Viral Cycle Time: The One KPI to Rule Them AllViral cycle time (which I refer to as ct) is the amount of time between when a new prospective user becomes initially aware of a product and the point where they send out their first invite. To explain how powerful viral cycle time can be, we need to look no further than everyone’s favorite furry forest creature.
Why Do Rabbits Have So Many Babies?Have you ever had friends pop out multiple children in quick succession and thought to yourself, “WOW – you guys are like rabbits!“? I think you might know where I’m going with this. Rabbits reproduce very, very rapidly. So much so that adult rabbits of the opposite sex, if left to their own devices, will likely result in . . . well . . . ABSOLUTE INSANITY. Allow me to elaborate.
Understanding the Finer Nuances of Rabbit Sex(DISCLAIMER: I am not a rabbit mating expert. That would be weird. So all my example numbers were taken from a paper published by the University of Miami’s biology department.) Let’s start with a few assumptions to make our math easier:
- A single female rabbit has an average litter size of six babies.
- Half of new baby rabbits are female, so three new females are produced in each litter.
- We’re only discussing reproductive capacity. As such, we will not factor in “churn” (i.e. baby rabbits dying for ungodly reasons) OR carrying capacity (i.e. environmental limitations).
- YEAR 1: 37 rabbits
- YEAR 2: 1,369 rabbits
- YEAR 3: 50,653 rabbits
- YEAR 4: 1,872,792 rabbits
- YEAR 5: 69,293,304 rabbits
- YEAR 6: 2,563,852,248 rabbits
- YEAR 7: 94,862,569,180 rabbits
What Rabbit Reproduction and Viral Marketing Have in CommonTwo questions remain: 1) How is this even possible? Well, first off, since rabbits have so many natural predators, their reproductive rate (and more specifically, their reproductive cycle time) is their main defense mechanism as a species. However, while its mathematically possible, nature wouldn’t allow for this. Predators would eat a ton of them, food would be too scarce, Elmer Fudd would undoubtedly blow a few away, and a ton of other factors would “thin the herd” to prevent such rapid population growth. (We only went through this to show a real-world example of how the math of viral cycle time works. And talk about rabbit sex.) 2) Why should I care? Other than preparing you for the very real possibility of rabbits taking over the world, the point of this whole conversation was to show how something so dramatically explosive could happen (in terms of growth). And to set the stage for how it relates to your virality. The reason rabbits can reproduce at such an alarming rate is NOT because of the size of their litters. Six is a lot from a human perspective, but pretty average in the animal kingdom. Rabbits can reproduce at this rate because of three factors:
- They can become pregnant very young.
- Their gestation period is very short.
- They can immediately become pregnant again just minutes after giving birth.
Getting Back to BusinessMany engineers, marketers, and founders with a bit of viral knowledge choose to focus more on optimizing their viral factor (K) to max out invites per user (i.e. trying to get each rabbit to have 8 babies instead of 6). However, reducing viral cycle time (i.e. reducing a rabbit’s gestation period from 30 days to 20 days) is MUCH more impactful. To explain, let’s look at a basic equation: x^y (If you’ve never seen the “^” symbol before, it denotes exponentiation. So another way to state this equation would be x to the power of y.) Now, here are two options. Pick the one you think will result in the larger number:
- Add another x to give you (x * 2)^y
- Add another y to give you x^(y * 2)
- Let’s say x is your invites sent per user (i) – or how many new users an existing user will spread your product to per cycle.
- Let’s then say y is the number of cycles that take place within a certain time period – which is your viral cycle time (ct).
What’s NextThis model, red line and all, is far too simple for real, practical use. Due to the fact that there’s zero loss (i.e. baby rabbits dying) or saturation in terms of what’s being factored in here, our scenario has no basis in reality. It’s just an example of how much more of an impact one KPI can make over an another. To get you some real, practical value to help your product spread, let’s head on over to the next chapter, shall well?
Want to Dramatically Effect Your Growth By Reducing Cycle Time?
Rabbits are cute and all, and reproduce almost as much as the Kardashians, but to really relate them to viral marketing we need to introduce some drama. Ever hear the fable about The Snail and the Hare. You’re about to.
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