(And went from sketch to launch in just 3 months)
Around July 2020, Jay Desai began opening his LinkedIn feed more often, engaging and posting daily, and it got his wheels spinning. By the end of the year, he'd laid the foundation for a revolutionary platform for content ideation and curation, called Swpely.
In the beginning, it was just him, without a team or financial backing, discussing the challenges of content curation for LinkedIn and the possibilities of Swpely with a few top marketers in a Slack group.
Jay knew, from his own experience, that content creation was a challenge no matter what medium you used. He'd spent months keeping links, images, and comments in spreadsheets and bookmarks, and found it just as difficult as everyone else did.
The challenge... and a decision Jay would stand by, was to grow organically from the very beginning, without a marketing budget. In fact, he didn't even have the product ready before launch and his website was just a single page.
Yet, in 23 days, he'd already accumulated 1,000 signups (they'll soon be crossing 2,000), and they still continue to grow with a $0 budget.
This is the story of Jay Desai, and how he grew Swpely with a strong referral program and a waitlist, with $0 down.
*Learn more, here, if you'd like articles like this for your own website*
Step 1: Validating The Product
Taking inspiration from his father, who came to the US with only a few hundred dollars but still managed to start his own jewelry business, Jay wanted to start a business of his own.
In fact, before Swpely, he'd actually started a paid sports newsletter, inspired by his work as a sports writer for The Daily Texan and his work at FanSided.
He'd spent $1,000 to get it up and running, only to see it fail not long after. Learning from his mistakes, he decided to do everything he could to ensure that there really was a need for his next project- Swpely.
Jay had started to build a decent audience on Linkedin, just posting his daily content and engaging with his audience. But that was pretty much all Jay decided he needed- a strongly engaged audience and a few promoters (believing word of mouth still outweighs all other forms of marketing).
He picked 20 people- some of the first t join the waitlist for Swpely, some that he'd connected with on Zoom, and some with huge social followings - and began learning about them/ their needs in a Slack group.
This group of highly engaged marketers and salespeople (with over 150,000 followers in combined following) not only gave him the validation he needed for Swpely, but they helped him generate ideas for features and became his first signups as well as fuel for Swpely lead generation.
Step 2: Start building an audience (even before you've built the product)
At this point, Jay was still working for Trend- a platform that connects brands with social media influencers (mostly Instagram influencers) and makes it easy to dramatically extend the shelf life of sponsored content.
But Jay had validation from some major players in the marketing world- people like Camille Trent, Daniel Murray, and Brooklin Nash (from his original focus group in Slack)- and that was enough to push him into Founder mode.
Despite becoming a true founder, Jay knew he still had to bring in the bacon. Swpely wasn't launched yet, and his plans for launch included a few months of $0 in revenue. He joined his father in growing his jewelry platform and took on a few consulting clients to keep the bills paid, while spending every other moment on Swpely.
The marketing influencers he'd paired with during validation were an instrumental part of the plan. They mentioned Swpely in posts and comments, spreading the word wide across their already vast audiences.
Jay had a decent following on LinkedIn as well (approximately 7,000 followers now) and an average of around 100 likes per post.
The goal was to keep growing through word of mouth on LinkedIn and to start building an email/ wait list for Swpely. That's right, an email list without a product.
"I kind of worked backwards, getting the validation before the product was even built."
Even more unorthodox, this validation from his direct audience through basic conversation was the only market research he'd really done.
"I didn't really research other options or do any type of market research... didn't want it to warp my thinking or idea of potential success."
Instead, he went ahead with purchasing a domain and building a one-page website. Driving users to the landing page was simply a matter of engaging with his Twitter and LinkedIn followers and letting the influencers spread the word as well.
This organic approach generated a demand for the product before it was even available, and created a buzz out of a pre-existing interest. Marketers already wanted a solution. Jay was simply stating... "there is one, stay tuned".
Step 3: Launch... and do it early.
There was no boom from the cannon at the launch of Swpely. No big event, banners, or even PPC ads. It was just an announcement on his LinkedIn and Twitter accounts and the unleashing of his influencers.
Even more unconventional. There was no product.
He'd waited until there were 100 sign-ups before actually building Swpely.
It was a stop-gap measure, a milestone that pushed him into the next phase. He figured, if there weren't enough sign-ups, at least he'd only be disappointing a few people and won't have wasted time and capital.
At launch, it was just a single webpage without screenshots:
This is what it looks like now:
Building a product after launch
After getting that second layer of validation from the 100 sign-ups, Jay began the build. But he certainly didn't waste any time on perfection.
Just two months after he announced he was leaving Trend to be the Founder of Swpely, all the platform did was save your favorite links (podcasts, pictures, articles) to privately labeled and organized swipe files.
It was still a better solution to saving everything in a spreadsheet, but it was nowhere near the end.
"Don't be afraid to hit the launch button if your offer isn't perfect. There will always be something you will want to add. You can always layer on the fun stuff later.”
Jay simply wanted to get the product out there, knowing that he can layer on functionality as he goes.
Ideas for Swpely come up all the time. Just recently, his girlfriend got him into Pinterest, and he immediately loved the recommendations it provides based on the user's history and preferences.
This sparked a desire to add that same level of intuitiveness into Swpely. He wants it to be...
"The Pinterest for business people."
(the meager beginnings of my swipe files)
There's no end to innovation, and expecting something to be so perfect right from the beginning undermines growth. You adapt to the wants and needs of your audience and take cues from them.
But getting Swpely out there was the initial mission.
"I don't want too much growth all at once. We're aiming for tactical growth... The whole goal of all of this was just to lower the barrier for being a creator, building an audience, and being able to make money from sharing your ideas."
But despite the quick and quiet start, Jay has already announced that Swpely will soon be building a creator's program like Patreon (though you don't have to sell or produce content to use Swpely). You'll be able to keep boards private, share them publicly to offer free value, or collect subscribers to pay for premium content.
Jay hopes that it will one day be a content-sharing platform just as much as it is a saving platform today. But there's no telling what exactly it'll look like in the future. He's leaving that all up to the audience.
Step 4: Growth with a damn good referral program
Massive companies are accustomed to throwing hundreds of thousands, and even millions,f dollars into their referral program. Tesla offered founder series Teslas. Paypal paid everyone $20 for referrals. Harry's gave away free products.
But 20% of Swpely's users came directly from referral links, and he didn't have to offer any money at all.
Jay is all about low barriers, simplicity, and accessibility, and that extends to all areas of his life. It's the premise behind Swpely and what has made it so successful, even with a $0 marketing budget.
"I'm a big believer of less is more and the Swpely marketing stack is about as lean as it gets. There's this false idea that you need to spend money to do marketing well. The truth is, you really don't. If you build a community, you really don't have to do much outside of that for marketing."
What his lean referral program looks like:
Jay believes so strongly in the power of word of mouth, that he banked on it for the growth of Swpely, using just a referral program and his influencer connections to gain traction (at least at the start).
"Your customers will be much better at selling than you"
He'd already had the waitlist established during the validation stage, and the referral system went right along with it.
It's pretty simple...
The user hears about Swpely
User visits landing page and signs up
User gets put on the waitlist
They're prompted on the same page, directly after sign up, to share their unique referral code on their preferred social media channel
If someone signs up from their referral code, they're bumped up the waitlist
The user sees a referral code on social
Signs up through the referral code
Gets the same prompt to refer people to move up the list
Influencers had unique invite codes that admitted you straight into Swpely, sparking FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).
(Swpely is still technically in beta mode, but the invites gets you past the waitlist to use it right away)
The giveaway Jay ran with copy.ai was another way to entice users to signup, and move them up the waitlist:
"Hey, if you're an active users that's an entry (for the giveaway with copy.ai). Refer, that's an entry. Reply to the welcome email, that's an entry..."
There's another secret to the success of this low-budget referral program, and it circles back to the idea behind Swpely- a low barrier to entry.
Give them everything they need to sell your product easily
If you want to grow really fast, activate your customers. Give them absolutely everything they need to share information about your product and sell it. According to Jay, this means everything from writing case studies for them and simply asking for approval to providing them the copy for social posts.
Right now, if you sign up for Swpely, you'll see a message like this:
Click on one of the social media channels, and you'll see that the text is already there for you.
Notice that it sounds human?
"How do you drive and provide value to the person on the other end... you make the value really high. Much higher than what they have to put in."
That means giving them human-sounding onboarding and writing all of the material for them. All they have to do is hit send.
Step 5: Monetizing swpely (& Some Marketing)
Signing up for Swpely is currently free, and Jay hopes to keep it that way for as long as possible. For now, he's capped it at 3,000 signups before monetization, though he doesn't seem to want to end it there if he can keep free entry going.
But... something has to pay the bills. So, instead of asking for money from users of Swpely, he chose to monetize his own efforts in launching Swpely.
There are countless apps, products, and platforms launching every day, and Jay was already spotting interest in the topic of his growth (from sketch to launch in 3 months) from engagement with his LinkedIn posts.
So, he sold tickets to a live event on Eventbrite, then repackaged that into Swpely season pass- a course on Gumroad. Again, going back to the simplicity and low barrier of entry that kind of sums Jay up.
Now, some might get a little greedy, but Jay is all about giving and he didn't want anyone to miss out on season pass. So he lowered the barrier of entry there too, and reduced the price. It only resulted in a doubling of ticket sales.
If we go back and take count, we recognize that Swpely's marketing is a mean lean conversion machine, pulling in several hundred sign-ups a week, 1,000 in less than a month (and growing).
The marketing plan consists of:
-Social media engagement
-Word of mouth through influencers
-A referral program
-Swpely season pass
It's simple, but effective.
There is one element to Swpely growth that we haven't mentioned yet: A giveaway.
Giveaways aren't new, but just like referral programs, they're pretty effective. Jay managed to strike a promotion deal with Copy.ai for a free 6 months subscription for just one user. Boy, oh, boy is that so on-brand, considering that Copy.ai is a ai program that writes various types of content for you.
It's simple, easy, and lowers the barrier to being a better creator all around. AND, it only cost him $240. He likes his marketing budget just as lean as his tech stack and marketing plan.
Accessibility & audience
Towards the end of our interview, I thanked Jay for being so accessible for this interview. It wasn't something he had to do, and not once did he ask about my following or where the interview would be posted.
"Yeah, accessibility is really important to me. There were so many times (in marketing) that I wanted to talk to someone about something, and so I wanted to be that person and be open about it."
Whether it's on LinkedIn, Twitter, Swpely season pass, podcasts or other interviews, Jay doesn't shy away from revealing behind-the-scenes info that others would be hesitant to offer.
But that's part of how he's built his brand from the very beginning. It's part of why so many are so incredibly willing to speak the praises of Swpely and send referral links to their friends. It's a large part of what Swpely is all about, and why this is just the beginning.
I write stories like this for my clients. Want to learn more?