How HEY email got 100k users in the first week (11 min read)

HEY Email – a $99-per-year email service app with addresses that aims to fix what’s wrong with email in general. It allows you to screen new emails quickly, block tracking codes, and use workflows to make you more productive and eventually enjoy using email by reading only what you’d like.

?Strategy & Tools

HEY email history timeline


  • Feb 2020 – Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the co-founders of Basecamp, announced the new email service
  • Jun 15, 2020 – HEY is launched, people from the waitlist are being let in. To that day, more than 50,000 invite requests have been sent. A week later that was over 100,000.
  • Jun 18, 2020 – Apple rejected releasing an update of the app due to breaking its policies, mainly for ‘not working after you download it’. Many other apps worked that way which caused the story to spread to the likes of The Verge of Business Insider.
  • Jun 17, 2020 – the first App Store reviews are flowing in
  • Jun 19, 2020 – HEY already surpassed Superhuman by the number of reviews, beating a competitor that had been present on the market for more than a year.
  • Jun 22, 2020 – HEY Email is finally approved by the App Store
  • Jul 1, 2021 – it reached the first 1k reviews on App Store
  • Oct 28–Nov 1, 2020 – a major boost in reviews, going from about 1.15k to 2.15k on the App Store
  • Nov 4, 2020 – HEY Email introduced multiple accounts support (HEY for Work) on iPhone and iPad
  • Nov 26, 2020 – Over 3k reviews on App Store
  • Dec 16, 2020 – HEY was mentioned as the top 15 best productivity apps of 2020 on The Fast Company.
  • Jan 31, 2021 – 3.29k App Store reviews. Superhuman has still no more than 300.

HEY Email marketing strategy: Finding common enemy

One of the most basic, yet important aspects of marketing is positioning–to set your brand apart from others. Finding a common enemy with your audience is one way to do it and a common cause is better than jumping on your competitors directly. In most cases.

The cause is getting control over your email–who can reach out to you and whether they should be able to track you. The cause is fighting the big tech that are data mining on their users. With HEY, you pay your subscription and get a tracking-free email with a set of clever productivity features.

Not another client

HEY is not just another email client that you can use for your Gmail and work emails. It requires you to use it as a whole, either with or by moving your domain to the service. Take it or leave it, but this makes the product simpler from the user’s perspective and helps to deliver on the promise.

HEY Email marketing strategy: Pricing

HEY’s main competitor is Superhuman, which also aims to boost productivity while using email. However, Superhuman aims to be a posh, premium-style app that costs $30 a month while HEY is priced at $12 per month, or $99 per year, making it more accessible. It’s one of the reasons why it’s much more successful than its counterpart.

Personal branding

HEY Email marketing strategy's initial success is linked to the success of Basecamp’s co-founders, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. With Basecamp, they „fixed” productivity/task manager tools, which stood contrary to what bigger companies have offered. Jason’s and David’s personal brands are in line with going the reasonable way when it comes to developing software, and so does HEY.

Who owns HEY Email?

HEY Email is owned by the founders of Basecamp, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. Both of them have quite powerful personal brands on Twitter, totaling a combined 640,000 followers, which they could capitalize on when promoting their new email app. Since it fits perfectly what they’d been preaching before, many of their followers wanted to try it out.

When was HEY Email launched?

Hey Email was launched in June 2020 as a premium email service.

How was HEY Email created?

The project was announced by Fried and Heinemeier in February 2020. The Basecamp's team has been working years on their email service in order to fit the market. According to the creators, they wanted emailing to be faster and simpler for users.


After the release, HEY required you to pay through their website and only then, the iOS could work. If you didn’t, the app showed only a logo, even without any sign of how to buy. The problem is that it has been perceived as trying to squeeze HEY into Apple’s in-store payments, from which they get a 30% cut. 

David Heinemeier Hansson took it to Twitter and posted under a hashtag which exposed other apps such as Salesforce Inbox, Tesla, or JP Morgan that worked exactly as theirs. The two sides have found a compromise after just a few days, but it shed a light on a bigger problem and got picked up by mainstream media. This gave HEY a solid boost of reach.

How is HEY Email successful?

Even before the launch, the HEY Email waiting list counted 50,000 email addresses invited, and a week later it was already twice that number. Regarding their competition, it’s safe to say that HEY Email is a great success. According to some calculations, it's estimated that HEY Email annual revenue equals nearly $1 million.

Invitation-only marketing

A part of the HEY Email marketing strategy was using the good ol’ invitations to let users in gradually. The by-product of that is that it makes the whole experience more exclusive and builds demand.

At first they let in the first 500 or 1,000 Twitter followers (they did that in batches). Later on more than 50,000 users joined the waitlist. This is exactly the same approach that has been used by Gmail or Superhuman in the early days.

How is HEY Email successful – Testimonials

HEY relies heavily on testimonials. On their website, they are even more important than the app’s features. This builds the trust and interest first and only then serves more info to make the decision on signing up for the trial. It's also used on their Twitter, as all the love-spreading tweets are reposted

A 14-day free trial

HEY didn’t start with a free trial but later on, they added it as a step before going in for the purchase. You don’t need to enter any credit card details, so it’s all about you figuring out whether you like the service or not.

Basecamp-like communications

The brand of HEY is quite similar to Basecamp’s which is okay if you like the other, and not if you’d like something more… elegant. However, the loose, friendly and most importantly human voice of HEY is great for a small business that wants to make a 1 on 1 relationship with the clients.

Twitter support

Many people go with their problems to Twitter to ensure they are seen, and their problem is taken care of. HEY had a public support active on Twitter, but it’s been eventually discontinued. However, during the time it was active, it helped customers with an authentic approach.

HEY for Domains

One of the improvements, was to spread beyond the Basecamp hardcore followers and releasing HEY for Work. This was later named as HEY for Domains. That’s basically all the functionality of HEY, but with one paying account and a few added features. It has also been introduced through invitations.

It boosted the number of downloads through allowing to be used with custom domains . This made it a viable solution for business, especially the small ones.

Using personal email that ends with stands out with all the Gmails and Yahoos around. Every new email sent spreads the words about the HEY brand.

Leading by example

The founders actively promoted HEY on Twitter.

They huge audience of 650,000 followers also helped a lot.


Von Restroff Effect

The things that stand out are remembered well. When getting tons of usual emails, one from a short and eye-catching domain is easy to remember and learn more for yourself.


The content on the website follows a simple Attraction-Interest-Decision-Action structure. You get attracted elsewhere and then get a short description of what it is. The testimonials placed so high, work for convincing to the decision which then can be put into immediate action with low barrier of entry – a free trial.

Visual Hierarchy

The items are designed by their level of importance. This is definitely influencing people’s decisions to try out the product.

Social proof

When in doubt, people tend to look for what others are doing. This is why testimonials are so powerful, but so are App Store reviews, Twitter shoutouts and all social preaching done for HEY.

Halo effect

One aspect of a thing makes for the general perception of it. HEY was mainly advertised to the followers of Basecamp co-founders, which already loved the previous product. Since it was designed for a similar cause, they immediately loved HEY Email.

Authenticity effect

People prefer companies that appeal as more authentic. This is the case for Hey, as it has a strong connection to the personal brand of its co-founders.
One of the example is, that every new customer get a letter from the CEO after they sign up.
And it’s also been built in public prior to the release.

?Window of Opportunity

HEY entered the space that's extremely saturated as people have formed their email habits over years which are now hard to break. However, it’s all about product-market fit and the creators of this app knew it best. It does all but try to appeal to everyone. It simply matches the audience that sought these features, while others thought it’s too heavy on the privacy side (for example, making it impossible to check newsletter open rates).

So, building a personal brand is one thing that makes such projects successful, but building a brand around the good cause is even bigger. Then, you can build more products that are in-line with it and get users instantly–just as HEY rose exactly on the Basecamp’s community.

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