Leave a comment
Get the GH Bookmarklet

Ask GH

Companies like Mailbox, Tempo and Dropbox have used wait lists in their early days. Each have had varying levels of success. So should other products start with a waiting list and if so, why?

  • SE

    Sean Ellis

    over 6 years ago #

    I think the "why" have a waiting list question is really important. Xobni was the first company I worked with that used a waiting list. The reason was that the product launched at TechCrunch 40 and it was quickly clear that there were significant performance issues. So rather than risking a bad reputation, the company threw up a waiting list wall.

    The wall became a pretty good marketing gimmick. It created scarcity and desire to try the product. People would fill out surveys, share, etc to try to gain early access.

    Since then I've used waiting lists a few times and it was always because the product wasn't ready for prime time. Waiting lists allow you to handhold people through the onboarding process and identify people who are likely to have issues. Controlled access also allows you to identify and eliminate any bugs missed by QA or usability issues and iterate on other early feedback.

    In reality most people would struggle to market a product using a waiting list - it's hard enough to market a product that is readily available. So I don't recommend waiting lists if you can help it.

    One company that has done really well recently with a waiting list is Robinhood. They now have over 300K signups and their product isn't available yet. I took screenshots of their process and posted it here: http://www.growthhackers.com/slides/robinhood-300k-signups/

  • ND

    Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré

    over 6 years ago #

    This is a :really: good question. With every answer that I wanted to provide, I was met with "but..."

    That said, though, it seems like a good idea to start with a waiting list assuming you're targeting users / potential customers whose pain points you can address with your solution.

    I think the best way to take advantage of a waiting list is to interview everyone on the list over the phone or in person. It could pair well with other qualitative data gathering during the idea stage to help determine must-have features.

    I'm assuming that these companies had varying levels of success depending on:
    - how well they targeted their users
    - how they took advantage of their waiting list
    - how they segmented users within the waiting list (cohort analysis, etc.) and how they addressed them accordingly

    • SA

      Sam Ashken

      over 6 years ago #

      I have never used but really like the idea of using your waiting list to gather customer intelligence. In the same way that Robin Hood pushes you up the waiting list for every referral which leads to a sign up, you could also incentivize people. And you'd get the added benefit of identifying registrants who may not be at the top of your waiting list but who could be very passionate early users. The reality is that how high you are up the waiting list is not necessarily a reflection of how much you will value the product, it may be more of a reflection of how closely you follow beta registration opportunities.

  • EM

    Elia Morling

    over 6 years ago #

    Every properly launched product should have a waiting list from day 1. Why? Because marketing starts the same day you start building your product, not when it's finished. The day you launch you should have a big list to kick things off with. The list can also act as a hose. If you only want 100 people on day 1, for performance reasons, then only open the valve on 100.

  • MW

    Michael Weiksner

    over 6 years ago #

    (Don't forget Pinterest, either.)

    We've just had some great success with a wait list for our flagship EndlessTV app. Here's what we gained:

    1. App Store approval well-before launch
    Check it out: http://endlesstv.com/ios

    2. App Store distribution before launch --> over 10,000 signups in a month

    3. Thousands of tweets by eager users

    4. Tweets and inbound requests for meetings by 2 different VCs

    5. Invaluable feedback and usage data before launch to iterate on the product

    6. Ability to grant insider status to partners and other VIPs

    7. Preserve our ability to have launch PR

    (We are currently 'in review', so we've temporarily taken down the waiting line. We'll put it back up this weekend and leave it up until we publicly launch on May 7.)

    Some advice: make sure your waiting line is fun. We used two call to action: "Keep waiting" and "Skip ahead". The idea is that two buttons offer a choice, even if keep waiting option is unattractive. BTW, "keep waiting" went to a screen to sign up for an alert and many people availed themselves to that opportunity.

    The only downside we experienced was a few 1-star ratings in the app store. (But I do believe that even bad ratings are useful for App Store SEO.)

    Overall, this has been my favorite launch of any product I've created.

  • JL

    josh ledgard

    over 6 years ago #

    As the founder of Kickofflabs.com we see a lot of waiting list landing pages created with our platform.

    The top reasons our customers give include:

    1. Idea validation... If you can't get 1,000 people to sign up for something it may not be worth building.
    2. Marketing validation... You may be sold on the idea... but what tagline gets the most traction? What positioning should be used? These are questions you can test and answer pre-launch that will really jump start your true web site.
    3. Customer engagement (co-building the product with customers)... A lot of people use the wait list as a way to connect with customers before and during the beta period. Once you have a group of potential customers you can keep them engaged by sending surveys, questions, screenshots, etc. This can lead to valuable feedback from your target market. But you need to have their emails captured first. :)
    4. Building Hype... I personally think of this as more of a side-benefit, but it clearly works. Having a wait list, creating some sort of virtual wall (invite three friends and we'll consider adding you...etc), can lead to a lot of social shares, additional signups, and excitement with your potential customers.
    5. Pre-sales... During the wait list period a lot of people have success running a pre-sales campaign to fund the product. "Buy lifetime subscription to our service for only $100... this offer expires when we launch"
    6. Pre-launch marketing... this is related... but subtly different to hype building. The best campaigns we've seen actually work with their wait list to help solve their problems before launch. For example: An outdoor play startup was sending weekly newsletters to the waitlist with manually curated suggestions of things to do outside with your kids over each weekend. Every email they sent generated a slew of new signups and also served to help remind people what their brand was about.

    Hope that helps!
    Josh Ledgard
    Founder - KickoffLabs.com

  • MB

    Morgan Brown

    over 6 years ago #

    I think waitlists can be effective when there is some compelling reason to get on them: either through a compelling promise like reinvent email, reinventing ecommerce, reinvent stock trades, solve email search, or through social proof like influencer buzz, etc. If it solves a big pain point, or in Lean terms has problem/solution fit, then I think they work.

    Otherwise waitlists are like pushing on a string—you can't push people to want to get on a waitlist, it has to be a pull mechanism.

    A couple of thoughts about how to make them work most effectively, based on the principle of commitment from Cialdini's principles of persuasion.

    People who have to wait for access to the app feel a greater sense of value for the app than those that don't. This can create bigger advocates and improve activation and retention—simply through the act of making people commit to the app ahead of time.

    From the book:

    A pair of young researchers, Elliot Aronson and Judson Mills, decided to test their observation that “persons who go through a great deal of trouble or pain to attain something tend to value it more highly than persons who attain the same thing with a minimum of effort.”

    The end result is that, yes, in fact people who have to go through some level of trouble place more value on that thing. It's the basis behind rites of passage and initiations, etc.

    Waiting on a list is a commitment.

    The second thing that works well is that by limiting the rewards of sharing to just moving up in line (as opposed to 'share and get immediate access') is that the reason to be on the list is based on the person's own belief in the value of the thing—not merely the opportunity for the big reward. If the reward is outsized, then people are taking action for the wrong reason, and are less likely to be committed.

    This is borne out in research into how the Chinese government handled POWs and their methods of gaining commitment through encouraging POWs to write anti-American essays.

    More from Cialdini:

    The Chinese wanted as many Americans as possible to enter these contests so that, in the process, they might write things favorable to the Communist view. If, however, the idea was to attract large numbers of entrants, why were the prizes so small? A few extra cigarettes or a little fresh fruit were often all that a contest winner could expect. In the setting, even these prizes were valuable, but still there were much larger rewards—warm clothing, special mail privileges, increased freedom of movement in camp—that the Chinese could have used to increase the number of essay writers. Yet they specifically chose to employ the smaller rather than the larger, more motivating rewards.
    Although the settings are quite different, the surveyed fraternities refused to allow civic activities into their initiation ceremonies for the same reason that the Chinese withheld large prizes in favor of less powerful inducements: They wanted the men to own what they had done. No excuses, no ways out were allowed. A man who suffered through an arduous hazing could not be given the chance to believe he did so for charitable purposes. A prisoner who salted his political essay with a few anti-American comments could not be permitted to shrug it off as motivated by a big reward. No, the fraternity chapters and Chinese Communists were playing for keeps. It was not enough to wring commitments out of their men; those men had to be made to take inner responsibility for their actions.

  • JH

    Joshua Ho

    over 4 years ago #

    As many have already stated, it's a viable strategy.

    My only caution is to not put too much weight on the results... For example:

    1. If you don't get a ton of users to sign up, it doesn't mean your idea is horrible and isn't a viable business
    2. If you got a ton of users to sign up, it's not necessarily a tell tale sign that your idea is a viable business

    Post Launch
    If those users don't engage after you launch this doesn't mean to just quit... post launch is where the real work begins

  • KF

    Kevin Fahey

    over 6 years ago #

    If there's a really well defined strategy behind the wait list, then yes. Here are a few reasons why:

    - If you're user testing or launching a gated beta program, this is an excellent way to find interesting candidates to poke holes in the platform.
    - A/B testing your wait list page will give insights into how ready the market is for your product, and what positioning converts more visitors.
    - The users who sign up for a wait list are much more likely to be your biggest advocates and influencers. Identify those that have the most reach and roll out the red carpet.

  • LS

    Louis Sayers

    over 6 years ago #

    Even gmail was invite only in the early days!

  • DM

    Depesh Mandalia

    over 6 years ago #

    Are there any examples of wait lists working on everyday consumer products rather than technology/other products?

    I know expensive and rare items work, like cars and property (real-estate). I'm thinking more like everyday goods, like apparel, electrical goods, books, other FMCG items etc.

    Growth hacking can/should be in play, in theory, across all sectors/verticals/niches... but not sure wait lists follow suit.

  • AK

    Arvi Krishnaswamy

    over 6 years ago #

    I think it's valuable to use a wait list in a few different scenarios:

    - at an early stage, when you are looking to qualify the signed up users, seek validated learning, and get to problem/solution and product/market fit.
    - when you are getting ready to launch, and are trying to drum up excitement around the 'exclusivity' of your product for your early adopters.

    I think the older ploy used by Gmail/Mailbox/Dropbox are harder to execute on now unless your product has a clear and immediate value proposition like Robinhood.

    On the other hand, I think Quibb did an excellent job of driving an community angle to their launch rollout and generated tremendous buzz. Ultimately, unless your product wows those who have already gotten through your wait list and have early access, the buzz will not be sustainable.

    For those launching mobile apps, there's an additional incentive to have a wait list - the opportunity to get a ton of downloads at the time of launch and make it up to the top of the AppStore/PlayStore charts, which then becomes great for your distribution.

  • VC

    Vlad Calus

    over 4 years ago #

    I consider to use this idea for now, for our startup.

    Thought it can be a great way to gather some e-mail list, create a hype before the official launching and "prepare" the market for our beta launch.

    So yeah, we will try it.

  • MV

    Maja Voje

    over 4 years ago #

    Absolutely! I did it twice- for http://www.1tapreceipts.com/ and http://www.getbluejay.com/. Both times it was very useful for UX and CRO testing, getting the primary traction & leads for interviews. We were investing in FB ads to attract traffic and optimised the sign up for launch page in respect to CRO principles and split testing. It is possible to assume that people with the greatest pain are more likely to be willing to sign up for early and/or for a beta. Some amazing learnings can be obtained by analysing who converted, getting in touch with them and understand their pain points. Also, a great way to win early ambassadors and other "friends". Some of my colleagues even do "sign up for launch" experiments to test the problem/solution fit. They prepare some AdWords ads (budget <100$), create a simple landing page with https://www.launchrock.com/ and analyse what happens. It is a shortcut ... :)

  • DT

    Dale Thompson

    over 4 years ago #

    Yes, but only if you are 100% sure that you will deliver almost a perfect product, or if you already have feedback from a great mass.

  • KG

    Kieran Goodacre

    over 4 years ago #

    I am the growth guy @ Maître https://maitreapp.co/ - a copy and paste widget where you can to build a viral waiting list in minutes with no coding skills.

    The short answer is Yes.

    Why? Because the ROI can be insane, I have seen campaigns from companies using our tool achieving crazy Cost per Email...


    Cost per Email: $0.001

    A smaller campaign from http://resiapp.io/

    Cost per Email: $0.11

    Also, https://git.market/

    Cost per Email: $0.08

    This across a range of products, events and services. Both B2B and B2C.

    I really see no reason why every product shouldn't use the growth lever.

    What is also interesting is that in the past, this would have been the growth levers that the big boys use. Now the barrier to entry has been reduced substantially.