Gmail didn't really have a first mover advantage, and yet, it holds the majority of the market share today. How?
Monetization Model Supports Growth
A little while before Gmail came, Yahoo downgraded users to their 2 MB mailbox plan wanting them to upgrade to their premium option. Hotmail was a little generous at 5 MB.
Gmail offered 1GB instead. It shook the internet community at the time.
"A 1-gigabyte mailbox! Impossible!"
Making a too-good to be true launch offer helped garner organic PR mentions.
They launched on April Fool's Day which added confusion to the mix and helped get people talking.
The timing was really stellar.
Be 100X better than the current offering to get people talking.
This can be achieved either by saving people 100x the time, the money, or improving the performance by 100x. Easiest to measure is the money.
Never Market Alone — Use Employees?
Instead of simply providing accounts to reporters and tech media outlets, Google decided to try a different approach for the rollout of its new email service.
The company gave its employees special "invitation tokens" that they could use to bring their friends into the beta testing phase.
As more and more people became interested in getting a Gmail account, some even resorted to selling their tokens on eBay due to the high demand.
This exclusivity and limited availability generated a lot of media attention and buzz, leading to a viral marketing campaign.
Those lucky enough to receive a Gmail invitation during this time often bragged about their access to friends and even shared screenshots on their personal blogs.