This Story of Explosive Company Growth Will Prove Little Funding is Not a Hindrance for Success

Maria L.
Sep 16, 2018

Behind every successful company is a series of lessons learned the hard way, and Clifford Lerner's very own startup wasn't spared from that. Almost on the verge of losing money, Cliff Lerner's online dating startup, Snap Interactive, bet its fortune on the then-unknown platform Facebook - and to good results. Now, as the stock price skyrocketed 2,000, the company gained not just some other growth, but an explosive one, becoming the first online dating app that ultimately grew to 100 million users.

Cliff recently published the #1 Best Seller Business BookExplosive Growth: A Few Things I Learned While Growing To 100 Million Users & Losing $78 Million, which is available on Amazon and as an Audiobook.  Check out the Explosive Growth book website to get more growth content including his viral marketing playbook and his favorite books for entrepreneurs.

Curious? Let's find out where the magic happened: 

QUESTION: How did you get into the business of start-ups? Was it by accident or was it always a plan of yours?


I was working on wall street, and the early and long hours working for the man were getting to me.  I knew I had to find ways to be more creative and make a difference on my terms. 


QUESTION: Can anything be sold with good marketing? How can a business identify which are the core features to start with before investing too much into some concept that is not tested?


I believe a great marketer can sell almost anything once.  However, you'll never build a long-term sustainable business and won't be able to keep customers happy by selling mediocre products.  It's far more efficient and profitable to focus on building 'remarkable' products, which will grow organically as customers will spread the word and keep them coming back for more. 

I'd focus on the 10x principle, which does require some intuition at first, but should keep you honest and focused:  Which feature is massively better, 10x better, than anything out there, and focus on that.  Or another way of thinking about it - what feature/product will make yours the best in the world at delivering that value to the customer.

Then focus on testing the idea as an MVP, and let the data guide you.  If it's truly remarkable, the Net Promoter Score, Retention, and word-of-mouth growth will be there. QUESTION: Would you say the first ideas you got that worked to grow your audience were accidental, were they based more on personal try/error or on reading a lot of theory on the topic and learning from others’ experiences?


All of our initial ideas failed and took us way too long to build them and realize we were failing.

Once I learned the value of building MVPs (Minimum Viable Products) and that the quicker we tested ideas, the faster we learned, and the closer to the success we were getting, the results started to show. 

So, I don't think it was accidental when we cracked the formula, but more of a management approach of committing to constant A/B testing, building MVP's, and to keep iterating until users truly loved our product, accomplished by and being honest with the metrics when revealed that our product wasn't growing because it sucked. QUESTION: How do you adjust to the market’s demands when there are so many other online dating apps out there?


It does seem like a new dating app launches every day.

Online dating is a network effect business, meaning, users only get value if there are thousands of other users they can interact with and new users joining every day. When one person signs up, the whole network benefits.

So, even though new dating sites with awesome ideas and solutions launch almost daily, getting a critical mass of users is everything. And once you achieve critical mass, you’re in good shape for a while – this is why the industry leaders don’t change very often. The best way to sustain your advantage is to have a strong brand with a unique differentiator, and always be innovating.  Once you get complacent, you're in trouble. 

This is why we launched new dating apps regularly to test out new ideas and strategies.  QUESTION: How did you grow your startup to 100 million users? How long did it take?


The catalyst was being very early on the Facebook application platform, and figuring out how to go ‘viral.’

We probably had gotten only a few thousand users in 2 years prior to that and were a few months away from running out of cash.  Then we took a chance on Facebook (which was unknown at the time), and got 10 million all for free in less than a year, and grew from there.

I’m a big advocate of constantly testing integrations to existing platforms as all it takes is one integration to win.QUESTION: What would you say will be a  next Best new thing in the dating industry? Would you be interested to get back to that market again?


Probably not as online dating is a very tough market for several reasons:

-so much competition

-with online dating benefitting from network effects, you need 100,000s of users to succeed, which is really hard to do.

-few exit opportunities as MatchGroup (owners of Match, Tinder, OkCupid, POF, etc) is really the only large acquirer in the space.

I think the product that can combine video in a compelling way into the online dating experience will be the next winner.  Video solves all of the user's current pain points with dating, but nobody has solved it yet. Don't just aim for growth; aim for an explosive growth. For the full details about this story, just simply visit the AMA Session here