Cut in Line

Today fellow Villager and all-around wonder woman Lindsay Trinkle – if you haven't met her yet, you should check out her blog here – tweets about a new product she discovered:

springsled original tweet here

I respect Lindsay's taste and opinions, especially when it comes to promising applications for productivity. I click that referral link to check out Springsled for myself.

A slick, bare-boned landing page explains that Springsled is a simple, visual, easy-to-use project management tool. There are 3 mocked-up images on the page to help me imagine what SpringSled might look like if it exists. There are two form fields with green buttons encouraging me to enter my email address to “Get Early Access.”

From the images I gather that Springsled is probably similar to Trello. I love Trello and I'd be interested in trying something similar, so I submit my email address as collateral for early access.

And that's when things get weird.


Springsled wants to use my social equity to promote their product before I've seen or used the tool.

A handy link on the bottom of Springsled's page catches my attention. It reads “Powered by Untorch.” Funny thing - Untorch's landing page looks exactly like the Springsled landing page, except their page reads “Get sign ups” and “The world's easiest referral program.”

The whole thing seems less than Kosher, so I sub-tweet about it and go back to work. My phone blows up. Lively Twitter debate ensues.

Is it shady to use beta sign-ups for customer discovery or lead generation before your product is available? What are good ways to incentivize social sharing at an early stage?

It's absolutely fair game to use a beta sign-up form for customer discovery, but incentivizing leads to help score email address referrals before they're beta users comes with inherent risk.

I wasn't comfortable promoting Springsled's product sight-unseen. As such, I did something SUPER shady. I used 5 unique personal email aliases to act like 5 referrals and won early beta access for myself without sharing the link at all. #sorrynotsorry

Untorch incentivizes users to provide false data and dillutes the value of social posts as a way to organically promote new products and services. Untorch also delivers a pretty, functional landing page that will help you collect email addresses and quickly grow your social media presence.

If you're going to use an email referral landing page because you want to grow early awareness and community around your product, here are some good things to do:

  • Be transparent about the stage of your product. If you have a minimum viable product, show proof.
  • Include an About Us page. I'm more likely to trust your brand if I can meet the people behind it. Bonus points if you include social media handles that link to real people.
  • Sell me “Get access even sooner!” instead of “Cut in line.” I don't want my friends seeing some “cut in line” nonsense on a success page and realizing how shady I truly am.

In the end, Cliff Seal hit the nail on the head. The best way to incentivize social sharing is simple and honest: build something awesome that people want to tell their friends about.

Update (6:00 PM) I'm still curious to learn more about Springsled and I hope I'll love their product. We'll see how it goes tomorrow if they send me a link to login.

Update (9:00 PM) “Springsled” sent me an email with a link to “Create an Account” with a twist - they've switched names and they're going by “Horizonate” now. At this point I've seen too many red flags to continue and try their product. Next steps? Unsubscribe. Mark as spam. Reset passwords. Move on with my life.