The technology industry that has bubbled up on our coasts can often feel like it’ a bubble. The paths in which these tech companies get started, funded and grow are usually not the same as Main Street America.

But, the founders of these tech companies share the very same entrepreneurial drive that Main Street’s small business owners do and, often times, the same goal: growth.

Some of today’s most notorious tech companies have experienced remarkable growth early-on at their companies. If you are currently focusing on how to grow your small business, you should consider stealing strategies from these tech darlings.

Here are 3 ways some of the top names in tech grew their customer base, using one of the oldest plays in the book -- word of mouth.

1. Offer Something Free

Uber is currently one of the hottest startups in the world (it’s service is available in 49 countries). With a click of a button on your phone, you can get a driver sent to your exact location. Needless to say, it makes sense why Uber works. It helps solve a pain point for many consumers, especially those in a market where finding a taxi used to be near impossible.

Uber, though, is still very much a young company. It launched in 2009, and, somehow, in 5 short years, they’ve reached nearly 50 countries.

There are many things that have contributed to Uber’s success, but what’s interesting to take a look at is how Uber first started growing. What they identified early-on was launching market by market worked best for their model. And, with each new market they launched, they focused on how to drive word of mouth for that particular city. What worked? Offering a free ride to new riders.

By making the service free for the first time, it was much easier to get people to give it a try. And, with Uber providing a stellar experience (finding a car fast, nice vehicles, payment automatically processed on your smartphone and more), they trusted that these free riders would turn into consistent users, who would then tell their friends.

Could you adopt something similar for your business? Is there something you could give away for free, or at a steep discount, that would get users through the door and then allow you to wow them? If you trust your product or service can provide that wow-factor (which, it’s important that you do), then getting more people to experience it will get more people talking.

2. Build Word of Mouth into Your Product

If you’re not sure you can afford to give away something for free, then try creating your own worth of mouth. Is there an element you can add to your product or service that could inherently make it viral?

For example, take a look at Dropbox, the cloud-storage company. If you’re a Dropbox user, you know full well that you get a certain amount of storage free to start. After you run out of that initial space, though, you need to pay to get more. OR, if you refer a friend, and they sign up, you both a 500MB increase in space. So, the motivation to refer friends is inherently available in the Dropbox product.

Is there something you can build into your customer experience that makes them want to refer people? A rewards system seems to work, but just make sure its a reward that is so exceptional that it’s easy to get people referring.

3. Be Exclusive

Google, a technology company you most certainly have heard of, created demand for their free email service, Gmail, in an unexpected way -- making it exclusive. When Gmail launched, you had to have an invite to join. Current users were able to invite others, which got people asking their friends for invites, and helped create initial traction.

Are you thinking about launching a new product or service in your business? Is there a way to make it exclusive? Perhaps you’re a restaurant, and you want to add a new item to the menu. But, maybe, when you add it to the menu, you make a note saying only 5 or 10 can be made an evening. Do this for a few months and see if it gets people excited. Then, slowly move it up to a normal menu item.

By making the item exclusive, you’re drumming up the excitement around the item, adding anticipation and creating conversation. The people that can’t try it want to know what it’s like from those that have tried it. Those that have tried it feel important, and want to tell others about it.

Exclusivity creates virality. Could this work for your business?

As an entrepreneur, you can learn a lot from other businesses, even if they aren’t in the same industry or region as you. If you are currently working to grow your business, it’s incredibly important you research other businesses that have found success and steal some plays from their playbook.

About the Author(s)

Meredith Wood

Meredith Wood is the Editor-in-Chief at Fundera, an online marketplace for small business loans that matches business owners with the best funding providers for their business. Meredith is a resident Finance Advisor on American Express OPEN Forum and an avid business writer.

Editor-in-Chief, Fundera