To this day, Gmail continues to grow in popularity, with over 1.4 billion active users (roughly half of all email users) as of March 2018.
You can learn from their humble beginnings and eventual success by comparing them to Google’s dozens of other failed product launches:
Paul Buchheit began developing web-based email in 1996, but he repeatedly abandoned the project.
Paul became Google’s 23rd employee when he was hired in 1999.
Back in August of 2001, he was given the directive to develop a web-based email system.
Larry Page predicted that in ten years, the average Internet user would resemble us, so we didn’t bother with anyone else’s email issues.
They had made a number of ground-breaking innovations between 2001 and 2004.
The Google of email search.
As a result, we decided to give everyone 1 GB.
Both Hotmail and Yahoo Mail were painfully slow to use because they reloaded the entire page after each interaction.
In order to make Gmail more like lightning-fast desktop software, the Gmail team created a new technology called AJAX. As a result, this innovation quickly went mainstream, and is now utilised by virtually every website.
They threaded emails with the same sender/recipient into manageable threads and automatically hid any duplicate text.
Gmail’s text ads are subtle in comparison to those of competing free email providers, which often feature flashy images.
They started using Gmail internally around the beginning of 2004 and by the end of the year, almost everyone had switched over.
On April 1, 2004, Gmail officially announced the service to the press and released it to the public, but only allowed a select group of users (by invitation) to use the service (because they couldn’t physically handle more users).
Because of the high demand and the scarcity of invites, the going rate on eBay quickly climbed to $150 and beyond.
In order to accommodate more users, Google kept increasing the limit on the number of invites each person could send out, but the service wasn’t made available to the general public until February 14, 2007. After that, it spread rapidly through informal channels.
So, to recap the most important aspects of Gmail’s growth hacking techniques:
The service is disruptive and revolutionary, and it is 500 times better than the alternatives.
Invitation-only policy due to space constraints.
There was a subsequent surge in the viral population.