That’s the amount of time it took the dating app Tinder, to acquire 50 million users.
Not too many startups can say they’ve achieved that level of success.
Let’s unpack how they did it.
First, we need to understand what the market was like when Tinder launched.
The dating app/service market was not new. There was match.com, OkCupid, and a plethora of other dating apps.
So what did Tinder do differently?
User Experience & Product First
In 2012, the only way to really get sign-ups for an app was on Facebook. You could run ads on Facebook or you could drive traffic to your website, and people would fill out a long form, answer a ton of personal questions, and then have access to the dating app or site.
Both of these were not optimal for app registrations, they led to a poor user experience when people were on-boarding.
Long complicated sign up forms, users having to place trust in services they’ve never used before.
It definitely didn’t make for an easy, simple and feel-good user on-boarding experience. Tinder realized that traditional dating apps were broken and decided to do two things differently.
And yes, these are product features, but if you don’t think the secret to good marketing is to nail the product… good luck.
1. Effortless set-up.
No more filling up of forms. You just had to register with your Facebook profile. There were no more questionnaires, forms, or q&a’s to fill out.
One click and you were in.
Then you could swipe to your heart’s desire.
The Tinder swipe feature, requiring both parties to “swipe” on each other before they were able to chat.
This removed some of the “creepiness” factor that plagued other online dating apps, where random people could message you without your consent.
This made the virtual dating environment, which was already a scary place, feel a little bit safer.
They were solving a need in their niche, but they were also making the user experience safer and more comfortable.
Safety, security and comfort were major blockers for many individuals who were dipping their toes into the world of online dating.
“Outside The Box” Customer Acquisition
Tinder’s early growth success is largely due to the strategy implemented by their original co-founder/CMO Whitney Wolfe.
Obviously you should take some notes, because after Whitney left Tinder, she went on to start Bumble, a competing platform which recently IPO’d making her the worlds the youngest self-made female billionaire.
We should take a page out of her playbook.
Whitney was involved in the Greek scene at USC and was a member of a sorority. She leveraged her social network to get some quick early adoption at Tinder.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Tinder’s technical co-founder Joe Munoz explained it perfectly.
(Whitney Wolfe) would go to chapters of her sorority, do her presentation, and have all the girls at the meetings install the app. Then she’d go to the corresponding brother fraternity — they’d open the app and see all these cute girls they knew.
Tinder from 5,000 to 15,000 users, by the time she finished this college tour.
Next, as part of their word of mouth strategy, Tinder enlisted college campus reps to host parties.
There requirement to get into the parties was show that you had downloaded the tinder app, at the door.
They first launched this initiative, with a small team, and after seeing incredible results, they double downed on the strategy by hiring on campus reps at colleges across the US to replicate the “download tinder to enter” party strategy.
Tinder didn’t bother with paid ads or focusing on an organic strategy to drive traffic and optimize conversions.
They knew exactly who their audience was and who would be most likely to become a raving fan of their app.
They not only found that they could easily acquire users through this organic, word-of-mouth method, but the customers they acquired this way were the “right” customers.
They were sticky.
They used the app, loved the experience, and evangelized it to their friends and network.
There’s a difference between paying to acquire customers who use the app once, and then never open it again, versus a user who uses the app religiously and not only wants to use it, but wants to speak about using it.
Remember that 50 million users they scaled to in two years?
Those users opened the app, on average 11 times a day.
Not. Too. Bad.
Lessons Learned From Tinder
1. Product & User experience Led Marketing & Growth
Every great explosive growth story begins with a crucial ingredient. An amazing product that works well and solves an existing problem.
The market was saturated, but it wasn’t optimized.
Tinder brought a product to market and addressed several issues, but most importantly led with the best possible product features.
If you are taking a product to market, of course you want to move with speed and agility, and get that MVP (minimum viable product) out, but always focus on working towards the best possible product you can, as that will always lead to raving fans and customers who will evangelize your product to their own networks.
If you get feedback on your product, take that feedback to hear.
Interview your customers, get their feedback and implement changes accordingly.
Don’t make it harder than it has to be on your sales and marketing teams.
Product is always at the core of a stellar sales & marketing strategy.
2. Know Your Audience
Tinder identified their Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), very early on.
They focused on college students.
This fit into their target user demographics, as well as their marketing strategy, which relied on a highly social, highly evangelical user.
Tinder built their marketing strategy with their ICP at the core of that strategy, and once they proved that it worked, they didn’t experiment with multiple ICP’s or different customer types.
When you’re starting out, you may feel as though everyone can be a user of your product.
However, chances are that there’s always that “one” customer profile, that fits slightly better than all the others.
Not only did they choose to double down on that perfect customer profile, but they went a step further built their marketing plan, around the behaviors and habits of that customer profile.
This is realistically the only way you can win when you’re in the early stages of taking your product to market, or building out your business.
Avoid the “shiny object syndrome”, where you try to sell to every possible customer under the sun.
ONLY focus on the ones that will yield the most growth and ROI.
Short term it may be hard, but long term (hopefully) you’ll enjoy some results, like Tinder.
3. Think “Out Of The Box”
Tinder could have easily decided that they had a great product, and they wanted to invest in organic traffic, or paid ads to drive sign-ups.
But sometimes “out of the box” works best.
Remember, marketing doesn’t have to be sexy, it just has to work.
In every single market, and in every single industry, there’s niche outlets where your buyer/audience likes to hang out.
Those places could be online, or they could be offline, but as a marketer, your job is to find them.
You can always explore traditional channels, but spending the extra time to find the niche outlets will always pay off.
Tinder actually went on record saying that they tried a paid ad strategy to acquire customers in Turkey, and they ultimately killed the experiment just because the users were ‘different’.
They didn’t log on as much, they didn’t share the app as much.
They didn’t care about the app as much.
They just didn’t have the same ‘word of mouth’ impact that the original organic adoption strategy had.
So the moral of the story is to try and search for new ways to find customers.
Ways that may not be through traditional paid or organic channels.
These mediums or strategies won’t be listed anywhere on the internet, or in a newsletter, or in some guide, but they’ll be the result of you knowing your product, you identifying your customers and you meeting them where they’re at.