Building Critical Mass for online companies

This session was facilitated by Clint Korver founder of myDecide.com The contents of this post are based on the wiki notes of the startupcamp session and some of my comments on the topic. This post applies makes the most sense for companies that rely on contributors generating content. I hate using the word user generated content.

What does it mean to achieve critical mass for an online company?

  • Number of users (obviously!)
  • Reaching a milestone that meets funding criteria (the number of users is big enough to attract advertisers)
  • Market awareness (basically people know that you exist)

Questions about Critical Mass:

  • How do you get the first 10k users?
  • How do you get the first 300k users?
  • What are the metrics that you can measure this by? How sticky is your site?
    • How many people are creating content?
    • How many people are searching you straight out from Google?
    • How many people are doing straight URL type ins?

You must take advantage of Network effects. The site has to make it easy for others to get involved. Have an “invite a friend” button. Have a “digg this” button or have a “email this to a friend” link. Anything that make it easy to spread the word.

Your service has to be useful enough for a user to make them come back. You want your users to get involved. Have users compete for fame or something. User self-interest should drive the marketing of your site by word of mouth and invitations.

You have to ensure that the content added by your viewers is compelling enough for people to visit the site.

Case Studies:

  • Wikipedia: Seeded with 20k articles. Semi-professional people did it. Started with some PhDs that was going to vet everything, but they realized that this wouldn’t scale, so they just used them to write articles.
  • Friendster: Being maintained pretty much only by New York gay dating scene.
  • Hepatitis C Support Group: Running on a PHP BB, with 10k users. All stages of life.

It really comes down to building an easy to use website with interesting content. Make it easy for the users to share their creations with others. Grow your community slowly and listen to their requests. It took youtube many months before they became popular. Once they added the HTML link ability, people were using them on myspace like crazy.

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