Blueleaf is building the world’s first truly personal financial planning platform. It’s a complex product with a lot of features to meet all the different problems that our customer discovery has shown that people want. Here are ten concrete things we’re doing to get 10,000 sign ups before we even launch our product.
1. Making Potential Users Ask Publicly To Get In
There are two ways to get into Blueleaf: get an invite from us, or get an invite from a current user. We let in a limited number of users every week, and we choose who we let in based on how much they want in. Only people who request an invite and follow us on Twitter, Like us on Facebook, or otherwise make it clear that they want in, get in. This means they have to sign up with us and tell everyone else about us before they can get in.
2. The World’s Strictest Invite System
The other way to get in is to get referred in by a current user. We’ve developed our own twist on refer-a-friend: rather than limit the number of invites someone has, there are an unlimited number of invites – but we’ve limited the time frames to invite a friend. We turn on the ability to invite a friend for just an hour or two so that people who want in have to beg everyone they know who’s on to let them in before the window closes. When we announce that invites are on, potential users need to plead for invites publicly on Twitter and Facebook, privately over IM and e-mail, or however else they can reach current users. Again, this kicks off a viral loop before the app has even launched.
3. Splitting Up Blog And Library Content
We write – a lot. We publish something new almost every day. However, most of our new content isn’t on our blog – it’s in Blueleaf's library of articles about financial planning. It makes no sense to hide an article about bond funds and bond ETFs on a blog, where it’ll be impossible to find in a month. We’ve segregated our greenfield content so that someone looking for that topic five years after we publish it can find it easily. Plus, we can easily update and change this content as laws, tax policy, and the investment environment changes without confusing new or returning visitors.
4. Having A Strong Point Of View
When we write content, we rarely do six of one, half a dozen of the other. When we write about Roth versus Traditional IRAs, we don’t do pros and cons. We say that if you have to ask the question, you should open a Roth IRA. The vast majority of Americans qualify for a Roth. They should open a Roth. For the people who should open a Traditional IRA, we go through the reasons when it would make sense – but we don’t do false equivalence. On our opinionated articles, Blueleaf’s position is front and center, up front, before the rest of the content to deliver as much value as we can in as few seconds as possible. (BTW, we do absolutely no SEO analysis or keyword stuffing. That stuff is lame. We write answers to the questions people ask us, simple as that.)
5. We Don’t Blog About Our Product
The Blueleaf blog has three components: Blueleaf Stories, Blueleaf Thoughts, and (to come) Blueleaf Tech. Our Stories are the Blueleaf staff writing about their own personal financial experiences so that we can make it clear that we’re making a product that we’re very emotionally invested in. Over time, we’ll ask our users to contribute their own. Blueleaf Thoughts are about things we find interesting that we think will also be interesting to our audience. We want to provide value for everyone who is saving for their financial futures, regardless if they’re interested in our product right now or not. If we have interesting stuff, we’ll get links and traffic. That’s it.
6. Link Roundups For Users And Relationships
The other thing we do on our blog is post twenty links every Friday afternoon, comprised of the four handpicked links we tweet out each weekday. Not everyone follows @blueleafcom on Twitter, so it’s a nice convenient place to have some leisurely reading over the weekend. However, the real clever thing about link roundups is that they provide Trackbacks to the financial bloggers we want to establish relationships with. Bloggers click through on their Trackbacks, see the Blueleaf site, and get interested in the product. This makes it much easier to develop relationships and approach them for coverage as we get closer to launch.
7. Using Facebook And Twitter Very Differently
Instead of using our blog to announce new features, we use Facebook Notes. Also, Facebook is the only place to get a feed of every new piece of content we post when we post it (there’s no RSS feed for our Article content). Facebook is Blueleaf's broadcast medium for people who want to keep up-to-the-minute with what Blueleaf is up to. We use Twitter to share interesting links and we’ll use it as a cornerstone of our customer service as we add additional users. We’re so big on sharing links on Twitter that we have two accounts for it – @blueleafcom and @BlueleafLinks. The only thing we do on both? We’re diligent about responding to anyone who comments on Facebook or @replies to us on Twitter.
8. A/B Testing The Hell Out Of Everything
We A/B test a lot – we’ve tested calls to action, button colors, button size, headlines, images, and a litany of other things using Visual Website Optimizer and Performable. But we make sure we don’t end up in local maxima. We’ve A/B tested radical redesigns of our homepage, and the current page is the one that beat the pants off our old one. We do this A/B testing so that we can maximize our conversion, regardless if the traffic to our site is a trickle or a flood. We’re ready to catch all the fish in the sea that just happen to be swimming by.
9. Being Smart About Paid User Acquisition
We’ve tested all sorts of various paid acquisition channels – everything from Google and Yahoo to reddit, Facebook, and directory sites. We’ve been able to drive down our Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) to a very reasonable amount – not the blended CAC between paid and free, but our CAC on paid alone is very, very attractive. Even though I’m the guy who called AdWords “a gateway drug to unprofitable user acquisition”, being smart with small paid tests that get your CAC down to a reasonable number makes potential investors all hot and bothered. Proof that you can get affordable paid acquisition makes fundraising much, much easier.
10. Knowing Just Who The Hell Is Signing Up
We run every single e-mail we get through Flowtown so we know a bit about who’s coming in through the open door. Doing this, we can stagger who we let in when and we can have better content for our e-mail newsletters to those on the waiting list. We reach out to people we’ve identified as potential influencers and we make sure that we don’t let people who are potential investors until the time is right. (Join the club, folks – not even our current investors have access to Blueleaf.) Letting in the right people at the right time means that we prime the pump to yield water only when we’re thirsty for new sign ups.