Initiative Qs go-to-market strategy is a powerful viral loop.

Some ex-PayPal founders are suggesting that we find another online payment system and their startup is called Initiative Q. I’m sure that many already have seen their launch campaign in social media. One thing is for sure; they’re ramping up fast.

First, let’s take a closer look at their powerful viral loop:

The countdown timer is actually an amount of money you’ll earn by signing up — and the number is automatically decreasing and thus creating a sense of urgency.

When you visit the Initiative Q website, you actually can’t get onboard; by clicking “Get invited” you only get a few basic instructions on how to find someone who actually has some invites to spare. These instructions encourages site visitors to interact not with the brand, but with each other:

Making it more difficult for potential customers visiting the site to register their interest is a bold move, but it’s this scarcity that makes this micro-economy work.

To get invited, you need to come cross across an existing user posting their unique referral link in social media. Thus far, the viral loop is nothing out of the ordinary; it works in much the same way as most other viral loops do.

The share copy is well-crafted and many users prefer to leave it in their status updates (see below) with a only few remarks of their own:

Here’s where the magic starts to happen:

Most viral systems have some sort of unique url generator for onboarders to share on their social networks. In this case, when someone registers via shares, the sharer (who’s already onboard) is “forced” to approve the invite.

Due to this forced approval (“verify” your friends), a few key mechanics kicks in:

  1. Instead of having the viral loop automatically approve new users according to “first come, first served,” it allows the already registered user whom to approve first. This form of social engineering (gamification) gives power users an alluring sense of self-importance.
  2. The “forced approval” will trigger additional conversation as onboarders are prompted to remind the sharer to approve their requests. These “extra” comments will will increase the update’s visibility since social algorithms normally rewards interaction.
  3. Sharers are encouraged (via email reminders and social notifications) to log back into their dashboard repeatedly to approve their incoming requests. Multiple visits to the share dashboard will encourage power users to share more than once.

Anyone who has ever designed a viral loop knows that a major success factor is to get power users (the 1%) to share more. This is where this viral loop shines; the sharer only have to click their own invite link to get automatically redirected to their share dashboard. Easy!

Another (not-so-intuitive) success factor for pushing the viral coefficient is to shorten the time distance between each individual cycle. The length of the Share/Consume/Share cycle will mathematically impact the viral success more than actual conversion rates1. See also Viral Loops (and some Math).

The viral loop designers of Initiative Q have solved the cycle problem with a beautiful fix:

Even if I’m not yet approved by the initial sharer (which could take some time), I’m still able to access and share my unique url in social media. This small (yet brilliant) bypass is adding full speed to the viral cycle.

Also the actual share dashboard is nothing less than a work of art when it comes to viral mechanics:

Clear, intuitive, and engaging.

The dashboard highlights the unique share url, the current reward balance, your share results, and the profiles of your invitees. All components — except for the unique url — are dynamic (in the sense that they change based on your performance).

There are a few nice touches “under the hood” as well:

As a new member, you get a few invites to start off with. Now, if you manage to get rid of these invites fairly quick, the system awards you more invites2. The purpose of this algorithm is to keep each user engaged; if you get too many invites relative to your social reach, the invite system deflates; if you get too few invites, power user potential remain untapped.

I’m also impressed by the innovative incentive model:

According to the to the “idea” of the system, 1Q should be equal to $1. However, if the currency Q never gets off the ground, 1Q simply won’t be worth anything at all. Users are paying to be in on this opportunity with whatever time they invest in inviting their friends — and some of their personal data (like their email address). This allows Initiative Q the advantage of being able to offer rising monetary rewards without taking any financial risks themselves.


Initiative Q is launching at a place in time when cryptocurrency scams and pyramid schemes are all the rage. Jemima Kelly at Financial Times writes:

“Initiative Q is actually different though. For a start, “Q” is not actually a cryptocurrency. Instead, it’s a private currency that won’t even use the blockchain technology which is supposedly the point of most tokens. Guess what it it will use instead? A regular old centralised database! Remarkable.”

Cryptocurrency and blockchain expert David Gerrard writes on his blog:

“The pyramid-scheme marketing is bad, and creates a toxic dump of personal data.”

I’m quite sure that we will see several more of these “currency bypassing” models for many years to come.


  1. This is why Youtube’s primary loop is based on users watching and then sharing videos rather than on video upload activity.
  2. As with any social algorithm, it’s difficult to be certain of exactly how this works, but it seems to be dependant of factors such as share speed, frequency of logins to the share dashboard, social influence, and network performance.

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