The Value of a Velvet Rope: Effects of Hype and Exclusivity on Launch Strategies

Welcome to TestFlight

The playbook starts with TestFlight, an app that allows startups to soft-launch their own products before publicly hitting the App Store. Until recently, TestFlight was mainly employed as a place for a company’s inner circle to test an app, give feedback, and share bugs. Due to its “invite-only” nature, however, TestFlight has recently become a popular mechanism to stoke curiosity and build hype.

The Waitlist

Clubhouse garnered a massive waitlist of potential users hoping to pass through the velvet ropes of its Testflight doors. Their waitlist was a trickle-down invite model, becoming the modern-day version of a bouncer asking, “Which two friends do you want to bring in?” However, Clubhouse is only one example out of the many companies who have employed waitlists to build a similar sense of hype and exclusivity.

  • Level of social status (by requesting social links, like a Twitter URL)
  • Current workflows and operating systems
  • Eagerness to use the product and familiarity with the pain point

The Blue Check Phenomenon (Influencer)

We get an especially fresh take on exciting product launches from MSCHF, a Brooklyn-based ideas factory known for “capturing meme lightning in a bottle.”

Building In Public

One of the most well-known leaders of the “building in public” phenomenon is Austen Allred, Founder & CEO of Lambda School. Allred largely built his company on Twitter, and those who followed him got to see him build Lambda in real time. Each tweet strategically related to Allred’s bold vision of reforming the higher education landscape; Allred encouraged his followers to engage and publicly brainstorm with him. Allred didn’t celebrate Lambda’s wins alone — he and his followers were all part of the same team. Like the underdog on a baseball team, Allred was the face of Lambda School and the underdog of the tech community. Each time he got on base, the crowd went wild.

  • Propose interesting product ideas and ask the community for feedback
  • Articulate roadblocks the company is facing and how to overcome them
  • Give insight into largely unknown aspects of the company/product
  • Share “sneak peeks” and vague product updates for things to come
  • Post screenshots of internal Slack messages showcasing company culture
  • Tell emotional stories about your company to pull at followers’ heartstrings
  • Quote Tweet someone describing a problem and respond “We are fixing this at …”

Moneybags

Next in the playbook is Moneybags: paid marketing… and lots of it. Especially in recent months, we’ve watched from afar as some consumer products employed aggressive launch strategies but ultimately resulted in major flops… or nothing at all.

Now-deleted screenshot (credit here) from Elliot CEO Sergio Villaseñor.

Wild Card

Lastly, of course, a piece centered around launch strategies and virality would no longer be complete without a reference to itiswhatitis (@itiseyemoutheye on Twitter), a mysterious meme that flooded the tech Twitter timeline in late June, leveraging the relentless hype of exclusive consumer apps. It reached top Product of the Day on Product Hunt, and its website accumulated over 20,000 email signups. Perhaps most importantly, itiswhatitis raised over $200,000 in donations to racial justice charities from people who “hoped to get special treatment within [the] fabled waitlist.” As written in this Product Hunt Daily Digest, itiswhatitis wasn’t a startup, or even a product. It was a statement, highlighting the influence of secrecy and exclusivity on the entire Silicon Valley tech community — and it will forever be an important case study of consumer virality in its rawest form.

  • Hey was built by Basecamp founders with a huge existing audience
  • Clubhouse was built by seasoned founders and tech minds, surrounded by an already-elite circle

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Gaby Goldberg

Gaby Goldberg

Investor at TCG Crypto. Alum @Stanford. Follow me @gaby_goldberg.