If you’ve haven’t yet heard about Creative Market’s growth success, prepare to be amazed. The company -- a design content platform that resulted from a partnership between ColorSchemer’s Aaron Epstein and COLOURlover’s founders, Darius Monsef and Chris Williams -- generated $1 million in revenue in its first year. Its success attracted multiple acquisition offers, and its eventual takeover by Autodesk has led to double-digit month-over-month growth just 18 months into the acquisition process.
Creative Market’s success, in large part, was driven by the fact that it was able to attract 70,000 users before it even launched. To get the inside scoop on how the company was able to build such an active user base -- without a product to show them -- I went directly to Aaron Epstein for the lessons other companies can use to plan their own pre-launches.
1. Give before you get.
You’d think that with two successful companies between them, Creative Market’s founders would have leveraged their existing users to drive the new company’s growth -- but that wasn’t the case. As Aaron described, “[W]e wanted to capture the type of people who would come to spend money, and not just those who wanted to play around with design.”
The team decided to start from scratch. They set out to attract future paying customers by offering a $5 credit to anyone who signed up in advance. To expand the reach of this promotion even further, they extended referral credits to those who were able to convince others to sign up, and ultimately, they had dozens of people refer more than 50 others to the nascent marketplace.
Key takeaway: Giving before you get is a great way to build a pre-launch community, and the giveaways don’t have to be expensive to be successful. The $5 credit offered to early Creative Market subscribers was quickly eclipsed by the total value of their first purchases, which made it relatively pain-free for the team to implement.
2. Make it worth their while.
Aaron, Chris and Darius knew that capturing early referrals wasn’t enough -- they had to have a product worth using if they wanted to retain these customers after their first purchase.
Fortunately, the team was able to use their early subscriber growth to make participating in the marketplace more attractive to content creators. By going to designers and showcasing the thousands of people who were actively interested in purchasing their products, they were able to sign on several sellers quickly. In addition, they convinced 30 creators to share products on a free goodies page used to grow the community even further.
Key takeaway: Interest in your community isn’t just beneficial in terms of sales. It can also attract the other key stakeholders you’ll need to become successful down the road.
3. Keep standards high.
Because the site is targeted to the design community, its appearance and user experience were obviously very important. In fact, Aaron admits that his team’s problem wasn’t making things look good enough -- it was finding a good stopping point without going off the perfectionist deep end.
“The hard thing is trying to find the balance of not over-designing things and going too far down the perfectionist road," he says. "At some point, you just need to get something out there and start getting feedback.”
If your startup isn’t design-oriented, you’ll likely face the opposite challenge. But just because your users may not be savvy in this department doesn’t mean that you can get away with an uninspiring, lackluster appearance. First impressions are especially critical to the pre-launch period. According to research reported by ConversionXL, the look and feel of a website accounts for 94 percent of the impressions among first-time visitors.
Key takeaway: You only have one chance to make a good first impression, and when it occurs during the critical pre-launch period, it’s even more important. Invest whatever resources are necessary to ensure that your visitors’ standards are met. Aaron recommends dribbble for finding designers who work in the style you want.
4. Have a post-launch plan.
Aaron says, "We’re confident that if we just get people to sign up -- even if it’s just for a free download -- that they’ll be the type of people in our target audience and that we’ll ultimately get them to buy something.”
Of course, Aaron and the Creative Market team aren’t leaving things to chance. Now that their site has launched successfully, they’ve shifted their efforts to the acquisition and retention of both buyers and sellers. For their team, the post-launch plan includes everything from sending out regular email blasts to notify community members of hot new products to making sure they have enough sellers in the pipeline to keep buyers interested.
Key takeaway: Breathe a sigh of relief after your product launches -- but then get back to business. Having a post-launch plan for how you’ll care for all those new subscribers you acquired is just as important to your company’s success as your pre-launch strategy.
To listen to the full video of my conversation with Aaron, click below: