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How to build a waitlist for a launch

I’m an independent music artist but fear – and the drive to finish higher education – prevented me from truly pursuing my dream career until I had obtained that undergraduate degree. I’ve now been ‘professionally’ releasing music for a year. However, I started building my fan base way before I even dropped a single on Spotify.

Why? Well, I made the decision to fully pursue my career while still in the swings of my final year at uni – 18 months before my official music release. This also happens to be when the lockdown hit. During the lockdown, in my evening breaks I couldn’t go for cocktails with friends so after writing my essays I would do my makeup and engage in shared playlists on my Instagram stories. I would post a story with the Q&A box asking people for their favourite song under various themes. I would do this once a week. One week the theme was ‘sex playlist for us not getting it in lockdown’ another was ‘songs if you were on summer vacaction instead of ur backyard’ and another was simply ‘Latin vibes’. 

What I didn’t release was that I was actually building my brand as a music-related content curator. The playlist themes were subconsciously morals that tie to my brand – sexually confident, Latin, quirky – and I was cementing my name as a music related persona. It also grew my following as people would tune in specifically to build playlists together. 

My point is that I was building a small audience of people who would be there when my first single did release. Independent from myself and other music artists, building a waitlist of engaged customers interested in what you’re going to sell can act like rocket fuel once you launch. No matter your business, it can give it a much-needed head start while others are scrambling for their first few sales.

The waitlist model has shown to be increasingly popular among both direct-to-consumer (DTC) and business-to-business (B2B) companies.

A more business-y example would be that of Muhammad Saigol and July, his air-conditioning business. When Saigol moved to New York City, he was astounded at how few of the apartments he lived in had built-in air conditioning – and was frustrated at how difficult it was to install. ‘It’s a very fraught process,’ Muhammad says. He set out to solve that problem with July, a slick, customizable AC unit that’s more energy-efficient and has fewer emissions than other units. 

The plan was to launch July in April or May 2020. Then Covid hit. ‘The whole world begins shutting down,’ Muhammad recalls. ‘That threw a monkey wrench into the plans.’ The units were stuck abroad, and July had nothing to sell – except itself.

The website that July had meticulously designed to handle AC unit orders was reworked. It instead focused on outlining what separated July from its competitors and encouraged people to leave their emails. ‘Customers were able to do the investigation and see if they liked it,’ he says. Those who left their emails were more qualified leads, because they’d shown an interest. Those customer details went into an email marketing database, and people were drip-fed occasional emails updating them on how the company was evolving. ‘We didn’t do it frequently,’ he says. 

The website wasn’t the only way that July built up its pre-launch waitlist. Muhammad booked lead generation adverts on Facebook and Instagram and snagged media coverage for the AC units, which bolstered numbers on the waitlist further. By the time July launched officially – fittingly, in July 2020 – the list was 20,000 long. By the end of the summer, it was 30,000. Of those, 4,000 converted into sales – though Muhammad says it’d have been far more had July not run out of stock to shift.

Muhammad believes that July’s waitlist was a success because the brand wasn’t selling hot air – neither literally nor metaphorically. AC units are a vital part of many US homes, and July wasn’t selling promises. It had prototypes of the product that it could show to potential customers. ‘They read about things that don’t happen on Kickstarter and [other] crowdfunding platforms,’ says Muhammad. ‘People have this feeling of: “Sure, looks interesting – let me know when it’s actually there.”’

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