From Zero To Million: Successful Startup Marketing Strategies To Copy Now


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It’s hard to earn a name out in this highly competitive market, isn’t it? For one product, there are dozens of similar products.

And yet a few new companies seem to hit the summit in a flash. From almost nothing to a million users. How do they do that?

For you as a startup, you have to capitalize on all the opportunities you get to do achieve that rockstar. Companies like Hotmail, Uber, and Lyft became huge not because they had huge amounts of resources but because they utilized smart marketing strategies to acquire their first customers.

Up ahead we have listed a few strategies with industry leader examples who have had great success with their various marketing techniques that you should earmark these to ensure your brand’s steady rise to the first million users.


You don’t have to be in the market as just another player, you have to stand out with your product and identity and be smart about showcasing it.

Facebook, Pinterest & Gmail are the perfect examples of this. Facebook got its .

facebook old website design

Facebook started with a very specific social group in Harvard and expanded slowly, allowing it to retain a visible exclusivity and a critical mass of its users who themselves popularized it.

Gmail and Pinterest were invite based which lent them the exclusivity that wouldn’t have been enjoyed otherwise. You submitted your email ID and had to go through a waiting period to get admitted to their rosters. This created a hype and the fear of missing out prompted people to tag along.

Piggybacking- Using Existing Users

You don’t always have to start everything from scratch. There are a lot of things that can be built upon.

Airbnb and Dota 2 utilized an existing user base to catapult their own growth.

Airbnb had started in 2008 and piggybacked Craigslist’s user base. At the time, Craigslist had no restrictions on what you could post on their website and they had a huge user base too.

Airbnb developed a system which allowed them to cross post-Airbnb’s listed properties on Craigslist too. More people got to know about Airbnb and their listed properties got more bookings as well leading to almost sudden popularity.

Not only this but they poached Craigslist clients by sending them emails telling them how easy it was to post their property listings on Airbnb for free.

Not the best of the tactics but it worked for them at the time.

sandpoint getaway craig mail

Dota 2 was in a somewhat similar scenario with user bases of Starcraft and Warcraft responsible for the hype of the Warcraft 3 mod, Dota.

After its acquisition by Valve, Dota 2 gathered thorough popularity as an Action Real Time Strategy game which banked on the then existing user base of similar genre games like Starcraft and Warcraft, the latter of which was basically its forefather.

This smart tactic has been responsible for their user base spanning millions of players as of now.

Let Users Show Off

Humans have a tendency to show off their best achievements.

Quizup banked on that to around 1.5 million users and more than a million dollars in venture funding in their first month around in the industry.

They allowed players to compete in hyper-specific quiz categories and show off their high scores on social media websites.


It worked wonders as the company behind the game noted that most m of its users came from Facebook shares, seeing other people excel at specific subjects in a quiz.

This thorough leverage earned them a gran spot across app stores on mobile platforms. Their first month earned them a million users and now they have around 20 million users and a little over than in venture funding.

Remember to give your users a space to show off what they’re a part of. If you have an exclusive program for your website, a special webinar or a product, anything, be sure to prompt your users to share that on Facebook. The exclusivity of being part of an uncommon program works wonders for popularity.

Use Videos

According to Digital Commerce 360’s study, consumers are 144% more likely to buy a product if they watch a product video. Videos play a very significant role in your digital marketing strategy.

You don’t have to make an expensive video either. Make a basic video that explains what your product or service does in simple terms. It should convey a clear message, have

Dropbox had an explainer video made that gave them 10% more signups. It doesn’t sound like much but it resulted in acquiring an extra $48,000,000 in their yearly revenue.

A video is a very good investment, so use it wherever you can. Put a video on the top fold of your landing page so that people watch it the first thing to get an idea of your product. Use it for social media promotions: on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. Cut it up into separate portions and make teasers or smaller, trailer-like snippets to grab more attention to the full-length video.

Pre-roll ads in videos are great. You can go through YouTube advertising and capitalize on your investment even further. Be sure to make the very first 5 seconds intriguing and interesting enough that people are prompted to stay for the entire while till you deliver your pain points.

Or you can make really short videos that deliver your pain points up front and hope that people remember you enough to go through your content properly, be it a full video or website content in the form of a blog.

Freemium Models

In almost a year after launch, Evernote had hit the sweet spot of 1 million users.

freemium models

It might not always be viable to come up with an expensive product as a newcomer to a market. Evernote found themselves in that position with their product on to fo the fact that they had decided to start it in the middle of the financial crisis of 2008.

Far from deterring them, Evernote utilized some clever growth techniques. They started in close Beta to enable them to have an initial few sign-ups that they could observe and collect data for and eventually moved to a freemium service model.

This not only gave them a certain exclusivity but also ripe ground for testing their product. Their product got covered on TechCrunch which provided them their first boost of nearly 125,000 sign-ups in the first month alone.

Evernote then went with a freemium model based on their data that gave its users most of the features, but a select few add-ons were kept paid. This built hype on a great product while ensuring that more and more people started using their product.

As people grew more comfortable with their product and the company, they started paying up for the optional paid services too as they reached 100 million users in 2014.

A great way to ensure the success of a great product.

Referral Programs

Referrals programs have a lot of potential for variety. Companies like Lyft, Fab, Harry’s, and Spotify really worked their nose to the grindstone to come up with great referral techniques to get their first million users.

referral programs

Harry’s, a men’s grooming brand, made a 2-page microsite. One page captured users with a great catchy line with a picture of Harry’s product, prompting the users to enter their email addresses to be the first ones to know when harry’s was launching.

The second page of the website tracked referrals. You could invite up to 50 friends to use Harry’s and they had milestone offers for every few referrals even including a year’s worth of grooming products.

Their massive incentive and smart marketing enabled them to acquire a million customer through personal referrals, the most reliable way of getting users and they continued to grow with their smart tactics and great products and had more than a million customers by around 2016.

Personal referrals are the way to go. You are more likely to trust your friend telling you about something than a stranger on social media. Lyft acquired new customers through referrals without a limit on the number of incentives.

Unique Promotions

Sometimes you really have to strive to stand out in doing something that everyone is doing.

Mailbox took it to their hearts. They used exclusivity in a very unique way and got a million users in just 6 weeks.

They let their users download their app even before launch. This might not seem a very sound thing to do, but it worked for them.

In their app, they had a page greeting the user that asked them to reserve a place in a queue for using the app that was to be released. After registrations, the app showed the user how many people were before and after them in a queue.

unique promotions

And they didn’t stop there. Using their organic customers, they incentivized them to skip the queue by sending out social media shares about the customer using their apps and prompting others to use the app too which earned them even more customers.

The company got big enough simply due to its user base that Dropbox acquired it for $100million. Although the service has been discontinued now, its marketing strategies remain well remembered and respected.

Landing Page Optimization

Your landing page is where most of your prospects will end up. You have to give them a reason to consider and give your product a go and ensure that they have every reason to follow up with appropriate actions.

Take one of the iterations of the Uber landing page as an example.

Uber Website


It has minimal distractions, one clearly highlighted CTA and communicative and short headlines and subheadlines.

This is a good template to look at as an example or your landing page. Get rid of the clutter on your landing pages: remove unnecessary graphics and text, ad spaces and website navigation menus are a no-go, block page exits; let there be no distractions which that can make the user navigate away from the landing page.

Make your CTAs urgent; give limited period offers with timers on your webpage, give statistical benefits, quantity stocks, freebies, etc. so that your visitors have a reason to consider and go through with your proposal. One of Autopilot’s landing pages covers up almost all the factors perfectly.

Autopilot Landing Page Strategy


Social testimonials are one of the strongest ways to win people’s trust. Show people’s comments, reviews, client and partner testimonials on your product buying or email sign up pages.

Make short, neat, and efficient sign up forms. It saves you and your prospects time and efforts. You can have a look at Unbounce templates reference and use forms from companies like ZOHO and JetForm.

Using Social Media

Social media websites are your friend as a newcomer in any field.

You don’t have to go through much investment, just time and dedication. You can build up on your networks through existing friends and popularize what you’re working on.

Don’t wait for people to share the great content you’re producing, share it yourself. Show off new products, how-tos, factoids, conference snippets, behind the scenes, office spaces and workspaces; give people a little personality to tinker with so that they look at you not just as a company, but a company run by people very much like them.

starbucks social media ad

This Starbucks ad is neat, simple and drives to serve useful information to its fan base to drive engagement. The brand image helps, but you have to realize that this is partly how they built their brand image.

You have to take a look at your demographics and see what fits the bill for the product you are selling and accordingly utilize any of the numerous platforms.

Different channels have different audience and utility. LinkedIn caters to a more professional community, Facebook to a more casual one, Twitter deals with a mix of both of these, Instagram to a very video-centric adolescent crowd, etc.

If your product is something that is common and often people search for. A website that compiles lists and curates data or places to eat at, specific tools and products, then it’s a good idea to capitalize on Google Adwords since it can veritably boost your visibility on the search engine.

Common queries will feature your website above or below a Google search depending on the platform that the search is being conducted on.

adword search


You can even go for banner ads on websites that you think you will have customers likely interested in your product. You’ll have to research your customer base and see what all they visit and go through to find products and services that are like yours and then you can target your ads specifically on those platforms. The digital google ads let you specify the websites that the ads appear on.

Google Retargeting

Ever had that time when you are browsing Amazon casually, get bored and head over to some other website and see the exact same product ads displayed which you were browsing on Amazon? That’s google retargeting.

google retargeting ads

The average CTR for retargeted ads is 10x more than the average CTR of display ads.

It essentially allows you to track customers who go through specific pages of your website and can prompt them to re-engage where they left off by showing them the same or related products or pages. It’s a great way to keep your customers in the loop across all pages that feature Google ads, effectively funneling in customers.

Facebook Paid Ads

To understand your audience Facebook has really good metrics that can tell you what kind of audience is interested in you and your brand. You can segregate and make different demographics and run campaigns in all of those to see which one has the most success in conversions.

facebook paid ads


You can affordably identify what demographics convert to you the most and what are the costs of acquiring those clients. Easy to use and quick with a lot of data to lead your strategies.

Don’t ignore paid advertising. Give it a go and if you feel the ROI is there, keep using it. Facebook also lets you segment and track your users to allow better ad targeting and optimize your budget according to the responses of each of the segment audience to effectively drive the most optimum traffic and ROI.

Don’t Underestimate Reddit

Marketers often think low of Reddit. But Reddit is one of the biggest forums for people to come at and discuss things in.

For paid advertising, you can have your ads feature on specific sub-threads much like Google allows you to choose to show ads on specific websites.



It’s one of the most open forums and people are more likely to give a go to your product than the more socially formal platforms. The anonymity of Reddit is often the cause behind people being more explorative of newer things without the liability of having their identities divulged.

Do Something For The Community

People appreciate and trust the word of their friends and family the most. Try to leverage that. Do giveaways and charities if you can manage. Create enough trust, loyalty and a following by giving out great services and PR.

Be interactive on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media. Respond to your customers and followers and people will trust you more, enough to perhaps mention you to other people.

This social recommendation is often the success of brands like SnapChat, Facebook, Twitter. They propagated through their users themselves who prompted their friends to use them. Although you have to consider that they ARE a social media channel, but that doesn’t change the concept behind their success and their utility that you can thrive on.

Become An Authority Figure

One of the best ways to demonstrate your prowess is to show people a resource that is incomparable or very valuable. Give away free resources, valuable information, research and case study results to people. They will appreciate you for the information that you are giving away and look at you as credible sources of information.

Don’t be afraid to share others’ content. It doesn’t mean that you’re losing any client for giving them any. In fact, you might be making the customers aware that there is another player in the game who may be worth looking at. Adopt the jargon of the industry you’re in, not just a simple language. Yes, you have to appeal to the larger masses but don’t make the people who are already there feel left out; speak like them. Attend and be a part of events and workshops. Ask to co-sponsor and speak in events so people get to know you.


Successful marketing is about driving your actions and deliverables to effective results which yield revenues and a venerable brand image. For startups that is very important to establish any firm hold in the volatile market.

A good product will get you places but how you present it to the audience is more important in determining if it will be like another PC or a something like an Apple product. Effective marketing goes a long way in defining the path your brand will take.

The list above is not exhaustive, but it is sufficient enough to give you a solid path of stepping stones for your startup to walk towards certain success.


Startups are constantly looking to grow, and customized marketing strategies can be helped by putting these businesses ahead of the competition. These strategies can be planned to reach the target audience, achieve marketing goals, and drive in leads for conversions.

However, it is noteworthy that these strategies can vary based on the industry, the nature of the target audience (pain points and what they are looking for), and the budget they have allocated for marketing. While there are free-of-cost marketing strategies (content marketing and SEO are popular choices), there are also paid ads that will help a brand reach its target audience better.

There are a plethora of strategies that can be used to attract customers; here are a few strategies that you can use:

  • Content marketing: Creation and distribution of informative, value-driven, and consistent content that is aimed at attracting, nurturing, and retaining your audience.
  • Search engine optimization: SEO is an incredible investment businesses can make. It consists of the process of optimizing your website to rank higher on search engine results pages. Using relevant keywords and backlinking to higher domain authorities can help scale your rankings.
  • Social media marketing: Using social media platforms to build relationships and connect with potential customers.
  • Paid advertising: The use of paid channels can be used to boost your organic marketing efforts. Google Ads, Facebook Ads, and Bing Ads are some popular paid ad channels you can use for better targeting your potential customers.