Growth Paths: How Savvy Startups Generate Their Own Virality

February 8, 2015

2:00 pm

Virality was once, as the word suggests, eminently unpredictable. Startups would vie for it; each trying to create the next Candy Crush to instantly capture the consumer imagination. But, increasingly, savvy startups with strong core products are able to generate their own virality and utilize mixed strategies to more accurately predict drastic upsurges in growth, giving great founders much greater ability to control their own destiny.

Increase Time Spent and Total Engagement

Virality is contagious; and startup founders, recognizing that contagion can be spread intentionally as well as spontaneously, are increasingly adept at nurturing managed viral growth. One winning strategy has been to take a winning product, usually an app, which is enticing to users and build in subtle share methodologies to increase each users’ time and engagement within the app. This in turn increases their unwitting spread of the product. As an example, UStadium, one of my portfolio companies and a new app for rabid football fans, has nurtured such growth by creating “huddles” within their app: each fan’s own place where they can create a friend circle and instantly share comments, information, and pictures back and forth. This built-in virality has more than doubled each users’ time on the app; for the NFL’s Conference Championship Games, a little over 7,000 users generate nearly 1,000,000 app page views. In that increased amount of time and engagement, more users are naturally sharing the app with those around them, effectively creating a positively manipulated virality that is user generated but not dependent on capricious consumer behavior.

“At uSTADIUM we find that the more time we spend on your users (in the form of chatting with them via social, email, phone, or in-person) the more time they will spend on our app. It is the same philosophy as a store owner spending extended periods of time with his/her customers. The fact is, every single person on this earth wants to feel appreciated, and this is fundamentally developed through conversation. If you expect ads as your only marketing tool to bring you a highly engaged user base, you better have an extremely awesome (1 in a million or more) product. Simple stated: the more personable the marketing, the more engaged the users,” said Frank Vittorini, CEO of UStadium.


Startup founders are also growing more adept at reaching ‘outside the app’ to grab consumers in the orbit of their most dedicated users. Puzzle Social, one of my portfolio companies and the world’s number one digital crossword puzzle, employs a diverse mix of incentives to entice users to share the product with their friends. Sharing users can generate credit to be used towards in-app purchases, including new levels and multiplayer activity, and users have approached these avenues toward saving cash with relish. Like many other apps dependent on consistent sharing spread, Puzzle Social has used these carrot-based incentives to created measured and predictive viral growth.

“Because we publish fresh content every day, we have a loyal and growing user base that looks forward to solving the new puzzle as part of their daily routine and for that reason we can rely on our user base to continue it’s growth trajectory,” said Jeb Balise, CEO of Puzzle Social.

Startups, by and large, are a catch fire industry. Companies live or die by their growth. And, while nothing will ever fully remove virality’s inherent unpredictability, as startup founders develop new ways to generate meaningful artificial growth and create ‘managed virality;’ it has the potential to revolutionize how the industry evaluates growth and risk, and how startups reach and enamor their customers.



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I am an entrepreneur, angel investor, and early-stage VC living and working in New York City.

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