What An Expensive Email App Can Teach You About Growing Your Startup

Learn 5 lessons from Superhuman, an email app built on viral word of mouth.


Stella Inabo

3 years ago | 4 min read

Learn why users are willing to pay $30 for an email app.

Almost everyone is talking about Superhuman. And they are all saying good things. What is so great about an email app that has made the startup world go crazy?

And no, it is not because Superhuman is a perfect app. It is not available on androids and on PCs it can only be navigated with a keyboard. There are no fremiums either. To use this email app, you’ve to pay $30. And join a waiting list (referral only) and then fill out a long questionnaire about your mailing habits and workflow.

Yet Superhuman users sound like obsessed fans when they talk about it. Articles have been written about its brilliant business model (this article is one of them) and the reviews are glowing.

Here are 5 lessons every startup can learn from the success of Superhuman.

1. Don’t build for everyone

At $30 a month, Superhuman is not built for everyone. The high fee for an email app is just one of the many filters. To get on Superhuman, you need a referral from an existing user. Then the wait begins. Superhuman is reported to have a waitlist of up to 180,000 people on it.

Access to the email app is restricted by a lack of presence on the app store. You also have to fill out a questionnaire that determines whether or not you can use Superhuman. If you need a feature they currently do not support, they do not let you in through the front door.

Some people might think this is quite rude. But it solves the problem of angry dissatisfied customers and a harried support team in the future.

Rahul Vohra, CEO of Superhuman has focused on developing his product for the smallest viable amount of users. He says,” With your early marketing, you may have attracted all kinds of users — especially if you’ve had press and your product is free in some way. But many of those people won’t be well-qualified; they don’t have a real need for your product and its main benefit or use case might not be a great fit. You wouldn’t have wanted these folks as users anyway.”

Stop looking to gain the largest amount of customers possible. Focus on finding users that need and value your product so much that they almost can’t live without it.

Read how Rahul Vohra achieved product market fit.

2. Sell a great (not perfect) product

The high price, peculiar onboarding process, and raving users drive the curious to Superhuman. People want to find out if it is worth its salt. And Superhuman does turn skeptics into believers quite fast. Even critics grudgingly agree that Superhuman is a great email app.

There are 3 main things that make everyone fall in love with Superhuman.

It is insanely fast. The workflow tools make repetitive tasks easier and faster to complete. The triage feature lets you get to important emails quickly. In summary, they deliver on all their promises to reinvent the email experience.

Superhuman is still not perfect (it is currently being beta tested) but the benefits are enough to outweigh the cons of the app.

You can build hype around a product but the only thing that keeps customer retention rates high is giving users what they signed up for and more.

3. Always ask “How can we make this better?”

As new users try to navigate Superhuman, an onboarding specialist is not only guiding them but is also observing areas for improvements.

A question the Superhuman team constantly asks “Is how can we improve?” They do not leave this to surveys or speculations, they collect indispensable data from watching how their product is being used. By acknowledging that their product is not perfect they have a chance to keep building a better one.

Asking questions about the things that need improvement is scary but it is necessary. No product is perfect. Every good product is built on the feedback of people who have used it.

4. Help your customers succeed and they’ll talk about you

Viral word of mouth is one way Superhuman has leveraged to go viral and gain interest. People are more likely to trust user recommendations than to give in to nudges from traditional marketing. Imagine what happens when recommendations are pouring in from top industry leaders, influencers, and colleagues.

The secret behind this is that Superhuman feels less like an email app and more like a productivity tool. By enabling their users to save valuable time and simplify their workflow,

Your startup may not have the CEO of TechCrunch or a top VC using it but what it does have are users who will tell others about how it solved their problems. Even without being compelled.

5. Take user feedback with a pinch of salt

The team at Superhuman takes user feedback seriously yet they do not use all of it. Using their proprietary product market framework, users are segmented into those who would be very disappointed, somewhat disappointed, and not disappointed if they are unable to use Superhuman. Rahul Vohra explains that “we have to ignore the not disappointed segments. They are so far from loving the products that they are essentially a lost cause. And this is important because they will ask for all kinds of distracting things. As counterintuitive as it may feel, we must not act on their feedback”

Instead, they focus on the responses of high expectation customers. Rahul Vohra defines a high expectation customer as the most discerning person in your target market. They love and enjoy your product. And they spread the word about it without compulsion. These are the consumers that come up with the best recommendations for scalable improvement.

Most startups set out to solve problems for people they think their product is for. But the reality is your product is not going to appeal to every user. No matter how awesome it is. Focus on tweaking it to satisfy the needs of the “very disappointed” and “somewhat disappointed” segment of your user base.

Building a business is not an easy feat. But by focusing on your high expectation customer, evolving your products to meet their needs, and ensuring they succeed every time, you can build a startup as incredible as Superman.


Created by

Stella Inabo

Freelance writer for B2B SaaS companies. I write actionable long-form content that engages and converts. Get in touch:







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