Gathering leads and expanding customer waitlists before any official launch is the primary goal of every upcoming startup. Businesses carry out extensive pre-launch marketing campaigns to build hype around their new product; none has ever been successful as the notorious ‘Robinhood.’
Robinhood - a fintech startup -- brought in 1 million signups to their platform’s waitlist while their mobile application was still in the development phase. Although the idea of a commission-free stock trading platform was revolutionary enough, it was their impeccable referral program that built the hype - one year prior to the official launch.
As of today, Robinhood has a market cap of $7.88 billion with a brand valuation of over $38 billion. Let’s understand the marketing strategies Robinhood’s founders adopted that turned an average startup into a billion-dollar fintech company.
Robinhood - A Backdrop Into History
Robinhood is the brainchild of two Stanford graduates, Vladimir Tenev and Baiju Bhatt, who, at the time, were interlopers in the finance sector. Like many other numerically gifted graduates, the pair was gradually drawn toward finance - especially high-frequency trading.
Following their newfound interests, Bhatt and Tenev kickstarted a trading consultancy in 2011 called Chronos Research. The platform’s revenue model was based on selling trading strategies to hedge funds and banks. It was not until the economic parity at Wall Street caught global attention that compelled the duo to develop something remarkable.
In a world where stock brokers charged fee structures for trading stocks, Bhatt and Tenev introduced a commission-free trading platform, Robinhood. The company was set to make stock trading accessible and affordable for the general public without charging trade commissions - like the Robinhood folktale “take from the rich and give to the poor.”
With no visible revenue model to begin with, finding credible venture capitalists and investors was the real challenge for both graduates. Robinhood was rejected by 75 investors before it earned the first believer for $3 million seed round. In 2013, the Stanford duo launched a hyper-effective waiting list campaign to attract users pre launch - and the results were startling.
The company acquired 10,000 customer signups on day one, which reached 50,000 within a week. By the end of a year-long referral campaign, Robinhood landed 1 million willing users on the waiting lists, making it one of the most robust SaaS pre-launch campaigns to date.
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Robinhood’s Subsidiaries in the Finance Market
Since its inception in 2013, Robinhood has boarded a bullet train to success. The company leverages existing markets and expands them with the constantly changing market trends.
Even though commission-free trading is still the front page headline, the company has launched multiple subsidiaries to strengthen the platform with a larger customer base and drive more revenue.
Besides being synonymous with $0 brokerage, the stock trading app has streamlined the process of buying and selling shares with its intuitive app design. The platform offers the following features to its 18 million signed users:
Options Trading - it allows users to buy or sell company shares or equities based on future speculation of the stock market or individual securities
Fractional Shares - The platform allows users to buy or sell a fraction of shares instead of a complete stake, making stock trading accessible to the daily wagers.
IPO Access - Instead of waiting for an upcoming startup to list on NYSE or Nasdaq, users can now trade shares of a new company at its IPO price - a feature that’s usually exclusive to high-net-worth individuals.
Recurrent Purchases - Individual traders who want to invest a fixed dollar amount can set up recurrent purchases, regardless of the actual stock price.
In 2018, Robinhood announced its upcoming venture into the banking sector, but things didn’t go as smoothly. The founders announced checking and savings accounts with a 3% interest rate and zero markup fee.
Whether it was lacking a promotion campaign or the product was unrefined, the project failed to impress Securities Investor Protection Corporation for insurance.
The company launched the Cash Management platform in 2019 after a complete overhaul and insurance from the FDIC. The platform now allows users to earn interest on their savings account and avail debit card services.
Robinhood got into crypto industry in 2018, introducing a new wallet that allowed customers to trade crypto and engage in decentralized finance (DeFi) and respective Web3 applications.
Like conventional stock trading, Robinhood’s USP was the 0% markup on any cryptocurrency trade. The digital wallet is a standalone app that is based on the 2-layer blockchain model or the polygon network. the fintech company has listed all major cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin, Dogecoin, Ethereum, litecoin, etc.
Gold - Robinhood’s Revenue Model
With no trading fee or markup on purchases, one might wonder about Robinhood’s revenue model. Tenev and Bhatt struggled for quite some time before they settled for one.
Robinhood Gold is a premium subscription service dedicated to exclusive customers. It charges a $5 monthly fee and offers the following benefits:
Market Data - subscribers can access Nasdaq level 2 in-depth market data for better analysis in stock trading.
Margin Investing - Gold members can invest on margin through borrowed funds at a 2.5% annual interest rate.
Instant Deposit - Premium users can get instant access to their deposited funds between $5000 to $50,000.
The Secret Behind Robinhood’s Successful Pre-Launch Campaign
Surprisingly, the concept of zero-fee stock trading wasn’t alien to the brokerage industry. In fact, Zecco introduced the idea while Bhatt and Tenev were rolled into the undergraduate program. Although the startup managed to raise $35 million before TradeKing took over, Zecco couldn’t build the hype as massive.
Getting a million users on board before the company even launched is no easy feat by any means; in fact, it’s the last thing founders imagined.
The fintech startup propelled a simple, direct message carrying their niche, USP, and CTA, all in a single tagline. Although it took them three attempts to design the right visuals to back up their campaign narrative, the copy stayed the same:
“$0 commission stock trading, Stop paying up to $10 for every trade”
With a tried and tested business idea from Zecco and borrowed promotion strategy from Mailbox, there was nothing the company brought new to the market, except for their intelligent marketing playout.
Impeccable Pre-launch Marketing Campaign
Pre-launch Marketing has been long used by established businesses and startups to get people interested in their upcoming products or service. Besides building a waitlist of potential customers, it helps marketers determine if the product is market-fit before introducing it officially.
Executing a pre-launch marketing campaign for free is a dream for most startups, though in Robinhood’s case, the strategy paid out remarkably. Considering the unprecedented response within the first few weeks, Teneve and Bhatt ensured their incandescent product market-fit before even developing it. The interesting part is; they did it without spending a dime.
What pushed the campaign message to the masses and turned into an overnight success was the publicity from Hacker News. Day after the website’s public launch, the copy landed on the first spot at Hacker News, which according to Tenev, is “sort of like every engineer’s dream in the valley”.
Referral Waitlist Strategy
With no hodge-podge of information on Robinhood’s signup page, everything was centered around the sign-up button prompting users to take swift action. The developers had devised a hassle-free signup process for the waitlist that only asked for the user’s email address.
Unlike Mailbox, where users had to download the app to enter the waiting list, Robinhood users could sign up right from their landing page.
The referral waitlist strategy was fairly simple. Once users signed up with their emails, they were forwarded a Thank You message with their designated position on the waiting list.
To go higher up the waiting queue, users were required to refer the platform to their family and friends. The more people join through your referral links, the sooner you’ll get access to the platform when it comes live. The strategy paid out exceptionally well since no one wanted to miss the opportunity to test the upcoming one-of-a-kind trading app.
Marketing the Difference
What sets you apart in the league is how you attract your target audience. The marketing campaign of the online trading platform focused on its USP - creating a frictionless, subscription-free, intuitive trading platform for the general public.
By setting up a seamless sign-up portal, company's founders managed to convince their audience to become their potential customers. While the official launch date was yet to come, users had all the reasons to believe their promise of a commission-free stock trading app.
The Psychology Behind Robinhood’s Referral Program
In theory, a successful prelaunch strategy is all about researching the target market, understanding customer behavior, and formulating marketing plans that cater to their needs and psychology. Robinhood is one of the first startups that applied the theory and achieved groundbreaking results.
The company intrigued its target audience with the idea of a $0 trading platform, established a frictionless registration process to gather users, and spread their brand awareness through effective referral marketing. Here’s how the founders made it possible:
The attention span of an average user toward an advertisement is 7 seconds. As a marketer, it is your job to grab your audience’s attention, entice them with your USP, and compel them to sign up, all within those seven seconds.
So, instead of clamming up information and stating facts, design a simple website and keep your tagline/message short, direct, and straightforward. If the incentives in your message aren’t clear, customers will most likely lose interest in your product.
Simplicity is key to any marketing strategy like the main tagline, “commission-free stock trading, Stop paying up to $10 per trade.” It introduces you to their upcoming project, followed by a vivid CTA for instant registration.
The fear of missing out on something others are having fun with sparks social anxiety in a person - eventually urging them to follow the lead. In the world of social media, everyone desires to stay in touch with the latest information and be a part of the hype.
The new fintech startup harnessed the power of FOMO so cleverly that it got 10,000 people interested in the product within the first week of pre launch.
Robinhood wasn’t the first to come up with a free stock trading platform or design a neat landing page with a catchy headline. So what made their promotion strategy stand out? Gamification - a marketing technique that builds up and cultivates the audience's interest in a product and directs them to take a certain action.
Tenev and Bhatt ingeniously gamified their referral program by
Designing an intuitive Thank You page that allowed new signups to know their place in the waiting list queue.
Introducing the concept of priority access, get people to share your product to their friends to move up on the waiting list.
Keeping the entire sign-up process transparent for the audience built brand trust and credibility for the upcoming trading platform. The users’ spot on the waiting list was clearly displayed, along with the steps they needed to take to move higher and get early access to the upcoming project. Knowing they weren’t being misled or misdirected sharpened their belief in the company and drove them to sign up.
The founders kept their audience informed about the upcoming developments regarding the launch right from the start of the referral program. Anyone who interacted with the Robinhood webpage was instantly informed that the project was about to take off. The ‘Sign Up Now’ formula built anticipation and excitement in the audience about the new product, urging them to take action.
Robinhood advertised itself with the promise to take on the Wall Street darlings and stock market gatekeepers, making trading accessible and convenient for the general public. The soon-to-be trading platform became a cultural phenomenon even before the actual product launch.
Despite introducing a revolutionary product, Robinhood team created an ingenious referral marketing campaign that acquired nearly 1 million users before launch. Although the initial referral marketing fared well in terms of its extensive user base, the company couldn’t follow suit while launching its subsidiaries.
Even though Robinhood conducted a successful pre-launch campaign, devising in-house marketing strategies diverted their attention from the core product development. Instead of wasting extensive human resources and investment on planning the right marketing strategy, signing up with Prefinery.com to power their waitlist referral program would’ve helped them concentrate on the Magnus opus.
What was the marketing campaign budget of Robinhood?
The fintech startup spent $0 on its marketing campaign before launch. Instead, they built hype around their product and maximized user acquisition through referral marketing programs.
How do I compel people to sign up for my waitlist?
State your promotion message clearly and directly to the end-user that attracts their attention and entices them to take action. Set up an easy sign-up process and referral program to attract more customers.
Should I buy pre-launch campaign software or build it in-house?
As a startup, planning your marketing strategies in-house might seem a cost-effective solution, but it distracts you from the core product development. Buying a third-party pre-launch campaign software will address your marketing concerns while you focus on building the product.