In the early days, when I was just polishing off the manuscript of Launch Tomorrow, I gave it to a friend who also lived and breathed startups. I specifically requested that he keep it quiet and just asked for feedback. Professionally, he was a marketer but in this case I was hoping to get some honest “tough love” from him. To make sure the book would be good.
After speaking with him in person, I dropped a pdf into gmail, and forwarded it on to him. Coincidentally, I also happened to have an early trial version of Streak installed on my gmail account, which is an app which measures email opens, now primarily used by salespeople.
Over the next week or so, it turned out 37 people had opened that email 56 times in different locations around London and Europe. This simple indicator was enough to convince me that the manuscript is definitely at least a minimum viable product. If not a bit more. There were a lot of tweaks I wanted to make, but clearly my idea audience was enjoying and using it. Even though this viral spread was accidental, ultimately I was pleased that my friend had effectively proven to me that my product was ready.
This was a special case of someone who knew me well, the fact that he forwarded it without my consent and that it was re-forwarded so many times implied that my soon-to-be released product will be able to generate word of mouth referrals when I do launch. This was particularly poignant, given that this was a B2C product. Like most impulse buys, books (on their own) tend to be low $ value products. There is little margin for error with a high customer acquisition cost, yet you need to be great at generating awareness and discoverability. So you can only use channels that have a fixed cost up front but little additional variable cost of reaching another person.
While virality seems “free” from a financial point of view, it’s expensive in terms of your time. The idea is to create enough product (content in my case) which people naturally want to share. Once you have their attention, you include some kind of call to action which then turns into a conversion , like a sale. Or at least a micro conversion, like getting an email subscriber.