own. Very often, successful products early on have gotten a boost by latching onto another company with more users, money or both. Here are some examples:

Hitching a ride

  • Despite still not being a monetization success, Youtube has been very successful at optimizing for retention and virality. But when Youtube first launched, their founders had to literally beg people to post videos. Is was not until Youtube enabled embedding and users started posting their Youtube videos on Myspace that the service really took off.
  • Location-based games Foursquare and Gowalla are seeing viral growth due in large part to very tight integration with their users’ Facebook and Twitter streams.
  • Without a doubt the most successful company built entirely on top of another social network is Zynga, through their brilliant (but often annoying) deep integration of Farmville and other games with Facebook in a way which enabled them to grow faster than if they had to build their own social graph from scratch.
  • Before Google was what it is today, they powered search on Yahoo!
  • BillShrink scored a marketing coup last year by convincing T-Mobile to plug the site’s cell plan picker because T-Mobile objectively came out on top most of the time. What are the chances the startup would have otherwise afforded a national ad campaign featuring Catherine Zeta-Jones? (See the video at the top of this post.)

There’s nothing wrong with being a plug-in to someone else who can increase your distribution early on. But pinning everything on one partner is a recipe for certain death, which is why all the companies above used their opportunities as a springboard – they embraced, extended and then evolved.

Case in point: When Facebook limited Zynga’s ability to talk to their users directly, and wanted them to migrate to Facebook Credits as a payment platform, they promptly decided to create their own game network. (And it didn’t take long for rumors to circulate about Google investing $100 million into Zynga and planning the launch of Google Games.)

What are some of your favorite traffic hacks? Share them in the comments below.

Special thanks to Peter Pham for previewing and providing feedback on this post.

  • Joel Wishkovsky

    Why are there no comments here, I'd love some more ideas

  • George Favvas

    I don't know… But feel free to post your own ideas, or a description of the challenge you're facing.