5 Amazing Growth Strategies to Get Your First  Million Users

5 Amazing Growth Strategies to Get Your First Million Users

You’ve built your product. You are proud of it. You want to show it off and engage with users. But how?

It’s often a struggle getting from zero to a thousand, or one thousand to ten thousand, or any user significant growth really.

So we decided to research some of the best of the best out there. The companies that grew big fast. We’ve profiled their growth stories, detailed what worked for them and squeezed it all into 5 actionable growth strategies that you can use today.

This is our first post to launch our new “Journey to The First Million Users” blog. If you find it valuable you might want to subscribe, as we have many more case studies, guides and tips lined up to deliver every week.

Create Exclusivity

Everyone enjoys being a VIP.

Someone who is in the inner circle. And has something that no one else has.

Smart businesses use this feeling to their advantage, as a reward to encourage the first trove of users to sign up.

Pinterest, Spotify, Facebook. They all were initially invite only. And that only made them more attractive. It generated amazing amounts of buzz. People wanted in. They wanted to be part the privileged few.

How Mailbox Got 1.23 Million Sign Ups Before Launch

Mailbox’s use of exclusivity simply blew it out of the park.

At first, they let users download their app before it “launched”. Users were greeted by a page prompting them to reserve a place in line.

After registering, Mailbox showed them the number of people on the waiting list before and after them.


Genius! People started sharing their number, taking pride in how high up the queue they were.


The buzz was palpable with Mailbox. This one simple screen got people excited, got them tweeting, and got the press interested. They were being talked about pretty much everywhere.


So how did they take this buzz and turbo charge it? They added referrals into the mix.

They gave users waiting in line the opportunity to skip the queue. If they send out a Tweet saying they downloaded the app they moved up. Closer to the ever so coveted number one spot.

Double genius!

The number of people signing up and queuing grew by the thousands each hour.

Within a week they had 500,000 users signed up and they hadn’t even launched! It was so successful that Mailbox was quickly snapped up for €100 million within two months of launching.

Impressive stuff.

About.me used Exclusivity and got 400k users in 3 months

Exclusively can be used in other ways too.

Where Mailbox used it for virality, About.me used it create a sense of scarcity and urgency.

They wanted to offer a personal profile page to every user on the web. But here’s the catch – once one John Smith signed up, about.me/johnsmith was gone. So if you want to secure your vanity url, their PR message went, you had better sign up quick!


About Me experienced an amazing reaction as they gained 400,000 users within a few months of launching.

People clamoured to ensure they got their own URL before anyone else. The hype said “act now or miss out”…. and users acted!

Does your product have a scarce aspect that benefits users on a first come, first serve basis? If not, can you craft one?

The caveat, of course, is not to use exclusivity excessively. Be smart about it.

Mailbox explained that they were using the reservation system to help deal with demand and keep service levels high. People understood that. About.me’s scarcity made sense – you can’t have two profiles at the same URL.

And remember hype can only last for so long!

Piggyback Your Way to the Top

As an emerging tech company trying to establish a customer base you are going to be lacking in resources. It takes time, money and people to reach an audience of a million users. All of which you simply don’t have.

That’s why smart marketers piggyback.

Imgur Piggybacked to 1 billion daily pageviews

Started in 2009, Imgur was born out of frustration. The founder had a problem uploading images to Reddit. The available options just weren’t up to snuff, so they built their own.

They announced the tool in a Reddit thread titled “My Gift to Reddit: I created an image hosting service that doesn’t suck. What do you think?”.

Well Reddit users thought it was pretty great. Imgur exploded. The first few days it received a few thousand hits. By the end of the first 5 months it had over a million total pageviews. And now gets over a billion pageviews a day!

In fact, in the years since it launched Imgur has started to overtake Reddit in daily pageviews. Pretty impressive, huh?

So what’s the lesson to be learned here?

Like Imgur, you should see if your product can act as a tool for an existing massive community.

Paypal was the best payments tool for the massive community of eBay sellers.

Instagram was the best cool pictures tool for the massive community of Facebook users.

So what existing community can your product add real value to? What tech changes or marketing messages do you need to employ to start spreading through them?

Lead a Community

If you are a business who isn’t doing any form of content marketing, you’re missing out!

There is a community out there just waiting for you.

Our last strategy talked about providing tools for them. Content marketing is similar. You’re trying to bring the same value to the community, but with education, information or entertainment instead of apps and websites.

Blogging, podcasts, video, they all are tools that can help. It’s just finding what you believe will reach the right people.

Guest Blog Your Way To 100,000 users like Buffer 

The Buffer case study is a perfect example of just how successful it can be.

Their founder Leo Widrich has been outspoken about his use of guest blogging and the success that came from it. Spanning over 9 months Leo wrote over 150 guest posts on a multitude of blogs. He made content marketing his primary focus and central to Buffer’s marketing strategy.

Writing two to four posts a day, he would reach out to blogs of varying sizes. He would get published wherever and whenever he could. The uptake was slow at first but it soon began to pay off. And the results speak for themselves. 

He said: 

“Solely through guest blogging we’ve acquired around 100,000 users within the first 9 months of running Buffer” 

That’s 100,000 users all down to tapping into communities and utilizing guest blogging to appeal to them.

Buffer’s community is online marketers. That’s who their tool helps, but it’s also who their content helps.

It’s a clever growth strategy that worked amazingly well for the business.

Personal Finance Blogging for €170 Million

Mint.com’s launch was an amazing success, growing the site from 0 to 1.5 million users in 2 years.

The original marketing team credit community building through content marketing as a large part of this early success:

“We focused on building out a unique personal finance blog, very content-rich, that spoke to a young professional crowd that we felt was being neglected. Eventually the blog became #1 in personal finance, and drove traffic to the app. Our app didn’t have a high viral coefficient but we had content that was. Our infographics and popular articles became regular hits on Digg, Reddit, etc.”

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As Jay Acunzo, ex- Head of Content for Hubspot says:

“Content marketing is just solving the same problems that your product solves through media you create and promote.”

Engineer a Referral Machine

Customers trust other customers. And when they see a review, or plug for a brand they trust it more than a message from the brand itself.

Case studies, customer reviews, referral systems. These are all strategies that have clout.

But the fastest growing companies don’t just hope for virality, they engineer it into their core.

Farmville earned 81 million users through referrals

Farmville is a game that have set the standard for engineering viral growth.

They made sharing on Facebook an integral part of their game.

Users start off playing the game alone. However as the game becomes increasingly difficult players have no choice but to reach out for help.

A request would pop up in their timeline asking others to help. Of course players flooded Facebook with requests to friends for help. Non-players would become curious about what this game is all about and want to join their friends.


The strategy created spectacular, explosive growth for Farmville. The game at its height had 81 million active monthly users and won social media game of the year. All due to their referral engine.

Unless your business is a game, doing what Farmville did is difficult. Their product is inherently “multiplayer.” But there are surely elements of your product that exist, or can be built, which can work better with friends.

Look at Spotify, for example. In this excellent post and image below Victoria Young dissects the key Product Features and how they helped Spotify’s incredible growth.

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3 of the 4 Product Features are designed to create strong network effects. Spotify didn’t wait for word of mouth, they engineered it.

Oh, and have you seen their numbers lately?

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How SquareTrade Used Referrals to get 10,000 Signups in 10 Days

Electronic Warranty business SquareTrade knew it had some devoted customers. They noticed that these customers tended to spread positive word of mouth about the brand. So they decided to use this to their advantage.

Wanting to capitalize on the new iPhone release, the business came up with a referral system for their customers. They scrolled through their database and picked out the customers they believe would most likely be the best advocates. These were users who had multiple warranties as well as customers with warranties on similar products such as iPads and iPhones.

They eventually informed 100,000 customers about the campaign. Every referral earned a customer $10. Five referrals got them $100 and $5 off a warranty for them and their referred friend. Additionally everyone who referred someone got the opportunity to win an iPad.

The plan worked perfectly. After only 10 days they had 10,000 new sign-ups, 2,200 customers bought warranties. And over 14,000 customers also participated.

It’s the blunt force method, but it works!

Target Influencers

Within communities there are influencers. Voices that are listened to, drive word of mouth and get people talking about businesses.

Seth Godin calls them sneezers, but that’s a bit gross.

They affect people’s actions and drive change. Find them!

These people will be essential in fuelling your growth. Smart businesses identify them and get in front of them.

How 7 Bloggers Got Sprout It’s First 5,000 hits

Sprout It, a startup gardening app, showed how effective influencers can really be.

They were ready to launch their app. To build some buzz they decided to run a competition on social media, giving fans the chance to win a backyard makeover. Just post a pic with the company’s hashtag.

All fairly standard stuff so far.

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The reaction was lukewarm in the early stages.

So they went back to the drawing board. They compiled a list of influential DIY and gardening bloggers and reached out with a very simple ask “Want to blog about our cool competition?”


The results surpassed Sprout It’s expectations. Seven of the bloggers they reached out to promoted the campaign. The hashtag reached over 60,000 people, drove 5000 visits to the app and they received 150 submissions to their contest. The campaign was named in Huffington Posts 10 Best Influencer Marketing Campaigns of 2013.

The influencers took a floundering campaign and turbo charged it. Not bad for $0 and a few hours work.

Obama Gets 3 Million YouTube Views By Using Influencers

It’s not just businesses using influencers. Even Barack Obama is getting in on the action.

Obama’s team has been vocal about their desire to find more innovative ways to engage with their audience, particularly younger voters.

They wanted to show a more down to earth side to the president. While also reaching out to a generation who aren’t interested in traditional media and are generally apathetic towards politics. So they decided to reach out to influencers.

They picked three YouTube stars, each with a different audience, and gave them the opportunity to have a one on one interview with the president.


The YouTubers were told to ask their followers, over 15 million collectively, for questions to ask the president. The hashtag #YouTubeAsksObama was also created to get their fans talking and spreading the word.

obama hashtag

It really did get their audience involved. Over the course of the interviews the hashtag spiked with 11,000 impacts.

The interview, which was streamed live on YouTube, has been watched over 3 million times and has over 65,000 likes.

Remember though, what Obama and Sprout It did worked because they found the right influencer. And it’s important you do too.

They don’t need to have a massive reach. They need the right reach.

You need to identify correctly who your audience actually is. And then discover the persuasive voice in that community. They can be bloggers, celebrities, social media influencers or business heavy weights.

Whoever they are, get feedback from them. Encourage them to get talking about you and become a customer. That way your campaign will have success.

If you want to dig a bit deeper here, KISSmetrics have an excellent guide to influencer targeting.

Time to act…

These growth hacks aren’t unattainable or even extremely difficult. They just need some elbow grease.

The path from zero to a million users can be a difficult and unpredictable journey. These strategies can significantly lighten your load.

You don’t need excessive resources and an endless well of cash. You just need to make the effort, build the connection and reach out to customers, influencers and your team and find the growth strategies that can really accelerate your growth.