The first thing to realize is the importance of doing – as Paul Graham puts it – things that don’t scale, especially the early stages of your site.

What I mean by that is that the Facebook team obviously doesn’t invite every new user individually. But you might have to do just that to kickstart your community.

Individual Invites

When launching Product Hunt, Ryan Hoover personally invited dozens, if not hundreds of users. And that was after already doing the exact same thing for the now-defunct Startup Edition.

So don’t be shy about inviting people one by one, and even specifically asking them to leave a comment, post a link, or submit a question.

Start with your closest friends, and progressively work your way up to prominent figures in your field. Most people will be happy to oblige, especially if it’s to promote their own content.

See which people are very active in the early days and involve them. You can’t do something like this alone.

Pieter Levels, #Nomads

An Invitation Blueprint

For example, you could:

  1. Ask Friend A to post a link to an article.
  2. Leave a comment on that article.
  3. Ask Friend B to leave a comment as well.
  4. Tell the article’s author about the discussion, and invite them to contribute.

Sure, it took three emails, but in return you just created three happy users:

And of course, you’re happy because your site is taking off!

Our goal was to have a history so that when we launched the website the first users would see an active website, and not a realize they are actually our first real users.

Justin Kan, The Drop

Seeding Content

This strategy extends to content, not just users.

Nobody wants to be the first to leave a party. But you know that as soon as one person makes a move for their coat, pretty soon the whole place will end up empty.

Similarly, users don’t like to be the first to submit a link, ask a question, or post a comment. This is why it’s very important that you seed your community with the type of content you’d like to see.

The most success we have had is with manually reaching out to people who write sales content. Whenever I read a sales related blog post, I’ll email the author about it, and suggest it’d be a great fit for the Closing Call audience so they should post it there. I’ve only had positive responses from each person I’ve reached out to.

Ryan Gum, Closing Call

Want people to post links? Start by posting links yourself. Want people to ask questions? Ask some yourself. Want people to leave comments? You get the idea.

Of course, after a while people will realize that you’re posting every post, link, and comment yourself, and they’ll be happy to leave it all up to you since you seem to be doing such a good job.

Every day, since I launched, I’ve been manually curating content to post on the site. There are some days, especially in the first few months, where no one will post an article.

Jean-Nicholas Hould,

To combat this, remember to regularly ask your friends to participate, or even create a few extra accounts for yourself (as Reddit’s founders famously did ).


  • Invite 10 friends and 10 “celebrities” in your field to your new community.