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Stuart McKeown15 Pre-launch Growth Hacking Strategies For Startups

  • Monday, November 3, 2014   - Get post updates via email + a special bonus growth hack here
Growing Startup to 100k Users

Running a startup can be tough, it’s tough getting your concept validated but if you’ve been in the trenches it can be a long hard slog to get those first users using your app or buying your products.

We know it ourselves, for the last year we’ve been implementing various growth hacks to improve our ability to acquire customers organically. To date we’ve managed to attract over 25,000 SaaS users (which is a lot harder than consumer apps) & 1,000+ paying customers.

In this series of posts we’re going to look at our favourite growth hacks that you can test in your own business. I say test because not every growth hack works for every company – they are highly dependant on market conditions, your product & your audience.

The first post in the series is delving into the activity you can do before you launch, or as we like to call it the pre-launch phase, a very important phase in the development of your business. Success in this phase can often accelerate growth once you launch to the public.

Pre-Launch Growth Hacks

Build A Pre-Launch Page

You should be thinking about growth before you even launch your product. One of the simplest ways to do this is to build hype, then funnel that hype into a pre-launch list.

Harry’s did this perfectly by building a viral landing page solution that allowed users to refer friends in exchange for free products.

Harry’s drove 100k pre-launch signups inside just 7 days, using this beautiful viral landing page tactic

The thing I love about their launch campaign is that the rewards are achievable, and the value scales nicely to reward you for referring more users.

Looking to build your own Pre-launch page? Check out our in-depth guide below.

Build Your Own Launch Page

Build A Targeting List

Startup Targeting List

Getting early press for your launch will be crucial in driving signups. In my experience it’s best to plan for quality over quantity. The only way to do this is to methodically score potential partners or press outlets using some sort of formula.

This formula isn’t anything special, but it’s a good way to plan out who are the most important targets to spend lots of time on based on the impact they can provide.

20% of your outreach will often yield 80% of the results, so it’s important to focus time in the right places


How relevant is the readership to your target audience? Let’s use the example of the Kano, a personal computer that anyone can build themselves.

They hold the record for one of the most popular Kickstarter campaigns of all time. If you look at the sites they are getting press from you can see that many are highly relevant to their product (Tech, Computers or Rasberry Pi).

Ensuring that your startup outreach is relevant to your product is crucial for early traction

For example, they got a nice editorial mention on the Rasberry Pi website:

Finding Relevant Sites to Launch Your Startup


But Kano didn’t stop there, they were also getting picked up by many of the traditional tech news outlets – the sorts that hobbyists might read. It’s quite possible that some of the more credible articles (like the one above) actually helped facilitate the media outlet posts – which can drive a lot of traffic.

Hack your startup outreach with tools like @ahrefs @compete & @similarweb to see where competitors had success

Here’s a great post on TheNextWeb which added extra awareness to their campaign:

Getting More Launch Referrals For Your Startup

When researching targets like this you should consider asking yourself questions like:

  • How much traffic are they likely to send? Look at tools like SimilarWeb or Compete to get a view on the size of their audience. Use this to model out potential conversion numbers.
  • What type of consumer will I reach? You should build a landing page accordingly. If it’s hobbyists they you might consider a different landing page from collectors or parents.


Sometimes you need to leverage relationships to get an outcome. Whether it’s Tweeting to someone, getting a friend to refer you or simply sending an email to a reporter.

As with any sort of relationship building you should be considering what spin you are going to put on your story. How can you make that person want to write about you?


This is perhaps the most important element, if you do manage to get an opportunity then what channels will the partner use to help promote the story? Do they have a large social following? Or perhaps a 100k strong mailing list?

Increasing Startup Reach With PR

Just below we’ve created a simple spreadsheet for you to manage all of your early targeting, you can use it to manage your contacts, the channels they have at their disposal & also what stage of negotiations you are at. If you build a good list of sites then you can re-use them at a later date.

Startup Outreach Spreadsheet

Streamline your startup outreach tactics with this free spreadsheet from @GleamApp

Download Our Targeting List Template

Run a Contest

Run a Contest

If you have an awesome product then people are going to want the chance to win it (especially if they can get early access). Use this demand to run a contest that leverages virility & sharing.

See Our Contest Case Studies

Don’t Launch

Don't Launch Your Startup

Eric Ries once wrote a great post on why you shouldn’t launch.

When should I launch my startup? My answer is almost always the same: don’t @ericries

Launching is an activity that can be split up into many different parts. For example, Gleam has never actually done a marketing launch, we simply launched silently after beta & just built up organically. Technically we could still do a marketing launch if we wanted to.

You don’t have to launch with fireworks, just launch with something that meets a need @GleamApp

Product Hunt

Take Product Hunt as another example, they never really did a big huge launch, instead they focused on early adopters & influencers to get them sticky on the platform. I personally think that you should be doing your marketing launch once you already know your product is going to be a success (or has traction).

Who wants an influx of users that don’t know what the heck your product does, or don’t care enough to hang around?

Build a Free Plugin First

Build Free Plugins For Growth

Free plugins are an easy way to grab a slice of a mass market (and also plug your main product).

Consider PutsMail, a small web app that allows you to send yourself a test HTML email for free. PutsMail is owned by Litmus, who just happen to allow you to test your email in multiple browsers (see the synergy here?).

Pull A Stunt

Uber is the king of pulling stunts to attract publicity (and press). The key here is that they should be in good taste (but any publicity is good publicity…..right?).

Make An Awesome Pre-launch Video

Dollar Shave Club went to great lengths to make a video that describes their product perfectly with some humor mixed in. To date they’ve had almost 17M views, which is a huge ROI if you consider the investment on the original production.

Using Timing To Your Advantage


You can leverage events or specific timing to the advantage of your app. For example, when Google announced they were shutting down Google Reader – Feedly instantly created a landing page to allow easy import to their service.

Drive Signups From Your Email Signature

This is something I did a few months before I launched Gleam whilst we were still running our Coupon startup. I would be emailing hundreds of merchants every week, all of which were our target market for our new product.

Drive beta signups right from your email signature with this simple but effective growth hack

So I simply included a call to action in my emails – this itself drove over 100 beta signups.

Email Signature Growth Hack

I still use this tactic with every new product launch that we have coming up, so far I’ve generated over 250 beta signups for our new Capture app.

Email Signature Hack

Maximise Your Twitter Profile For Referrals

You will probably have multiple Twitter profiles now that you run a company. The first thing you should do is link to your company profile & URL from your personal Twitter profile.

Drive easy signups for your app when you follow users on Twitter with this profile hack

You get bonus points if you can get everyone in your company to implement this small change. Both of these links will be clickable in the notification emails the user receives.

Personal Twitter Bio Hack

The second thing to do is to ensure that your company profile page has a solid call to action, I also wrap this call to action inside a link with Google Analytics tracking (so we can see how many signups it drives).

Business Page Twitter Profile Hack

Run a Crowdfunding Campaign

Crowdfunding has become a very popular tactic for getting early support behind a product & generating funding from users that want it.

Take this product Bunch O Balloons, they generated almost $1 Million dollars in pre-orders by leveraging Kickstarter.

Benefits of a Crowdfunding campaign:

  • You can leverage the huge audience that the platform you choose already has
  • It means you can focus on marketing your Kickstarter campaign
  • It allows you to gauge the popularity of an idea before you actually launch it
  • You can fund an idea externally without having to use personal savings
  • You can incentivize backers to give you more money with scaled rewards
Growing a Kickstarter With Gleam

Get Beta Users

Hey Beta Users For Your Startup

When you’ve built your landing page you’ll want to post it to as many relevant places as possible to start getting beta users on board.

Here’s 10 places to get started:

Charge Early

If it’s one thing I’ve learned, the earlier you can start generating revenue then the faster you validate your idea (since users are more likely to pay for it). This is why the Crowdfunding model works so well.

Charge early. Money is the fastest way to business validation – If it’s working then don’t be afraid to charge more.

Technically you can do the same for SaaS or other business types. The guys over at charged $29 to jump their beta waiting list.

Leverage Your Own Network

Leverage Friends & Family For Your Startup Growth

When you first start you will want to get your founders to rally all of the people they know within their own network to use/try/test your product for early feedback & validation.

If you have a consumer facing app then this tactic can also bring you a lot of your early adopters or beta testers.

People to consider:

  • Friends & family
  • Facebook friends
  • Friends from College/High School/University
  • Twitter followers
  • Usergroups (i.e. Facebook social groups)
  • Meetup attendees

Just remember, that these people may or may not be the target market for your product – so ask them if they know anyone (or can refer anyone) that is!

Segment The Communication You Send

Send different emails depending on the recipient of the email. You can try different variations depending on the response rate.

YesWare Reply Rates

For example, YesWare will tell me the open rates & response rates of different templates that I use.

Frame Emails Personally

Soma Water Emails

If you know people personally then make your email appear to be personal. Use emotion to convey how excited you are about your product, try to bring them on the emotional journey with you.

Make It Easy To Get Press


Consider building a press kit to make it easy for journalists that want to write about your company. Crowdbooster do a great job with their kit.

Consider including:

  • Overview
  • Founder Bios
  • Founder High-res Images
  • Company Background
  • Industry Expert Quotes
  • Product Screenshots
  • Logos
  • Case Studies

Bonus Growth Hacks

We’ve put together a few bonus growth hacks that involve specific tools that can be used in conjunction with the rest of the tips in this article.

The Hack Analytics Hack is the largest link shortner in the world, Kickstarter uses it by default for all its campaigns. Did you know that you can add a + to the end of any link to see deep analytics?

Putting a + on the end of any link will give you deep insight into how it has been shared.

Try This Link

The Google Images Hack

Google Images Hack

Ever want to know who has been writing about your competitors? Easy. Simply take one of their images then put it through Google’s reverse image search.

You can do this with product images, press images or whatever you can find.

Try This Reverse Image Search

The Backlink Hack

If you have some money for a subscription then you can also use a tool like Ahrefs to look at anyone that has linked to a particular site or project similar to yours.

Ahrefs For Competitive Backlinking

For example, if we look at the Pronto project from Kickstarter we can see it has been linked to from 326 different domains – we also get access to the exact URL of the article linking. This gives us plenty of insight into where to contact for our own campaigns.

Try This Ahrefs Search
Next Post: 15 Early Traction Growth Hacks For Startups  
Stuart McKeown

Stuart McKeown is one of the Co-founders here at Gleam. Shoot a Tweet to @thegyppo if you liked this post ☺

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