How To Make It as a
First-Time Entrepreneur

How to Make it as a First-Time Entrepreneur

Vinicius Vacanti is co-founder and CEO of Yipit. Next posts on how to acquire users for free and how to raise a Series A. Don’t miss them by subscribing via email or via twitter.

If you want your start-up to become the next big thing, it’s not good enough to just build a great product. Unless you can afford to buy users, you’ll have to grow virally.

The difference between getting one of your new users to convince one friend to sign up and that person getting two new friends, is huge. Assuming you start with 1,000 new users, after 9 months, it’s the difference between having 9,000 users and 511,000 users!

Below are 9 ways your start-up can grow virally:

Get Your Users to Spread the Word

  • Get users to tell others about your app simply by using it.  This is probably the best on this list and one of the hardest to achieve. It’s generally true of communication and content-creation apps.
    • Tumblr. People create their tumblrs and link to to it on their email signatures and Facebook and Twitter profiles. When those visitors come, at the top of each tumblr page, is a pitch for the visitor to “Join Tumblr”.
    • About.Me. Users can create beautiful landing pages for themselves. Like Tumblr, they link to their pages on their social media profiles. But, as you’ll see below, there’s a reason why Tumblr has grown much faster than About.Me.
  • Get users to push content they create on your app to Facebook, Twitter. This is a recent and huge phenomenon. However, users won’t just push any content they create, just content that they are proud of or think their friends will find interesting.
    • Instagram.  Probably the best example of a site taking advantage of this trend by enabling their users to take beautiful pictures which they then share on Facebook, Twitter.
    • Foursquare.  People want to tell their friends where they are, especially at high-profile locations like sporting events and music concerts.
    • Tumblr. When people create a new post, they share it on Facebook/Twitter.
  • Get users to generate content that you optimize for search engines. While this isn’t traditionally thought of as a viral growth strategy, it’s very important. Millions of potential new users are searching on Google and, if your users create content that addresses these search needs, you’ll be able to pitch those searches to join your service.
    • Wikipedia. Probably the best example of this. Wikipedia users create massive amounts of really strong content that Google searchers access every day.
    • Yelp. Did an amazing job of turning local business reviews into great business listing pages that Google often places at the top of their search results.
    • Quora and StackOverflow. Users answer questions that are then presented on Google search results for the millions of people asking those same questions.
  • Make it in your users’s best interest to invite their friends. If your strategy is to ask users to invite their friends just because, they won’t.
    • Twitter. By giving every user a follower number, it encouraged people to tell others to “follow them on Twitter” including many users that hadn’t yet signed-up for Twitter. Twitter also became a way to retain fans so that they could push content to them at a later date. The same dynamic applies to Facebook pages.
    • Kickstarter. When people create their Kickstarter project, they email all of their friends and families to contribute to the project.
    • Groupon and Gilt. Since both services have a high-enough user value, they can afford to give their users a referral credit for telling their friends.
    • Dropbox. Gives users extra memory for their dropboxes in exchange for inviting friends.
  • Get celebrities to use your app. Celebrities have huge followings. Early Facebook didn’t take advantage of this as it was all about just your friends but, with fan pages, they have tapped into this strategy.
    • Twitter. Twitter has done an amazing job of courting celebrities to use their service with some of the most high profile celebrities having millions of followers.
    • MySpace. While they have done many things wrong since, they created THE page where bands resided online and, with bands, came their legions of fans.
  • Get content created on your app to be newsworthy. If the content created on your app becomes interesting for journalists to cover, you can tap into something more valuable than traditional PR.
    • Twitter. Celebrities are constantly tweeting things they shouldn’t and journalists have a field day every time it happens.
    • Kickstarter. Successful projects on Kickstarter like the Robocop statue in Detroit transcend the service and are covered by journalists and bloggers.
    • Groupon/Living Social. Whether it’s Amazon, Whole Foods or GAP, these deals will get covered by journalists.

Increasing Conversion

  • Adjust your product to become more mainstream. It won’t help much to have all your users constantly telling everyone about your service but most people aren’t interested. If you want to reach millions of users, millions of people have to potentially want your product. For instance, About.Me has very strong viral potential (as described above) but not everyone wants their own page (at least not yet) and so their conversion rate suffers.
    • Instagram. This could have a been a niche product but by making it so easy that even an absolute beginner could take a beautiful picture, it went from a niche to a mainstream product.
    • Tumblr. Blogging platforms have been around for a while but Tumblr makes it so easy to blog that they’ve been able to convert many from non-bloggers to create a Tumblr.
  • Get your users to use your app everyday. The more your users visit your app, the more likely they are to invite their friends, create content, etc. A great example of this struggle is Plancast which, while being a product that created content, it wasn’t content that was created everyday.
    • Groupon and Gilt. Because there’s new content every day, they email their users everyday.
  • Optimize your sign-up and referral funnels. If you are getting one extra user a month and optimize your landing page and referral funnels, you’ll cross over into viral territory. It’s not uncommon to see conversion rates double after a few optimization experiments. (At Yipit, we use Google Website Optimizer).


Building a great product is only half the battle. Take the time to think through how you can build in as many viral growth opportunities. It’s worth the effort to go from linear to exponential growth.

Vinicius Vacanti is co-founder and CEO of Yipit. Next posts on how to acquire users for free and how to raise a Series A. Don’t miss them by subscribing via email or via twitter.