How do you sell something that doesn't exist? Easy: Build a website. In what's possibly the most meta company conceit ever, LaunchRock is a startup that helps other startups hype themselves. (So how does LaunchRock hype itself? By participating in this story, we guess.) The service creates sleek, informative "coming soon" pages that are engineered to go viral. LaunchRock debuted in January and has already streamlined at least 100 company launches—and taught entrepreneurs plenty about how to attract attention.
People act out of their own self-interest.
Asking random people to evangelize a new, or partially unknown, service "can easily seem spammy," says Eugene Woo, whose startup, Vizualize.me, creates personal résumés full of infographics. So he tapped LaunchRock's platform to turn the promotion process into a competition: The more sign-ups people brought in (via a custom URL), the earlier they got beta invites. "My TweetDeck went nuts," Woo recalls. "We signed up 15,000 people in one day."
The Payoff: 200,000+ prelaunch sign-ups
Twitter leads to views; Facebook leads to sign-ups.
Many sites have Facebook and Twitter buttons that let users post auto-generated praise—but one message won't work for both sites. "On Twitter, people are interested in what you have to say," says Jesse Maddox, CEO of TripLingo, a translation app that specializes in slang. "But on Facebook, they're more likely to trust it." He customized LaunchRock's "Share this!" function so that Facebook messages read like personal endorsements and tweets read like news headlines.
The Payoff: 1,800 prelaunch sign-ups
Like most startups, Zaarly filled its launch page with dense info. "We described ourselves as 'a proximity-based, real-time, buyer-powered market,' which sounds lovely to investors," recalls CEO Bo Fishback. "But consumers just didn't care." Following LaunchRock's insights, the online local-goods marketplace scrapped the blah, blah, blah in favor of a slogan: "Buy and sell anything with people nearby."
The Payoff: 20,000 prelaunch sign-ups, and Twitter shout-outs from Demi Moore and LeVar Burton
Giveaways must be relevant.
Startups have been known to hand out all sorts of promotional junk, but that doesn't often lead to much traffic. For the prelaunch of 1band 1brand—a site that promotes underground bands and fashion labels with weekly sales—"we wanted to use a giveaway to show people what we do," says cofounder Brady Sadler. So it gave free downloads to users who hocked the site to friends.
The Payoff: Hype for the site on several major tech blogs, including Mashable and Hypebot
A version of this article appeared in the November 2011 issue of Fast Company magazine.