The marketing team for the stealth e-commerce startup Jet, which raised $US80 million earlier this year, was holed up in a conference room called The Fortress Of Solitude trying to think of ways to build up hype for site, pre-launch, when one member floated an interesting idea: “What if we gave a ‘share’ for a ‘share’?”
Although the company is keeping many details of the site locked down, CEO, Marc Lore, calls it “a new shopping experience that will empower customers like never before” and that empowerment should start with its earliest evangelists, reasoned Sumaiya Balbale, Jet’s VP of marketing.
The team believed stock options were a much more compelling offer than swag or free trials, but they weren’t sure what to expect when they presented the idea to Lore.
“His instant response was, ‘Yes, let’s make it bigger,'” Balbale told Business Insider.
So, at the end of November, Jet launched the unusual promotion — called Jet Insiders — offering thousands of shares of stock to normal people who refer a lot of their friends to the service using a unique ID code they receive after signing up themselves.
Every person who signs up on the site pre-launch gets a six month free membership, and the ten people who get the most referrals will get 10,000 shares of stock. The top referrer will get 100,000 shares of stock, the same amount Jet has given its earliest, high-level employees. Today, the company is expanding that promotion.
Now, the top 1,000 Insiders will get a free five year membership and the top 100 will get a free lifetime membership. So far, more than 22,600 people have signed up (the team’s original goal was 10,000 people). The program continues until February 6.
Balbale declined to reveal any numbers as to what this promotion will actually cost Jet, but says that the enthusiasm so far has been stunning. There have been about half a dozen people shifting in and out of the number one spot, and she’s seen users start getting very competitive about the process. Stock prizes aside, many more people will be getting free trials. A free membership may only save a customer a few bucks, but there’s also the chance a Jet subscription could be more costly, like Amazon’s $US99 Prime membership.
After all, Lore has a history with Amazon. Prior to founding Jet, he actually worked at the company for three years after it bought his former business, Quidsi, for $US540 million in 2010. Before the acquisition, Amazon had more or less declared a pricing war against Diapers.com, a Quidsi company.
Balbale worked with Lore at Quidsi before Amazon bought it, and says that when he offered her a spot at Jet earlier this year, joining the company felt like a no-brainer.
“Marc is an exceptionally visionary founder,” she says. “The opportunity to work with him again — and on a project that I thought could really be game-changing in the world of ecommerce — was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
The company promises to be “the most brilliant way to shop” and previous reports hint it could price products dynamically, based on where they’re stored in relationship to the customer.
Lore has previously said Jet will need a big customer base to succeed, telling Re/code’s Jason Del Rey that a large customer base would be crucial for attracting retailers to the site. According to an older Re/code report, Jet plans on selling the same type of products seen on sites like Amazon, while undercutting them on price.
“We’re trying to build a lot of passion in our future customers,” Balbale says. “This was something that no one has ever done before. And it’s in line with the type of experience we’re trying to create.”
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.
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