My name is Anand Satyan. I have something new to say about building, growing or not growing a business. My Co-founder Febin and I have been working on Boutline, a sports fan engagement startup for close to eight months, and we are launching today! We pivoted thrice but through the course, we decided to build a mailing list of people who might be interested. We settled on a target of 10,000 sign-ups in 100 days. This is the story of how we did that successfully.
The mailing list, for us, was not just a way to inform people that we’ve launched and urge them to start using it. We wanted it to be a channel through which we are in constant conversation with our potential customers and stakeholders. This allows us to test which features to build and focus on. I feel that this conversation is essential for our customer discovery and validation, the importance of which I learnt when we were a part of the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator earlier this year.
Piggyback on existing big names. Be shameless. Learn the art of storytelling. Get your timing right. Email Marketing works. Network the hell out of events and finally, hustle!
We were a part of the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator Batch 4. There was a lot of buzz about the program, especially during the start and during the demo day. We were featured in many magazines, blogs and websites which wrote about the portfolio startups in the accelerator. Unbeknownst to us, this is where the process of building the mailing list started. We had a simple ‘coming soon’ page where people signed up to be updated. We had gotten about 500 signups from this already.
Conducting startup events
Even before we had started building our product, we attended a lot of startup events, especially the ones organised by our friends at Weekend Ventures. We became friends with the hosts of WV and soon started volunteering for them. This was a prime opportunity for us to push our brand: both personal and that of Boutline. We wore Boutline t-shirts, talked about Boutline at every possible opportunity and urged everyone we met to sign up at our ‘coming soon’ page. Even if they didn’t, at least they remembered Boutline’s name.
Coming soon page hooks
Our ‘coming soon’ page was not a typical page with a single text box for an email id. People could sign-up for an account and reserve their username, even though the product itself was not complete. When we saw people signing up for a website that they didn’t know much about, we decided to ‘gamify’ it. We created a football fan map where people could tag their favorite sports teams to their house on a map. They could also find out who was the nearest person supporting their team. When they saw that other teams were on top of the leaderboard, they wanted to show support to their favorite teams by tagging themselves and becoming users for Boutline. We were able to form an association between Boutline and sports using this.
We then spent two entire days pushing it everywhere- Hacker News, Reddit, Forums, Twitter, you name it, it was posted there. Even though the intention was to get people to signup, since this wasn’t just another ‘coming soon’ page, we weren’t shy of spreading the word about it. We got massive traffic and had 3000+ signups from this alone and we still continue to get many!
Storytelling through guest blogging
Before Boutline, I had a startup called DeliverWithMe. It failed miserably, but it did give me a story to share. I blogged about it. I tagged Boutline in this post and left a link to Boutline in the signature. A lot of people who were in similar situations empathized with me and decided to find out what Boutline was about. More signups came our way.
Indian Football Movement
The Indian Super League was a few weeks away and we wanted to take advantage of this to promote ourselves. We collaborated with a few sports startups to come up with something we called, the Indian Football Movement. We wanted to bring everyone interested in football under one umbrella. We had an elaborate social media promotional campaign. We got a few bloggers to write about us and in turn link to Boutline.
We got a few sports bars to give highly discounted rates to our members. We organized meetups and screenings in these bars. We got stickers, bands and t-shirts printed and gave away Boutline swag at these meetups. We wore the brand wherever we went.
Social media pushes - Twitter hijacking
We hijacked Twitter during popular cricket and football games. We made a list of influencers and starting tweeting to them using Boutline’s Twitter handle. We got into conversations they were having with their followers. Sometimes they retweeted something we wrote, it spread out to their huge follower list. We got a lot of traffic to our site.
Storytelling through weekly mailers
Through the course of the 100 days, we had been mailing our signups with mailers about updates and schedule. When people sign up to be updated about a soon-to-be-launched product, they are coming to you voluntarily. Do not miss out on this opportunity. But you’re at a risk of putting them off with spam if you get this wrong.
When somebody signed up, we immediately mailed them to thank them. We also made sure that there was no mismatch of expectations. We made it clear that we would be sending a total of 12 mails over the 100 days: one mail per week. We also told them to reply with the subject “unsubscribe” if they wanted to unsubscribe. We did not give them a link to unsubscribe. Only 38 people sent the unsubscribe mail. Just one person mailed back abusing us. You can check out our first mailer here.
It’s also important to make sure you have something they can take away from each mailer. There was a story in each mail that we sent. Slowly, people started waiting for our next mails. One week, we couldn’t mail them because we hadn’t completed what we had told them we would, so there was a rush of mails asking why there were no mails. We were really elated that people were actually reading what we had written.
Since we conduct so many events and are a part of so many programmes we send and receive many emails a day. So we set our sender name like this: “Anand from Boutline” and mentioned the launch dates in the signature of our mails with links to the pre-launch signup page. This created curiosity about Boutline.
Conversations at sports bars and stadium
We frequented sports bars and attended matches in stadia. We didn’t want to miss an opportunity to spread the word of Boutline to such a targeted audience. So we wore Boutline t-shirts and took Boutline flags to stadia and bars. We went around meeting strangers, striking a conversation with them and telling them about Boutline.
Febin started making a name for himself in the hacker community. He was invited to JsFoo where he conducted a workshop on MeteorJS. He always demonstrated sample code using Boutline’s half baked code. This made attendees remember the name Boutline and visit the site to sign up for the beta.
Tapping into personal mailing lists
Finally, we took Boutline to our friends. Each of us had a list of at least 1000 email ids in our contacts list. So we sent a personal mailer to everybody in the list telling them what we are working on and requesting them to sign up for Boutline if they are sports fans. We made sure that the lists we had didn’t have any repeated ids before sending out the mailers. There were a few people we didn’t know too well from this list. We still sent out the mailer to them shamelessly.
I believe that seeing so much interest in a product about sports validates the need for something in this space. We are proud to have a few evangelists even before the launch. This proved to us that we had pivoted in the right direction.
Boutline launches today. We hope this list will turbo boost our signups to the first goal we have set for ourselves of 100,000 signups in the first half of 2015.
Here’s to a great year ahead for all startups.