What startups can learn from Studio 54 and the velvet rope

Studio 54 opening night

As soon as we launch a startup we’re secretly desperate to get as many users as we can as quickly as possible. Even if we’ve hacked some kind of alpha test, or user MVP – or any other buzz mechanism to justify that this shit is gonna work. That aside we still want users, bodies, customers, people to come, use, share, evangelise as quickly as possible. It’s all about speed to market, so we move super quick to make this happen. Speed of customer acquisition is the key right?

Maybe not. Maybe what we should really be doing is the exact opposite. Maybe we should keep people out. Even those in our desired audience. Maybe we should be focused less on the quantity of users and instead focus on the quality and frequency of interactions with insiders. Those we let in. Just like a popular night club does, it creates desire by creating a space not everyone is allowed into. The line outside, is not a bug, it’s a major feature.

Look at anything valuable in life, and you’ll see a place where people had to earn their spot. People had to get invited, pass a test, earn recognition, or create value before they were allowed to be part of the thing in question. This process creates the human fear of missing out

When Facebook launched you had to have a Harvard email address to join.

When Gmail arrived, you needed an invite to get access.

When Uber came along it launched city by city.

The first Tesla cars went to high profile people.

Even the original Frequent Flyer programs were by invite only.

And Studio 54 turned exclusivity into an art form, literally.

While it is very hard to build a big business with a tiny audience, it is much harder to create a great product while trying to please everyone. We should instead create an isolated market so we can serve the faithful few. Make a product they love so much that they can’t help but talk about how great the thing is. we need to get them raving about it so others will want in on it. We need to put a velvet rope around what is on the inside. We need a door person who has the task of saying ‘Not in those shoes pal‘ or the classic ‘members only tonight.’ Of course, none of this is actually designed to exclude others, it’s more about making those on the inside know how special they are, that they are part of creating something valuable. It’s only then that they’ll help you make something which can grow beyond the group who started it.

You should totally read my book – The Great Fragmentation.