Sometimes the wild and the weird are the winners.

Harli Marten

Building and launching a product is hard.

You spend months or years of your life, plenty of money, and an untold amount of blood, sweat, and tears trying to put your baby into the world, and when launch day finally comes, you cross your fingers and hope for the best.🤞🙏🤞

But even though you may be ready collapse into a puddle of pudding, launch day is really just day one — now it’s time to get people using it.

Real life entrepreneur after launch day.

As a startup marketer, you have plenty of traditional channels available to you, and you’re probably already familiar with them: ads on social media, PPC campaigns (like Google Adwords), on-site SEO, guest blogging… the list goes on.

But here’s the thing about traditional marketing channels: they’re crowded. You’ve heard of them because everyone has heard of them.

I just want to tell you about my new product!

While undeniably useful, the traditional channels aren’t always the ones that serve you best.

Sometimes, going unconventional with your marketing is the best way to generate ROI — and here are three companies that did just that.

Groupon: A Lesson in Viral Coefficient vs. Virality

Groupon has a secret marketing trick built directly into the framework of their platform. It’s their “refer-a-friend” upsell: users get $10 when they invite a friend who makes a purchase on the site. 💸

This strategy has been used many times, but the key to what makes it so effective is that it doesn’t just affect virality, but the viral coefficient of the product. That means it’s not just an ad campaign or a piece of content going viral — it’s the product itself, which is an incredibly powerful way to generate long-term growth and revenue.

Mailbox: The Power of Scarcity

While Mailbox has now shut down, its original user acquisition campaign is still worth talking about. They created a beautiful demo video and employed Gmail’s strategy 0f restricting sign ups and creating a wait list. This is, ultimately, counter to most people’s gut-reaction about startup marketing: shouldn’t we acquire as many users as possible as quickly as possible? Isn’t that the whole point of growth marketing? 🤔

Yes, but the power of the Mailbox strategy is scarcity. By creating a sense of scarcity around the process, they also created demand. Maybe that’s why Mailbox had about 1.25 million people on their waiting list just three weeks after launching.

Unsplash: Free Value is the Best Advertisement

Today, Crew is a thriving platform connecting clients with projects to high-quality freelance designers and developers. In May of 2013, Crew was close to bankrupt. But instead of honing in on PPC campaigns targeting “mobile app development,” Crew did something completely unintuitive: they built a website called Unsplash to give away value in the form of high-quality photos, completely free.

Some businesses might have seen Unsplash as a missed revenue opportunity. Sites like Shutterstock charge for their photos, so why shouldn’t Crew? But the thing is, Unsplash brought in so much new traffic and revenue that it eclipsed anything they could have dreamt of making from selling the photos. 5 months after launch, Unsplash had some 5 million unique visitors and had become the #1 source of referrals for Crew.

The lesson here is that sometimes the best marketing is to give people value, for free. It makes them trust your brand and want to do business with you — and as a fledgling startup or digital product, trust is one of the best things you can get.

If you like what you’re reading, please do consider clicking that little 💚 at the bottom and the “follow” button on top. And if you want to dive deeper into what it takes to develop and launch a product, the team at Rootstrap has created a set of e-courses to help you do just that.

Truthfully, we believe that if you want something bad enough and have the right tools, you can accomplish anything. These courses — and our whole business model — are designed to help you get there.


CEO and Co-founder of Rootstrap Ben Lee is the co-founder and CEO of Rootstrap, a digital development agency with a mission to destroy the development model and rebuild it from the ground up. After a brief correspondence with Fidel Castro at age nine, Ben decided to start doing things his own way, going from busboy to club manager at a world-class nightclub before he turned 18. Since then, Ben has founded or taken a leading role in 5 businesses in everything from software development to food and entertainment.