The startup world is full of stories of previously unheard of apps or services that become all the rage as soon as they ship. The startup Mailbox is one recent case in point. Its one-minute trailer video had 1.2 million views and inspired more than 250,000 sign-ups when it launched. Not to mention a sign-up waiting list a few hundred thousand people deep.
The wildly successful startup Dropbox is another good example. A video released to promote a private beta test in 2011 helped the company exceed their goal of 15,000 signups, enticing 75,000 users instead. Within 7 months of launch, Dropbox reached one million users.
Maybe it’s the tipping point that Malcolm Gladwell speaks of and defined as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” When a new solution or service addresses a well-defined unmet need it’s no wonder people want it. Great marketing and branding helps too. Propelled by the excitement of both being “in the know” and getting to spread the good news, people are eager to share it with their friends. So much so that some tech industry pundits believe 70% of new users should come in through invitations or word of mouth marketing by people that are not first time users.
That number would seem really high if there wasn’t also a flipside. For startups, there’s a form of WOMM that has to do with what ideally happens before a product ever ships. While startup success depends on delivering a user experience that feeds on itself to inspire continued growth, this form of WOMM has more to do with the back-and-forth with and among users that feeds into the product development process itself.
The tech entrepreneur and blogger Eric Ries, whose views were popularized in his book “The Lean Startup,” believes the sooner startups engage their customers, the more likely they are to succeed. That’s because the feedback and insight provided by these interactions can help companies arrive at a product that more closely addresses their customers’ actual needs. As Ries puts it, “the customer experience IS the product.”
The WOMM that’s generated through these early interactions with customers not only serves to establish proof of concept. They also help companies make a habit of constant improvement through community and user feedback. The company Waze, which recently won the 2012 GSMA “Best App” award, considers input from users a big part of its success. “We’ve built the app, the website, and forums to act as platforms of dialogue between our team and our users,” said Vice President, Marketing Yael Elish in a recent interview. This approach is built into everything Waze does from crowdsourced information tied to the product itself, to built-in features that promote social sharing – all of which helped Waze double its user base to 20 million in just 6 months.
When it comes to startups, the true potential of WOMM lies in knowing how to build and tap into a user community – both before and after a product is launched. Those that do improve the likelihood, they end up with something customers are so excited about that they can’t wait to tell their friends