Like every startup out there mine is also after the holy grail of finding our viral loop — our interpretation of “invite a friend and get 1 GB free” of DropBox.

I cannot stress enough the importance of finding the viral loop. It’s the moment that every user or customer is bringing another one; the moment when your analytics graphs start to be exceptional and you go around and show them to everyone.

If you are not familiar with Andrew Chen’s amazing blog I really recommend you should start reading it, especially this one about the viral loop.
 Andrew refers it to “understanding the engine of adoption”. I don’t think I can better explain the concept and how to get to it but I want to share with you what it looks like from the inside:

It can not happen on day 1,2,3 or even 15

If you don’t have a critical mass of users or customers you cannot start thinking about going viral. In the essence of viral you have to start with something, for most startups that means finding a good way to acquire users or customers.

My startup is tackling the SMBs and long tail in the e-commerce space.  For us it took a while until we understood how to acquire the first website and it certainly was not easy. After we got there, we sat down and threw like 10-20 ideas on how to make our machine to acquire one customer a day.

This was my main focus — how to improve (on a $0 marketing budget) our customer acquisition and only after we got to a point where we are acquiring 5-8 new customers a day did I start thinking about going viral.

Truly understand your market

The first step is to understand how customers are implementing software like ours. This is a very difficult task and includes understanding your analytics (for us it meant using Google Analytics, KissMetrics and above all our in-house analytics tool) and you cannot bullshit yourself.

We had to come to an understanding that customers usually go to their competitor’s website, FB page and Twitter account to check what they are using. Also, if they are platform based (such as Magento, for example), they are looking for plug and play review solutions like our company. 
These are the two main behaviors we understood — some use Google search but not a lot, LinkedIn or FB ads don’t work well and basically any other method we thought of just doesn’t fit.

Implementing the first steps

Because we use Agile and work on a bi-weekly sprints it was very difficult to prioritize it against other features. Don’t get me wrong, everyone understands that it is super important but is it more important than a feature that most of your customers want? You can imagine the long night debates.

In my case it means that we need to improve our visibility and develop as many social features as possible so our visibility on our customer’s FB page and Twitter account will increase dramatically.

Its not just the one thing, your entire machine should play the right tune

The smartest thing I can say is that it is not a single effort, there isn’t one color/button/ad or something you can change and suddenly everything is magic, its far from that.  In my case it means that we had to:

  • Develop constant features to increase our visibility and stickiness
  • Make sure our support team convinced our customers to write amazing 5 stars reviews about us on every platform possible
  • Make sure our community management team (BTW when I say team, I mean a full time ninja or a half time ninja) writes amazing posts in our blog and approach the right customers
  • Make sure our design is amazing and stands out inside the website
  • Improve our in house analytics tools to better understand our product problems and our customers behavior

Believe me that it’s not an easy task and sometimes you get so frustrated that you think you will never make it.
 My startup is far from getting to a viral point but I want to believe we are getting there. It is extremely hard and requires you to deal with the hardest thoughts about your products but when it happens (if it will happen stay tuned, you will be the first to know) I’m guessing this is one of the happiest days a startup entrepreneur can imagine.

Image: Leonel Cunha via Flickr