Quibb: The 10 Right Ways to Launch a Modern Web App

An informal case study


Quibb is a startup-centric web community for reading and sharing links, created at a time when the last thing the internet needs is another place to read and share startup links. Or, rather, you might think that, right up until the point where it becomes clear that Quibb got its launch strategy exactly right. Unwilling to be overshadowed by Twitter, Reddit, LinkedIn and Quora’s titanic content feeds (as well as the lively, focused dialogue emanating from incumbent communities like Hacker News), Quibb is consistently carving out enviable bandwidth among entrepreneurs and the early-adopter technorati.

What did Quibb do that was so spot on? In my view there are at least ten things, and they’re a textbook case study about the right ways to launch a modern web application:

1. Be Mobile from (Pretty Much) Day One

We’re well past the point where not having a mobile site compromises traffic and engagement (15-20% of it, to be specific). In Quibb’s case in particular, where do we think a lot of busy, technically-inclined people read and share links? Answer: when they’re commuting, waiting in line, or taking a momentary respite from doing other active, high-powered things. Those interactions happen on mobile, Quibb anticipated it, and they came right out of the launch gate with a bare-bones iOS app and responsive, Bootstrap-driven site. Is their iOS app any good? Not really, but I still use it, and I’m not alone.

Even if you don’t have an iOS or Android developer on your team, a few CSS media queries can go a long way towards transforming your site from garbage to functional in mobile browsers.

2. Be Exclusive

Right off the bat on their landing page Quibb spells it out: “We’re members-only and accept 42% of member applications.” Awesome — now if I’m any sort of self-respecting startup narcissist I need the validation of knowing I’m more influential than that other 58% of hapless applicants.

For early-stage startups (particularly marketplaces and communities), the quality and engagement of early users is a defining characteristic of its success and general user experience. Quibb gets it, and their application filter (a slightly more scalable compliment to “invite only”) is a great way to ensure a higher-quality community is cultivated at a manageable pace.

3. Be Conversational (Without Compromising Exclusivity)

A few weeks after joining Quibb, I get a pleasant, personal and plain-text email from Sandi, one of the founders, sent from — of all things — her Gmail account, asking how I was liking the site and if I had any feedback. Did Sandi actually manually type it out and send it herself? Hell if I know—it certainly could have been automated—but it was short, it wasn’t trying to sell me anything, it felt genuine and it even had a smiley face. How many other times has the founder of an app you just signed up for sent you a smiley face from their Gmail? Exactly.

Also, I noticed Quibb is on the Intercom.io bandwagon (personal aside: I f$@%ing love Intercom.io and will use them for any/every web app I ever build unless someone innovates something even more awesomely useful), which might or might not have generated the above email from Sandi. Even if it didn’t, it’s a great sign that Quibb is thinking about how to reach and manage an ongoing dialogue with its users.

It’s now harder and harder to just sit back, let your marketing automation run its course and regularly hit the cash register. Particularly on the consumer side, it’s critical to talk to your users, learn from them and let them know they matter.

4. Brand Heavily

Whenever I go read something on Quibb, Quibb actually takes me to the real website page, but brands the URL itself. This is so subtle, yet so clever I’m shocked more link-sharing services don’t do it and instead opt for bit.ly style short URL redirects. Anywhere I go to read an interesting piece of well-curated content from the Quibb community, Quibb follows me right in the browser:

Quibb’s browser game is on point

In branding, details matter so much, and getting little details like this right is a clear, long-term equity-building win.

5. Make It So Easy to Share Your Content a Three-Year-Old Could Do It

Within the top 250px of the site there’s three different, clear ways for me to share content. A three-year-old might still struggle with those call-to-actions, but I’ll bet a kindergardener could execute on them just fine.

Quibb makes it easy to share

Plus Quibb offers affiliate referral links for existing members to share with new applicants to the community.

6. Gather Actionable Data

Here are all the analytics providers Quibb is currently using: Intercom.io (Community Analytics & Engagement), Optimizely (A/B Testing), New Relic (Performance Monitoring), Google Analytics (Site Traffic), Mixpanel (User Analytics & Conversion Funnel Testing) and Chartbeat (Publisher Analytics). That’s a rock-solid list, and, with the exception of the last two, the exact same analytics stack I installed on BuzzFork, which has worked awesome for me (and reminds me I’ve been meaning to go integrate Mixpanel).

With this in place, Quibb knows exactly what you’re doing on their pages at all times, traces it back to all your identifiable user information and stats, and has a lot of excellent data to drive site optimization, UX changes, new feature introductions, and, perhaps most importantly of all, revenue, whenever Sandi decides to cross that bridge.

7. Cultivate a Passionate Community

At the risk of overstating the obvious, getting people to care (really care) about your brand, website or app is one of the biggest challenge any business faces, and it’s one that I’ve personally struggled with a lot. Sandi’s done a damn fine job at getting people to care about Quibb by making it simple, minimalist, value-providing and social. I’d love to get testimonials like these in such a short time and you should to:

Founders and funders both love Quibb

8. Pay Attention to Email

Email is probably the most un-sexy thing in all of digital marketing, and yet, any marketer worth their salt knows the power of a well-built email list and optimizing your messages for open rates.

Because KissMetrics consistently does an awesome job distilling startup case studies and data into digestible, actionable insights, I’ll let them them tell you how Quibb keeps daily email open rates between 50-70%. This is really impressive and a really great way to manage your site traffic and keep users engaged.

9. Only Release Features That Really Matter

I’d be willing to bet any half-decent web designer could recreate Quibb’s UX (including responsiveness) in 48 hours; it’s super bare-bones, black-and-white — almost like imagine the New York Times’ website might look if it was launched by three twenty-somethings who knew Twitter Bootstrap existed.

The result is Quibb’s user experience ends up falling somewhere between a well-designed e-reader, a well-designed blog and Quora, minus the almost-Harvard crimson, which makes it really easy to get around, read stuff and share it without getting bogged down in superfluous content.

Win, again.

10. Lightly Force Engagement

Sometimes even making something awesome and getting most everything right with your startup launch isn’t quite enough and you’ve just gotta coax people into engaging with your service.

Rather than trying to get me to care about Quibb with email blasts and upgrade call-to-actions I’m most likely going to ignore, Quibb does it much more subtly based on Twitter relationships: when I join Quibb I auto-follow people I already follow on Twitter who are members, and when people who follow me join they automatically follow me. This follower automation is clever for two reasons: (1) the fact that I already follow someone on Twitter generally validates that I care about their content in 140-character format, suggesting I’m probably also interested in what they’re sharing that’s longer form and (2) it makes me feel valued to see that I consistently have new people following me on Quibb. I mean, let’s face it, who doesn’t love new followers?

But, perhaps most importantly, who doesn’t love Quibb?