Last week, Fast had a launch event that caused a ripple on Twitter. From its press release:
Fast, the world’s fastest online login and checkout experience, today announced the launch of Fast Checkout, embarking on a mission to enable one-click e-commerce purchases on every site, device and platform. With Fast Checkout, buyers can complete online purchases in less than a second and sellers can now add one-click checkout to their stores.
It was a great launch, in my opinion. But why? Let's analyze it.
Investing in the brand
Shopify came about because Tobias Lütke and his friends tried to open an e-commerce store for snowboard equipment and discovered the existing software was terrible. Stripe came about because Patrick and John Collison were working on a few side projects and wondered why it was so hard to accept payments online. Netflix came about because Reed Hastings was charged a $40 late fee by Blockbuster and thought video stores should operate like a gym with a flat fee—and no late fees. (This story was later disputed by co-founder Marc Randolph. But I can't deny it's a good story.)
Strong brands tend to have a memorable founding story. Fast also has one. Founder Domm Holland's son was in the hospital for three weeks, and his wife's grandmother was staying with them. She tried to order groceries online but could not because she had forgotten her password. Frustrated by this, Domm set out to solve the problem. Fast was born.
As I argued in Branding in Tech, I think more tech companies should invest in branding. And almost everything contributes to a company's branding. A good founding story plays a significant role in the company's branding. It helps prospects understand why you built the product and shows you understand the problems they have. It also makes it easier for the press to write about the company, which is great for publicity and recruiting. Fast has worked on this right from the start. You can see the story in its Product Hunt launch video.
If you take a step back, you can see that Fast has been deliberate about its branding. First, the company name feels perfect for what they want to do. Want a fast checkout experience? Use Fast. It probably wasn't easy or cheap to acquire the domain, fast.co, and the Twitter handle, @fast. Yet Holland had the domain and the Twitter handle even before launching on Product Hunt last year. It could have been a calculated move because the domain and Twitter handle would have become more expensive once the company is known in the public and has raised money. But the fact remains that Holland thought about it early. While the effect of these might not be measurable, it makes marketing and talking about the brand much easier. Check us out at fast.co. Tweet us @fast. No weird combination of words or unpronounceable names. And it adds credibility to the brand because it's expensive to get such a short domain. (Netflix owns fast.com, so that is out of the question.)
Second, the Fast team has also done a great job with their brand language—the words they use across the company. They kept repeating the same few terms—fast, one-click checkout, one-click login, no password, fastest login and checkout—everywhere. On their website, on their social media profiles, in their social media posts, in their launch video.
Finally, whether intentional or not, the company is all about being fast. In 12 months, Holland moved to San Francisco with a prototype but without a network there, got a visa, hired Allison Barr Allen as the COO and more than 60 others, raised $20 million, and launched the company and product. They worked on launch-day bugs asap. And although customer support for some people was a bit slower, the team gave status updates on support emails on Twitter. Everything is about being fast.
The consistency is what helps people understand what Fast is doing and helps them easily spread the word.
Selling hoodies or acquiring users
For a few days since its launch event, Fast was selling its hoodies for just $5, with no delivery fee. This felt like a smart move for multiple reasons.
First, it leveraged the brand it has built. If you think about it rationally, it is a hoodie with the word, "FAST", printed on it. Anyone could get a print shop to do that. But people were fighting for it, and the team sold thousands of it. Why? Because the team has successfully built a strong brand, as explained above. Without all that work above, few people would have bothered to get the hoodie. It is the same for all startup swag. People only want them when it's from a cool and well-known company.
Second, it was building up its userbase. $5 for the hoodie is under cost, according to Holland. So the more they sell, the more money they lose. But it also feels like a good investment, the cost of acquiring new users. To buy the hoodie (and other things on their store), people had to first create a Fast account and use the Fast Checkout. This has two benefits. One, it grew the number of people with a Fast account, and the Fast team can go to merchants and say, "Look several thousand people on the internet are already using Fast now. Why not set up Fast Checkout to help them checkout fast and increase your conversion rate?" Two, it got people to try Fast Checkout and shout about it. While it did not work perfectly for everyone, it worked well enough that people were raving about it on Twitter. This again would help to convince merchants to try Fast. Whether this is a good investment will depend on several numbers, such as the number of merchants and their lifetime value. Given that Fast is venture-backed, I imagine they have a bit more leeway to spend to acquire users and merchants.
Finally, it showed exactly how the product works. Fast's online store is built with BigCommerce, their partner for the launch. This created a win-win for both parties. Instead of marketing how Fast Checkout could work with BigCommerce, the team showed how Fast Checkout and BigCommerce work together by selling their swag. The store allowed consumers and potential BigCommerce merchants to experience the shopping experience on a BigCommerce store and the buying experience using Fast Checkout.
One quick point on partnerships: Given all the hype with Shopify this year, it might be surprising that Fast didn't partner Shopify. It could be that Shopify wants to own this core experience itself with Shop Pay, as suggested by Andrew Wilkinson. But since Shopify allows other payment providers such as Paypal, Amazon Pay, Apple Pay, and Google Pay, I imagine we will eventually see Fast on Shopify if or when they reach a certain scale. My hunch is Shopify wants to hold it out as much as possible. Shopify even published a study just two weeks ago to say Shopify Payments is the best:
But we want to be super clear: when you use anyone other than Shopify Payments, you are giving up dollars in order to chase cents.
Fast mentioned there will be more coupon codes for $5 hoodies. To be fair, I think it's a great way to leverage their brand and acquire new users. Once they have millions of people using Fast, it might be hard for Shopify to keep saying no.
Live launch event
I'm more and more bought into the idea of event-based marketing. As I wrote in HubSpot's Positioning and Repositioning on how HubSpot has used events to push new narratives:
Some of the most successful tech companies have used this event-based marketing technique for years, as David Sacks explained. Apple, Salesforce, Tesla. And no surprise that Drift, whose founders and many team members came from HubSpot, also has an annual conference, HYPERGROWTH (all uppercase as well).
Oftentimes, product launches are just an event for the company. At a certain date and time, they launch a new product and promote it for a few weeks. What I'm starting to observe about notable product launches is that the company announces and promotes before, rather than after, the launch event to involve its customers and community. #FastForward, Fast's launch event, was announced several weeks before, which gave its community a specific date and time to look forward to. Promotions for the launch started about a month before the launch event. People RSVP-ed for the event and spread the word. In the end, almost 3,000 people RSVP-ed the launch event.
Tactically-speaking, the Fast team put together a great launch video, considering how they are likely working from different locations now due to the pandemic. Holland opened the session and repeated Fast's founding story. If you have read my past few | essays, you would know how important I think it is for the CEO to be involved and keynote at in such events. As the company becomes bigger and ships more frequently, it's unlikely the CEO can be involved as much but there should be one or a few Tier 1 product launches that the CEO is involved in. For many companies, like Salesforce, HubSpot, and Apple, it is usually their annual conference where they get their customers and partners together.
The second speaker for the launch video was Matthew Kobach, Fast's Head of Content, who asked people to talk about the launch event on social media. This was a little surprising to me because few companies are so explicit about this but assuming the Fast team wanted to push the reach of the event as much as possible, this kind of makes sense. Again, this wouldn't have worked without a strong brand. Because people wanted to be associated with the Fast brand (the latest cool thing on Twitter), they tweeted about the event.
The rest of the launch video is a compilation of snippets from Allen, various team members, well-known names in the e-commerce space, and early customers. After watching it, I have been wondering why more marketers, including myself, aren't doing something like it, given how simple (not easy) yet effective it is.
One final point about the launch: Holland tweeted how they could have used another two weeks of QA before the launch because many people experienced bugs while trying to "Fast Checkout". To be fair, almost all software companies experience this. Even Apple doesn't always have their new technologies and products ready when they announce it. As I wrote in Behind the Scene of a Product Launch, it is hard to perfectly estimate when a product is ready for launch. You want to have enough time to build and test the product but you also don't want to give too much time and delay giving people the product. I'm sure it would have been a very hard decision to postpone the launch, especially since they had publicly committed to September 2 and had promoted it aggressively on social media. It felt like the right decision to push ahead with the launch (and be transparent about any issues). Postponing the launch might have done more damage to their brand, especially since the company is called Fast.
Whether this will be a great business is yet to be seen but the Fast team has definitely pulled off an amazing launch. Congrats to the team!