Question

What are your thoughts on invite only strategy?

Superhuman started it (kind off) and now hey.com has made the invite only model famous, Clubhouse is also in the list of invite only model. Seems to me more of attention and marketing model rather than controlling the user base.

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maguay's avatar
6 months ago

Invite-only is one of the original marketing strategies for email services. Hotmail spread quickly at first from its email signatures, which I think very likely was the inspiration behind everything things like the iPhone Mail app having a "Sent via iPhone" signature. It's a status symbol at first, that oh look, I'm using this new thing before it's widely adopted and popular, and maybe got in before most people. (And then, over time, the same signature becomes passé and almost brands you as a late-adaptor. So it goes.)

Not sure if Hotmail was invite-only at first though. Gmail was invite only at launch, though, and it was hugely popular, enough that people were selling Gmail invites on eBay (something someone repeated this week with Hey invites). Google was also infamous for leaving their software in perpetual beta, which sortof tied into the invite system where you're suggesting "hey, we're still building this thing, so we can't let everyone in just yet" while using that to drive interest.

It works, too. I personally signup for beta wait lists all the time, while forgetting to download new software that just gets released traditionally. You need a broader marketing plan that drips out details and makes people anticipate trying the product to make the invites actually valuable and something people will want, though.

The interesting thing more recently is how Superhuman uses the invite only system to basically build exclusivity, almost like it's a private club that you have to know a member to get join, which increases the value of the invite and makes people more likely to really try it once they get an invite as they want to see what they've been missing out on. Clubhouse took that to the extreme; I still haven't seen invites for that floating around.

Frankly, speaking from experience after running such an invite system, making a system invite only is absolutely a marketing model. But it can be a way to scale up. For instance, Capiche requires you to go through onboarding for early access; that gives our team a chance to check new posts, keep spam out, and keep the quality of the community higher than purely open signups would. Roam Research's Twitter mentions is another great example there; they were previously open signup, then their servers were getting overwhelmed so they locked down signups and made it invite only. That bought them time—but also it was incredible seeing people asking for invites on Twitter almost immediately. Each Tweet ended up being marketing for Roam Research and made others want in.

There's something interesting going on nowadays with software almost as a status symbol, and invite only marketing absolutely plays into that.

4 points
grizzila's avatar
@grizzila (replying to @maguay )
6 months ago

Very interesting. I'm a bit torn on the access process. I'm generally not a fan of any friction at all or the slightest barrier to adoption. There are so many options out there competing for our time in the era of short attention spans. So, while I found the process a bit of a nuisance (I wanted to take a quick look now and see if I wanted to come back later), I get it. You're trying to provide an alternative to Gartner and the like and to provide a place to find quality content and community insights. I've got to admit, as I'm thinking about what to write, I'm kinda becoming invested in this... So, as you've already bet, you'll limit growth, but will increase the quality of the info and the exchange between the "chosen few" that are tough it out to make it this far. I'm already thinking out sending this out through our company and haven't seen any content yet... FYI - I heard about you thru the podcast on ARK

2 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @grizzila )
6 months ago

Haha nice, glad you joined and hope you enjoy our community!

There’s absolutely a cost and benefit to locked-down signup systems, but one of the strongest advantages in my opinion is that you can both increase the quality of interaction and onboard/teach people about your product at the same time. Those are both a strong point in favor of a more detailed signup process.

1 point
siddxxvii's avatar
@siddxxvii (replying to @maguay )
6 months ago

I totally agree with you and I can see this model increasing more day by day. With users like us we want the invite so badly that we start tweeting about it, which gets them free online marketing. GENIUS way of doing it whosoever came up with this idea first.

1 point
Manjita's avatar
@Manjita (replying to @maguay )
5 months ago

note:_ meandering around SaaS & shareware, landed on Capiche. excited to watch it all unfold!_

Reading around the comments on this thread, I remember a marketer once tell me over several cuppa coffees - "Why do you even like Superhuman, you equalist? Superhuman makes me feel I'm not invited, like I'm somehow a lesser mortal. There's invite only, and there's elitist.”.. Well, something to that effect.

Like @grizzila I've been somewhat torn about this process. On one side, I am all about empowerment through 'democratizing' access - and on the other, I've binge browsed 'Illuminati' on many a caffeine fuelled 3 AMs (the original invite only?)

If I look at AAARRR, I do see the value of a #fomo manifested across. Yes for the AAA’s, invite only is a great strategy. Equivalent of this in the D2C world is possibly limited edition launches or preview-sales to Instagram influencers. If I look at RRR, equivalent is the loyalty programs or karma points - unlocking premium features or “titanium” credit cards based on usage, or frequent flier programs are the parallels in BFSI or Travel for example.

So, I guess exclusivity has already been important for an individual to jump thru each loop from Awareness to Referral. I’m a case study on this too (::sheepish grin::) - I bunny hop thru one tier to another the it comes to my fav retailers, D2C brands, esp when carefully planning those long-hauls stopovers to maximise my miles. So when I hear invite only, why do I cringe a bit?

I thought about it, and I guess it is in some way my idealism on what is technology. It’s cause I’ve always looked at technology - in particular, consumer apps or consumer/prosumer SaaS - as a great leveller. I mean, hasn’t it been superb for thr world that blogging democratised thoughts, ideas and opinions from academia or intellectuals? That YouTube - and now tiktok - is empowering an ex-IT back office guy in sweaty New Delhi to teach his 9+ Mn bottom-of-the-pyramid followers on tiktok how to speak English better (so that they get better jobs in tier-1 India and upgrade from a dirty slum to more respectable one)? Isn’t it just awesome that even during CoVid, millions of FnB businesses can now still hope to earn in the US thru stores on Shopify?

But it had to happen. It’s just a sign that the world is hurtling into a digital only eon. Tech is no longer some block-box enabler, it’s at par with your everyday brands and every products - just like that keto cookie dough ice cream you buy at the speciality store, or the gluten free flour you get every month on amazon. And instead of feeling meh about it, I’m gonna feel good about it from today :) Software is eating the world.

Ok. End of rambling. Loving Capiche already :)

1 point
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @Manjita )
5 months ago

@Manjita Thank you for commenting, and welcome to Capiche!

Love your stream of thought here on exclusivity, invite-only, and the idealism of tech being a great leveler.

I think in many ways, the newer invite-only apps are possible because software has eaten the world and has democratized access. Anyone can get an email address, but some people are willing to jump through hoops for a better one. It's software turned into fashion to a degree. And yet, it's not purely fashion, as those who use say Superhuman get value from the product beyond personal branding—the latter isn't enough to pay $30/month ongoing for the product, as you get most of the branding prestige during that first month.

That's one spot I think perpetual invite-only may hurt Superhuman and similar products over time. Last year, requesting a Superhuman invite meant you were still trying something few had heard of. That's increasingly not the case going forward, and so by asking for an invite now you're showing that you're possibly not an early adaptor. I think the balance will be keeping invite only as long as it helps build cachet, and then open up more widely.

Hey just used invite only to slowly drip out accounts (to "scale" the product and test it—but clearly also to reap additional word-of-mouth marketing benefits from exclusivity, too), but has already opened signups. That's a far more typical run. Will be interesting to see how long Superhuman keeps it.

1 point
Manjita's avatar
@Manjita (replying to @maguay )
5 months ago
  • 1 on the "how long to keep it alive". The marketer I met, him feeling that Superhuman is non-inclusive could be attributed to the feeling of being a late adopter. Or possibly even how much exclusivity is too much exclusivity.

Interestingly, even high street fashion - the most non inclusive of all - has now editions which are 'so called' accessible to a wider audience. They are suffering from the too much exclusivity gets us less revenue dichotomy.

2 points
ramv's avatar
6 months ago

Invite only is a multi-pronged strategy
1. Marketing - agree with @maguay here
2. User experience and onboarding tuning. With a limited set of power users, the founders can figure out the optimal experience.
3. Identify scale bottlenecks and fine tune. The engineers can understand the limits of their current setup, estimate what is required for scaling up if the user growth is on the same trajectory.

I think this strategy works in the case of B2C products. I am not familiar with B2B products successfully using this strategy.

3 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @ramv )
6 months ago

The B2B equivalent would be sales-based pricing and personalized onboarding, instead of self-serve signup. The sales call forces you to commit at least to listening more about the product and trying it out with the sales agent—where the sales team can then “customize” the product and pricing to your needs and willingness to pay.

2 points
AnujAdhiya's avatar
6 months ago

It works if you have an unfair advantage - like a well know brand name, backer or someone influential in your network.
It's all about FOMO.
For the average person trying to pull this off - its an exercise in dashed expectations.

2 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @AnujAdhiya )
6 months ago

Ah that’s a great point that it works best when paired with FOMO. People have to care about what you’re offering to want to signup in the first place, invite-only or not.

1 point
siddxxvii's avatar
@siddxxvii (replying to @AnujAdhiya )
6 months ago

I agree with you really good point. If tomorrow I do this it will back fire me as I dont have so much of following. But hey.com quite successfully made this a success model. And with their recent argument with apple app store policies they are getting more coverage for their newly launched mail app.

1 point
AnujAdhiya's avatar
@AnujAdhiya (replying to @siddxxvii )
6 months ago

Sure but even without the Apple fight, the founders were really well known with a successful product and pedigree. So the strategy would have worked for them irrespective.

3 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @AnujAdhiya )
6 months ago

Their drawing-a-line-in-the-sand on email tracking and privacy, pitting Hey against Superhuman, was a genius way to promote Hey as an opinionated email app and to get people's attention who didn't want Superhuman's tracking.

1 point
thebavedave's avatar
6 months ago

It’s a bit of both to be honest. Both superhuman and Hey used the Onboarding process to trim down what they’d call ‘casual users’ by introducing some level of friction, Hey with the mail us on this email and Superhuman with their fill this extensive typeform. While ‘invite only’ has been a distinct strategy to surround product launches with a miasma of exclusivity and that inner circle feel, this invite only strategy is also a product of new age SaaS companies looking to solve for retention and for power users before they move to growth/hyper growth.

2 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @thebavedave )
6 months ago

Great point on retention: When you have to try harder to get in the door and join, you’re more likely to stick around.

1 point
NitinMurali1's avatar
6 months ago

A good strategy to induce FOMO among peers. It may backfire if the product doesn't find early adopters or the on-boarding experience is tedious.

1 point
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