Old School is the New School – 3 ideas to grow your startup

Old School is the New School – 3 ideas to grow your startup

As marketers, we focus on numbers – growth, churn, sales.

What really gets us going though is when we see some pretty inventive ways to grow startups that include some old-school techniques – ideas that some may think have passed their prime. Bottom line – they’re just cool.

The simple fact is that as marketers we have a multitude of tools and techniques we can now use to activate and onboard users more quickly than ever before. We can look at the vast amounts of data available to us to determine when users are fully onboarded and will stay active and even leverage that data to get them back.

At SparkPage, we focus on helping companies get users activated and onboarded quickly. What’s fun for us is to look outside of what we do to learn for ourselves and help our clients.

We asked what we could learn from companies that take that plunge of going outside of the “norm” and focus on the business of growth rather than the technology tools. We discovered three intriguing startups that have very interesting stories to tell.

They have inspired us to take a look at what we do and hope they inspire you too.

Game Point Got 40% of Churned Customers Back With Valentine’s Day Cards

Our first story begins with a gaming network.

Game Point has been around for nearly 20 years and as such has a vast player network. In fact, their business development team is completely focused on how to acquire and retain users.

As with most companies their size, they had been using email as the medium to entice users to re-engage. And while their reactivation success rate was 6.5%, the biz dev team knew they had it in them to push it higher. So they decided to try something a little different.

Analyzing their data, the team found 1,000 high paying customers who had stopped playing. Great for a “win back” campaign but email just didn’t seem right for these users especially as Game Point had a physical address. That’s when it hit the team – send them a Valentine’s Day card.

Old School is the New School – 3 ideas to grow your startupFrom the outside, it just looked like a real card. No branding or indication that it was from Game Point. As Rik Haandrikman, the Director of Business Development told us:

“We had the cards hand-signed and the envelopes addressed by hand. This means that, from the outside, and even when first taking the card out of the envelope, it looked like any other Valentines card.”

Upon opening, the user was greeted with a “we miss you and want you back” message which included a monetary gift that had been added to their Game Point account.

Old School is the New School – 3 ideas to grow your startupHaandrikman remarked on the risk move, “Honestly, it was a bit of a gamble. People might’ve been disappointed to find that their card wasn’t from a secret admirer, but from an online game.”

Despite the trepidations, the plan was wildly successful and responses from users were phenomenal. Out of the 1,000 players that received the card, 289 were back on the site within the first day of receiving the card. By the end of the weekend, there were 400 users of the original 1,000, playing and re-engaged with the website, a 41% conversion rate.

Old School is the New School – 3 ideas to grow your startupUsers shared their reaction on social media, boosting Game Point’s credibility. One customer posted this message “This is what caused me to come back. Thank you for missing me. It’s quite special”.

What can we learn…

It’s always good to keep experimenting with new channels. Here at SparkPage, we see mobile apps using our service who only leverage push and never email or the other way around. Some of our clients use SMS in their onboarding activities.

These companies are getting huge wins from experimenting (something super simple to do with our A/B testing feature, if you’re wondering). It’s amazing how exploring less obvious channels can benefit.

Sometimes different channels, especially old school ones, can seem like too much effort to try, but as Haandrikman said, “you can hardly argue with a response rate of over 40%.”

Hailo Becomes the Number One Taxi App by Understanding Their Target Market

Hailo is a smartphone ride-hailing app that works exactly like Uber but is specific to taxis. Like Uber, taxi drivers are only charged if they receive a fare request and there are no weekly or monthly minimums as with traditional taxi services.

Since the app was specifically designed to focus on connecting passengers with drivers, the Hailo folks knew they needed to create instant demand.

Old School is the New School – 3 ideas to grow your startupBeing an app was fine – but that was not going to get the explosive growth and usability that Hailo needed. So the team looked at the most important piece of the Hailo pie; the drivers themselves. Drivers received a unique “Cabbie Code” to get the word out to passengers.

Hailo customers received credit toward their first trip and drivers received a bonus. This referral system and overall plan worked so well that by the end of 2013, Hailo was London’s number one taxi app. Every six seconds, a passenger was using a Hailo taxi and it was the top rated taxi app on iTunes and Android stores.

Old School is the New School – 3 ideas to grow your startupSteve McNamara, general secretary of London’s Licensed Taxi Drivers Association said:

“The introduction of Hailo has revolutionized the taxi trade in London, and it’s educating a whole new generation of customers about the benefits of using a real taxi driven by a professional driver with the knowledge, as opposed to the minicab service that many had grown up with.”

What can we learn…

Disrupting what’s always been done isn’t a bad thing. Take lifecycle marketing, for instance. Even though studies show that lifecycle marketing campaigns generate as much as nine times greater results, few email marketers are taking advantage of this customer-oriented strategy based on the idea of delivering the right message at the right time.

It’s really about taking a step back and thinking about HOW your user is experiencing and interacting with your service. In that way, you can see the opportunities for well-timed interventions – whether or not that is a behavior-triggered email or a card from your service. What Hailo did was to disrupt a 400-year-old industry using a lifecycle marketing approach, and it has paid off.

Tinder Goes Local, Targets the Right Users and Wins Big

Addictive, game-like dating app Tinder is one of the top app launches in the last few years. Launched in 2012, by 2014 it was registering about one billion “swipes” per day. What you may not know, however, is that Tinder’s initial success came from using what we would call “traditional” marketing tactics.

Since one of Tinder’s main features is pairing users based on location, Tinder’s co-founder, Whitney Wolfe, took an old-school approach and visited universities around the U.S. with the goal of gaining traction and initial users through sororities and fraternities.

Old School is the New School – 3 ideas to grow your startupFellow co-founded, Joe Muñoz stated:

“We sent her all over the country. Her pitch was pretty genius. She would go to chapters of her sorority, do her presentation, and have all the girls at the meetings install the app. Then she’d go to the corresponding brother fraternity—they’d open the app and see all these girls they knew.”

Old School is the New School – 3 ideas to grow your startupWolfe visited a dozen universities over a few months and the hard work paid off. At the beginning of the high-touch campaign they had 5,000 users and by the end onboarded users jumped to 15,000.

Word spread like wildfire through the university ecosystem and eventually moved into the mainstream with nearly 50 million users in just two short years. Amazing results for just a few days of hard selling.

What we can learn…

In order to grow, you must be able to take chances; otherwise, you’ll remain exactly where you’ve been. Take user onboarding. A poor onboarding experience makes every part of a company work harder while removing bottlenecks helps you to flourish. Tinder made the onboarding experience fun for those early adopters and got the right messages to the user.

First impressions are everything in the app game and Tinder’s knowledge of their user base empowered the app to exponentially grow so they could better use digital onboarding and activation processes.

Lessons to take for your business


We loved these case studies because it shows that ingenuity thrives. We encourage you to take them as a source of inspiration.

Of course digital channels work amazingly well for companies, but thinking outside the box and venturing into something different could be just the push to get you on the way to 1 million users.