How Robinhood’s referral program brought 1 million users before launch

How Robinhood’s referral program brought 1 million users before launch

It’s a tale as old as time:

  1. You get an idea for a revolutionary product or service.
  2. You launch the next big thing on your website.
  3. You invite your family, friends—perhaps even your LinkedIn network —to download your app or buy from your store.
  4. Despite your efforts, your launch ends up being less “big thing” and more small potatoes.

referral marketing guide

Commission-free stock-trading app Robinhood managed to rewrite this classic narrative with an enviable and explosive go-to-market. 

In the year prior to launch, Robinhood built a waiting list amounting to nearly…one…million…

How Robinhood Got Nearly 1 Million Users Before the Company Even Existed


That’s one million users before the company even existed.

Sound nuts? I’d say so.

Gaining one million potential users during prelaunch is perhaps a lofty target for a small startup. But you can certainly expand your prelaunch reach—and your waiting list—by imitating some of Robinhood’s techniques.

Just like Robinhood stole from the rich and gave to the poor, we’re stealing/ borrowing from Robinhood’s referral marketing program tactics and giving to you.

Compel Immediate Action

FOMOFear Of Missing Out.

It’s a powerful force.

So powerful, in fact, that simply making potential customers feel like they might be missing out on something can often move them to action.

56% of surveyed adults admit that FOMO impacts their media usage habits, for example, compelling them to look at social media again and again.

Marketers can harness FOMO by creating an impression of exclusivity through the use of wait lists, limited supply, and time limits.

And that’s exactly what Robinhood’s referral did.

As a part of their pre-launch strategy, the Robinhood team invited potential app lovers to gain invitation-only, early access to its private beta.

Instead of inviting potential Robinhood users to join a mailing list, the company appealed to its interested fans’ desire to be the first to benefit from what Robinhood had to offer.

And this offer was so enticing, that it got the attention of Hacker News, which was “Every engineer’s dream in the Valley,” according to co-founder Vlad Tenev.

Keep the Process Simple

So how did Robinhood‘s referral draw in the first eager-to-gain-early-access few?

Robinhood kept the sign-up process short, sweet, and simple.

When a person arrived on the early-access landing page, only one task stood between them and the chance to be the first to use the Robinhood app: entering their email address.

Let’s face it: people aren’t that great at paying attention—not for long periods of time, anyway.

In fact, our attention span is only about 8 seconds.  That’s shorter than the attention span of a goldfish.

The brainpower behind building Robinhood’s waiting list knew this fact and designed a sign-up page so straightforward that it could be completed before any person (or fish, for that matter) could lose interest.

robinhood referral

The page was simple to use. Not full of jargon or length copy, just one powerful hook—”Robinhood $0 commission stock trading. Stop paying up to $10 per trade.”

Giving users only one option; To opt-in.

Get People to Share and Re-engage

Gaining access was simple.

With Robinhood’s referral and like many other pre-launches, the first few sign-ups were acquired from family, friends, and as a result of press mentions.

But how did Robinhood (with their referral marketing program) turn those first few to thousands, hundreds of thousands and then nearly a million?


People. Love. Playing. Games. ⚽

Especially when those games are tied to rewards they actually want.

Robinhood created a referral-based viral loop that looked something like this:

  1. When users signed up for Robinhood’s Referral, they were put on the waiting list. The higher on a person’s position on the list, the earlier the Robinhood fan got access to the beta.
  2. After entering an email address, the “thank you page” allowed individuals to see is their position on the waiting list.

Conveniently located under their waiting list placement? A reward-based invitation to share Robinhood’s exclusive offer with others in just one click. The more a person shared, the higher waiting-list position. The higher the position, the sooner one would gain access to Robinhood. And who doesn’t want to jump ahead in the queue?

And that’s what led to exponential growth.

robinhood referral

Bonus: Embrace What Makes You Different

All of these tips and tricks got Robinhood part of the way. But people flocked to Robinhood because they saw something different. Meaningful. Useful.

Robinhood’s referral program wanted to make things easier for people.

And people love easy.

When describing the function of Robinhood, co-founder Vladimir Tenev said they built it aiming to “[make] trading as frictionless as possible.”

In the end, the app’s team built their waiting list using a similar tactic. By providing a frictionless portal for customer sign-up and giving potential customers lots of reasons to become actual customers, Robinhood moved beyond a humdrum launch and accomplished something truly spectacular with its referral marketing program.


So, do you want to create a pre-launch campaign similar to Robinhood’s referral program?

This template is inspired by Robinhood‘s referral program. People can join your waitlist, just by putting in their info. Then, the more friends they invite, the higher they climb up the list.

It’s that simple!

robinhood referral

In case you’re interested to build a pre-launch like Robinhood’s referral, we have your back! Save yourself some time.



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