This story is about the launch of Harry’s, a new men’s grooming brand.
Specifically, it will explain how they gathered nearly 100,000 email addresses in one week (!). This post includes all the email templates, open-source code, and insider tricks that you can use to replicate their success. It’s similar in depth to my previous how-to post, Hacking Kickstarter: How to Raise $100,000 in 10 Days.
This post is of great personal interest to me, as I’ll be doing a ton of fun stuff with email soon. For a sneak peek, click here. Now, on to Harry’s…
Harry’s started small and grew quickly. They now have 40 domestic employees, an online store, a barbershop in New York, and a thriving online magazine called Five O’Clock. Harry’s also recently raised 100+ million dollars to buy the 94-year-old German factory that makes it blades. By doing so, they added 427 people to their team. Today, you can find Harry’s products on harrys.com, in select J Crew stores, and at more than 65 men’s boutiques and hotels across the country.
This is piece was written by Jeff Raider, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Harry’s, with input from key members of the Harry’s team.
Prior to Harry’s, Jeff co-founded Warby Parker, a brand offering designer-like eyewear at lower prices, which also helped pioneer the “buy one, give one” model.
We can’t launch to crickets
We opened the digital doors of our shaving brand, Harry’s, in March of 2013. In the weeks leading up to the launch, there was one persistent worry: Were we going to launch to crickets? Would anyone notice?
My co-founder, Andy, and I had spent the better part of two years researching the global men’s shaving market. We’d found the nearly century-old German manufacturer who would make our razor blades, we’d worked with talented industrial designers to create an ergonomic handle inspired by fine pens and knives, and we’d laid the groundwork for the direct-to-consumer online brand that would become Harry’s. We were excited to offer our customers a quality shaving experience at an affordable price.
Fortunately, Andy and I had a team of 10 who believed in our not-yet-existent brand as much as we did. We needed people to find out about us and come to our website to find our products. After all, a direct-to-consumer brand isn’t anything without the consumer. We couldn’t launch to crickets. We had to figure out a way to make sure that didn’t happen.
That also meant a lot of pressure.
Thanks to what you’ll learn in this post, our first week at Harry’s was a huge success. We were inundated by tweets, emails, and—our favorite—customer phone calls. It was an incredibly exciting time.
Much of the success of week one was due to what we did beforehand. One week before our e-commerce site went live, we had gathered emails from nearly 100,000 people who were eager to learn more about Harry’s.
We had collected those email addresses thanks to a one-week long prelaunch campaign, the focus of this post.
Since launching the campaign, we’ve shared it with friends and other entrepreneurs. Now, together with Tim, we’re excited share the details of the campaign —the thinking, the code, our strategy, and the results—with all of you. One of our company values is transparency. We believe in open source, not only for code but also for ideas. And we hope this might help you or your business reach and engage with more people in a fun and constructive way.
Just one large disclaimer: we can only share what we did. We’re sure we made lots of mistakes (we make them a lot) and have no doubt you’ll be able to improve on our template.
Now, without further ado, here we go…
The Most Credible Source
The idea for our campaign was built around our belief that the most powerful and effective way to be introduced to our new company was through a credible referral. Thus, we focused on building a campaign that helped people to spread the word to their friends.
Ahead of our launch, Andy and I spent a couple of months meeting friends, entrepreneurs and virtually anyone else who would listen to us talk about Harry’s. Whether or not they were interested in razors, we tried to interest them in our story. That list of people was probably a couple hundred long by our launch, and we created the campaign to help that group of people publicly share in the excitement of our launch.
We also took inspiration from other startups that we looked up to. Michael Preysman at Everlane is a friend and has built an amazing company. Early on they’d had success with referral mechanics. We also admired Fab’s launch and the manner in which they had success in promoting sharing.
So, inspired by those closest to us and some other amazing startups, we created a referral campaign.
The General Campaign Design
The user interface of the campaign was relatively simple—a two-page microsite.
First, users entered their email addresses on a splash page. This first step was essential since we wanted to capture emails both for our list and so that we could use it as an identifier for tracking referrals.
The second page was where the referral mechanisms lived. It contained a shareable link to the splash page coded specifically to the user. Below the link were buttons to share the link through email, Facebook and Twitter with the click of a mouse. By sharing the link with friends, users had the opportunity to earn free product. The more friends who signed up using your unique referral link, the bigger the prize you earned.
[Note from Tim: Modifying and deploying this app requires some technical knowledge, BUT if you’re non-technical (like me), you can find people to help you. If you aren’t familiar with editing HTML and CSS code, or have never deployed a Ruby on Rails app, I recommend finding a partner with design and Ruby skills in either the Heroku Partners Directory (if you want a team), or ODesk (if a single freelancer will do). ODesk will have more options.]
The mechanics are simple. It automatically generates a unique code for every unique email address entered, and it appends that code onto the given URL. In our case, the link looked something like this:
When a referral—say, a friend of that first user—comes to the site using a unique link, we save it as a cookie we can use to find the email address responsible for the referral. For the engineers out there, you can see our engineering team’s explanation of the code here. As for the code itself, check it out here.
The code is, of course, important to creating a campaign. In addition to sharing the code, we wanted to provide a few insights into how we thought about using it to drive growth.
Step 1: Make Special People Feel Special.
We saw prelaunch as a way to make people feel special.
And the first people in the world to find out about our brand were really special to us. We wanted our first customers to feel like they were getting insider access.
Splash Page Messaging
The copy on the splash page said, “Respecting the face, and wallet since like right now.” These words were intended to be playful and introduce people to the purpose of our brand but also leave an air mystery as to what we were all about. We paired the line with photo of one of our razors, but we included no more information about our company or product.
For the call to action on the button, we chose the words STEP INSIDE. Above the field was a small drawing of a key. We wanted to reinforce for our early customers that they were getting insider access.
Referral Page Messaging
Our referral page had more enigmatic design and copy. A picture of a wooly mammoth was coupled with the words: “Shaving is evolving. Don’t leave your friends behind.” Again, we wanted people to feel that something big was happening to which they had front row seat and the opportunity to invite friends to join them. Our first customers were insiders and we wanted to make them feel like insiders.
Step 2: Choose Tangible Rewards And Make Them Achievable.
The fundamental mechanic of our campaign was a game: complete the challenge of referring friends and earn prizes. It seems pretty straightforward—and it is—but we think that what those prizes are, and how they are doled out, is critical to getting people excited play. Not all reward structures are created equal. Here are a few things what worked for us.
First, we tried to make our rewards tangible: free Harry’s product. On the page, we very clearly emphasized, “Invite Friends and Earn Product.” It was the one message on the page where we did away with mystery and left nothing up to interpretation. We didn’t want there to be any doubt about what people might receive.
Second, we paced out the rewards so that they were attainable, appropriate for actions taken, and increasingly exciting. The first award was easily attainable and each subsequent tier wasn’t discouragingly difficult to achieve. To earn the first tier prize—a free shave cream—you had to make only five successful referrals. The next tier was only five further referrals. If you signed up ten friends, you earned a free razor. The jump between tier two and tier three was more significant but still not overwhelming: 25 referrals and you’d receive a shave set with our more premium handle, The Winston. Finally, even the grand prize was within reach: a year of free shaving for those who referred 50 friends. Indeed, over 200 people achieved our highest referral tier. At one point we had considered offering a lifetime of free product for 1,000 referrals. We ultimately decided to scrap that tier, worrying that it would discourage people from participating at all, and — though we can’t prove that that decision bolstered the strength of the reward structure — I strongly believe it did.
Step 3: Make Sharing As Fun As Humanly Possible.
We wanted the entire experience to feel like a fun game. To amplify the experience, the campaign page included a tracker, pictured above, where users could see how many friends they had referred and what prize they had achieved—or not yet achieved. This dynamic progress tracker served the dual purpose of (1) giving users faith throughout the one-week campaign that we were good for our word and (2) keeping track of their referrals while also incentivizing users who were close to the subsequent tier to keep sharing.
It also amplified the fun people might have with the interface and campaign as they compared their progress to their friends and strived to reach the next tier. We heard from some friends that they took the referral campaign like a personal challenge.
Step 4: Make Sharing As Easy As Humanly Possible.
Through the campaign, we wanted to encourage friends to tell friends, and those friends to tell their friends, and so on and so forth. Any barrier to sharing would hinder the campaign, so we did a few things.
First, we included social sharing buttons. You can’t rely on the user cut and paste the link (though do make it available for the user who prefers that method).
Right below the custom link field on the page, we included icons for Twitter and Facebook. We had learned that using the standard Twitter and Facebook icons for sharing yields higher engagement than if you design your own. People are used to them and recognize them immediately.
Clicking the icons pulled up a dialogue box with a pre-populated message.
This seemingly small measure was really important. It removed a barrier-to-sharing for the user and allowed you to push forward a message.
Ours was really, really simple: “Excited for @harrys to launch. I’m going to be #shaving for free” with a shortlink back the campaign site.
Here are a few quick ideas that were helpful to us:
- Include an @ mention of your company or initiative
- Include a link to your prelaunch site
- Resist the urge to be salesy. We tried to let the mystery of the message drive traffic through the link.
Step 5: Start by Telling Your Friends–Use E-mail, Social, Etc.
This post isn’t one where you learn brilliant tactics for generating and closing media leads (for that, check out “Hacking Kickstarter: How to Raise $100,000 in 10 Days”).
In fact, by our count, there was one article about the campaign while it was live. We didn’t have anything to do with the piece, and, while it wasn’t fully accurate, we liked it because it added to the fun around our launch and helped to amplify the social sharing that was already underway.
While we love the press (and they have been generous to us at Harry’s), for this campaign we deliberately decided that we would focus on our friends and let the groundswell build organically. We thought that having the referral come from a publication would be counter to the campaign’s ethos.
We started there, with our own friends. We had our team of 12 employees seed the campaign to their friends. Here’s a breakdown of how we suggest approaching those two mediums.
A few days before the campaign, we walked the whole team through the process of creating groups of contacts in Gmail. Everyone on the team added all of their contacts to two groups—a group that was familiar with Harry’s vs. a group that hadn’t heard of Harry’s. We wrote a sample email (see template below), though we really emphasized making the messages personalized. We wanted people on our team to share the news of our company and brand in the most comfortable way possible for them. We did all of this a day or two in advance because we wanted to be able to simply hit send on the day prelaunch went live.
Here are some tips for these emails:
- Make it personal. These people are closest to you and, thus, to your product or company. They’re friends—so write to them like they are!
- This is for friends, not press. If you send your prelaunch campaign to friends who are part of the press, make sure they know it’s not the time to “break news” about your company. If you can’t trust them not to do so, don’t keep them on the list. You want press when your company is actually live.
- Encourage your recipients to spread the word. Make that ask explicitly—don’t be shy!
- As a rule of thumb, assume the email will be forwarded, and craft your message accordingly (i.e., don’t disparage the competition etc., etc.,).
- Set up email signatures—with links back to the prelaunch site and social channels—before emailing the world.
- Consider appending a visual asset. We included a simple product shot of our razor with the phrase “Harry’s is coming,” hoping to pique interest.
Title: “Harry’s is Coming!”
Friends and Family,
After months of closely examining the weight of razor handles, natural ingredient mixtures in shaving cream and angles of razor blades, we are really excited to only be days away from launching Harry’s.
You’re important to me and I wanted you to be the first to know about our plans for launch. We have just put up our pre-launch site, you can check it out at www.harrys.com.
Our full site will be up in about a week and I’ll be sure let you know when it’s live!
In the meantime, I’d love your help in spreading the word! Here’s how:
1) Go to our website www.harrys.com
2) On the first page of the site, enter your email to join our mailing list
3) On the second page, refer friends using your own custom link back to Harry’s – and as a bonus you can earn free Harry’s products!
Thank you so much for all of your help and support. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate it. Look forward to continuing to shareHarry’s with you and appreciate you telling the world!
All the best,
We also reached out to a number of people individually.
We wanted to tell them ourselves in a personal way. For example, some of our friends could reach entire companies. We’d ask people individually share Harry’s with their teams. For an example of what this email could look like, see below for an actual email (in looking back maybe I got a little carried away in the excitement of the moment).
Hope you’re great and everything is going really well at [Company].
I wanted to drop you a quick note and let you know that we just put up prelaunch site for Harry’s – check it out and sign up at www.harrys.com. We plan to launch in about a week. Super excited. Would love for you to pass the prelaunch site on to the [company] team and anyone else who you think might appreciate it.
Thanks for your help. You’re the best. Hope to see you soon.
We launched our Facebook page and Twitter handle the day that prelaunch went live in an effort to capture social followers from the prelaunch buzz. As part of our seeding, our small team made a concerted effort to interact with our new social pages and handles. Our whole team did the following:
- Like your company’s page on Facebook
- Follow your company’s Twitter handle
- Tweet about the campaign with an @mention of your company
- Update your Twitter and Facebook profiles to say you work at your company
- Track @mentions of your company and respond with a thank you—from your personal handle—if you see anyone you know tweeting about the campaign
- Post a personal Facebook post about the campaign. We encouraged people to frame the launch of the campaign as a personal life event, i.e. I just started working at Harry’s and after a lot of hard work our pre-launch site is finally up! Check it out: www.harrys.com”
Step 6: Protecting Yourself Against Fraud
When you’re giving away free stuff, you’re opening yourself up to the risk of being scammed and the liability of people gaming your system. We took a few simple precautions to protect ourselves against fraud.
First and foremost, we set up IP blocking. This means our code looked at the IP address of every sign-up, and if a single IP address had signed up two email addresses to the campaign, we blocked the ability to create any more sign-ups from that IP address.
Second of all, we used SendGrid to send a simple transactional email to every email address entered. If that transactional email bounced back—a data point that SendGrid provides—the email address was interpreted as illegitimate. Unsurprisingly, we saw the most fraudulent activity in the highest tier.
Step 7: Cross Your Fingers. You Never Know What’ll Happen.
Before the prelaunch, our small team set wagers on how many emails we would collect.
We wrote the figures on a whiteboard: Three thousand. Five. Seventy-five hundred. One bold person thought we could get 15k. (I think that might have been me!) We broke that high bar in the first day. When all was said and done, we had collected by our estimation over 85K valid email addresses (and over 100K emails in total) in the span of seven days.
The referral mechanics were amazing. As the first graph above shows, 77% of the emails were collected via referral, meaning about 20K people referred about 65K friends. This means referrers, on average, referred more than 3 friends.
Yet there were a lot of people who referred well above that average: More than 200 participants referred more than 50 of their friends, achieving the highest tier reward. These were largely people who were close to us with large followings or access to companies that sent out blasts on our behalf. Even in the lower tiers it was pretty amazing how many people participated. In total we gave away product to about 3,000 people and believe that those folks are still some of our most ardent supporters.
Two More Things…
The heavy lifting really started after our prelaunch: we had to get product to customers.
We sent out coupon codes to customers for the rewards they won. In this way, we redirected our customers to our full, live site where they could read the backstory of the mystery company whose prelaunch they had just participated in and browse our full suite of products.
We handled reward fulfillment through the distribution partner we continue to work with today. We selected a distribution partner based on these four key principles:
- Scalability – Can they grow with us?
- Flexibility – Are they willing and able to play around with process to work toward our vision?
- Price – Are they in-line with the market across all their services (not just pick/pack but also receiving, inventory, etc.)
- Partnership – Do they require minimums and do they mark-up any pass through costs like outbound carrier costs?
In addition to a reliable distribution partner, a second critical element to our prelaunch campaign was customer support. We used—and continue to use—a platform called Zendesk to manage tickets from customers. We had fully a functioning customer support operation where customers could contact us via e-mail, phone, Twitter, Facebook, and even text message. On our first day in business, we had literally everyone on our small team manning Zendesk and replying to inbound tickets.
Thanks Where Thanks Is Due
It was truly amazing to see the impact that our friends and their friends (and their friends) could have on our brand.
We’ve thanked them numerous times, but if you’re reading this, and you participated in our campaign, then thank you again. It was instrumental to us building Harry’s.
While it’s very difficult to attribute its success to one specific variable — the code, the tactics, the idea — we thought we’d share our story in the hopes it might help you with your future endeavors. We have no doubt that you can tweak and improve this early experiment, and we look forward to learning from your future successes.
Jeff, Andy, and The Harry’s Team
Afterword from Tim: For an advance look at what I’ll be doing with e-mail, click here. I am also creating my own micro-site (a la Harry’s) and will be sharing all of my tweaks and findings with you.
Look forward to your thoughts and questions in the comments!
Posted on: July 21, 2014.
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