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Hotmail’s Growth Hacking Success Story

1997 Hotmail screenshot

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Way before we all moved to Gmail, there was Hotmail, the first free web-based email service. And way before Microsoft acquired them, and on a limited budget, they were looking for ways to grow. This growth hack teaches us how it’s not always necessary to have a large budget or make significant investments in infrastructure.

The Growth Hack

In 1996, one of Hotmail’s employees came up with a simple yet ingenious idea that could make them grow and boost the number of users. He suggested adding a marketing message at the bottom of each sent email. This simple addition means that from that day forward, Hotmail users are now promoting them to their friends, which are great potential customers of the brand. The first marketing message added to the bottom of each email was “P.S.: I love you. Get your free email at Hotmail.” This addition brought sensational results. With this genius trick, they communicated three important elements:
  1. Hotmail is a free service
  2. Anyone can have an account
  3. It’s friendlier than other existing providers.

The Results

This message doubled their user base from 500,000 to 1 million in just six months. But, that was just the beginning, as five weeks later, they exploded and reached over 2 million users. Eventually, Hotmail reached 12 million users within 1.5 years of launching this strategy.

Remember that it’s not always about money and significant investments. This PLG (Product Led Growth) approach got Hotmail way better results than expected, and today such an approach is used in many products. Think about when you share something from different apps, such as your fitness app, and how they always push their branding as part of the shared content.

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