Going Viral: One Strategy for Getting to your First Million Users

I recently attended Startonomics, a one-day conference for startups and their stakeholders. The Mission Bay Conference Center in San Francisco was buzzing with founders, funders, developers, and marketers. Everyone was focused on the metrics and methods that can help startups win on the web. It was refreshing to be with folks who still believe the future is bright in Silicon Valley.

Among the many excellent talks I heard, the workshop by Lance Tokuda, CEO of RockYou, just rocked! Lance offered honest and actionable advice for social web startups trying to get to their first million users. The gist of his message: Go viral with your app. The market for social apps is exploding. Today, an estimated 300 million people are accessible through social platforms like MySpace, Facebook, Hi5, and others. Lance expects that number to triple to 900 million people in 2009, with the opening up of Yahoo! to social application developers.

The key to making the most of this juicy traffic is to go viral with your app. So, what does it mean to go viral? According to Lance, referral traffic is key to viral growth. This is the traffic that comes from people referring apps to their connections. The traffic comes through your install and engagement flows – the steps people take to 1) install your application and 2) return to your application. RockYou has gotten the viral loop down to a science and a formula: x * y > 1 = viral


In this equation, x = invited friends, and y = accept rate. If your viral factor (x * y) is greater than 1, you have “gone viral.” RockYou has been iterating on this equation, adjusting their install and engagement flows as needed to achieve this measurable goal. Their entire application development approach centers on how to get people to invite friends to install an app. RockYou apps aren’t built just to be cool – they’re built to be viral.

Given that 99% of social network applications fail, the fact that RockYou has grown adoption to the tune of 18 million apps installed to date is impressive. To learn more about how RockYou is using simple metrics to drive viral growth, check out Lance Tokuda’s Startonomics presentation embedded below via Slideshare, or watch it on Ustream.

Again, big thanks to Lance for being so open and generous with the secrets that helped RockYou become so successful. And thanks to Dave McClure and the team from Dealmaker Media who put on a fabulous and helpful event! Check out the Startonomics site for links to all the other great talks given that day.

Julie Choi
Yahoo! Developer Network