Through the course of launching several products at QLabs and on my own, I've been building a thesis: When building a project, you should always consider whether you need a "viral side-along" to help the initial spread, and what that might be.
So what's a viral side-along? Nearly exactly what it sounds like - a mini-project that complements your main business, with some press appeal and natural mechanisms for spreading.
Our first attempt at this was bleeoo.com. Bleeoo was a cheeky art project where users could record themselves "preserving an oral history our digital traditions" by making modem sounds into their webcam. It was delightful and funny, and made the rounds of the geek/tech press nicely.
Bleeoo was also a great showcase for Framey.com - we built Bleeoo in a few days using the easily embeddable video recorder that Framey provides. Framey is a great product, that fits a need, and is extremely helpful for the people that need it, but it's not a mainstream press item.
We saw a great traffic spike from Bleeoo, a good number of paid accounts created, and some high-profile signups that have lead to great integrations of framey with national brands, nonprofits, and bands.
Naturally there's a steep falloff from press coverage, but the initial push (and google juice generated by the organic inbound links) have helped us keep Framey signups flowing.
For our most recent project, Huntsy, which provides tools for job hunters to get employed faster, we released a free, funny ebook on the topic well before the release of Huntsy (in fact we're still a few weeks away from launch).
This time, we didn't get as much press coverage around the ebook as we would have liked, but we were still able to work our social media channels and move around 750 copies, each with an email address essentially consisting of a "warm lead" - someone who is likely job hunting and needs some help in the process. We're reaching out to those folks now as early adopters during our beta tests. Getting from 0-1000 users is often one of the hardest parts about launching a new app, so having that initial base to begin from is extremely helpful.
Finally, I've just launched a new side-along to go with Postkin.com, the greeting card company that my wife and I are starting.
Postkin e-cards provides free, niche marketed e-cards, starting with a set of fantastically geeky Valentine's day cards sourced from US Patent filings. It was a weekend project and is cheap to run, so as long as people need e-cards, we've got a nice little loss-leader for Postkin.com, our physical card business which will be launching in a few months.
Although seemingly a diversion from your core business, fun side projects like this can introduce new people to your idea and help build your audience. So far from our experiments, they seem to be some of the most effective ways to expose people to our products while adding a bit more awesome to the internet.
So, what's the viral side-along for your project?