“Flaunting access inspires those without it to scramble for inclusion before missing out.”

Creating demand and virality is critical for the success of any SaaS startup. In the endless effort to acquire and retain users in a crowded market, psychology can be a powerful tool.

Specifically, triggering the fear of missing out (FOMO) through an invite-only signup process is an underutilized growth strategy. By restricting access and signaling value, you manufacture authority and social proof. This compels people to take action to avoid exclusion from whatever exclusive club you’ve conjured.

Below we’ll explore the psychological mechanisms behind this, why it works, and how to implement it effectively.

Why FOMO is Such a Potent Motivator

💡 Identify what makes your product exclusive or scarce to tap into FOMO
💡 Analyze your target audience to see if they exhibit FOMO-prone characteristics
💡 Study platforms like Instagram that manufacture FOMO and envy

FOMO is the unpleasant feeling that comes from observing others participate in something that provides pleasure or benefit while you cannot. It stems from our innate desire to belong and not miss out on opportunities.

In their seminal paper on the topic, psychologists Dr. Dan Herman and Dr. Abraham Prater identified 3 key requirements for triggering FOMO:

  1. Exclusivity - knowledge that others are having rewarding experiences that you are not a part of
  2. Lack of self-confidence - uncertainty about your social standing and desirability
  3. Sense of missing out - awareness these exclusive experiences are passing you by

Apps like Instagram and TikTok leverage these triggers masterfully. They show you the “highlight reels” of your peers’ lives while you watch through the lens of your own mundane existence.

This manufactured envy compels you to crave their social experiences, pleasures and status. Helplessly spectating life pass you by inspires action to improve your own standing.

These same drivers motivate people to want access and inclusion into exclusive groups and opportunities.

How Invite-Only Signups Utilize FOMO

👥 Create exclusive groups and experiences to foster feelings of missing out
🔒 Use limited or waitlisted access to signal scarcity
🗣️ Leverage influencers and early adopters to drive social proof

SaaS products using an invite-only access model activate FOMO by signalling exclusivity, social proof and impending missing out:

Advantage Description
Exclusivity Creates a sense of exclusivity and scarcity around the product or service, which can drive demand and virality.
Controlled growth Allows companies to control the rate of growth and manage resources more effectively.
High-quality users Users who are willing to go through the effort of getting an invite are often more engaged and valuable than users who simply sign up on their own.
Referral marketing Encourages users to invite their network, which can drive viral growth and reduce customer acquisition costs.
Testing and optimization Provides an opportunity to test and optimize referral systems and other marketing strategies.


Restricting access frames your product or service as high-value and scarce. If it’s so exclusive, it must be worth having. This is why nightclubs restrict access with bouncers and dress codes. Scarcity increases demand.

Social Proof

Knowing others are using something you cannot access yet makes it more desirable. Especially if those people are your own friends or respected industry figures. Social proof is very influential.

Impending Missing Out

FOMO intensifies when access seems limited. Whether by number of invites, application limit, or simply the risk of a “coming soon” landing page being replaced by a “sign up” form. Missing the boat triggers action.

Layering these core FOMO ingredients frames your product as hot, social currency that people will scramble to get access to before missing out.

Herman and Prater also identify personal characteristics that make people more prone to FOMO. These include:

  • Neuroticism
  • Social anxiety
  • Social isolation
  • Low self-esteem
  • Fear of social exclusion

While you cannot easily identify who has these traits, they do comprise a meaningful segment of people. Crafting an exclusive offer will resonate strongly with them.

Below are proven examples of companies that have successfully leveraged invite-only signup and referral access:

Company Description
  • Social audio app launched in invite-only mode
  • Early access was scarce, increasing hype
  • Users gifted limited invites to bring their friends
  • Grew waiting list to >150K users pre-launch in 2010
  • Scaled to millions of users within months of opening access
  • Limited number of invite codes per user
  • Prestige pricing + referral access increased perceived value
  • Long waiting list turned signups into social currency
  • Each user given limited invites to gift access

For products dependent on network effects and user generated content, limiting initial access helps curate high quality early adopters. These vocal champions set the culture and create social proof for future members.

Scarcity also prevents overburdening infrastructure costs and limited support staff for young startups. Resources can scale up smoothly as as each new member expands capacity.

In short, FOMO can increase desirability, address scaling challenges and foster engaged networks: all critical to sustainable growth.

FOMO Trigger Example
Limited access An invite-only sign-up system
Scarcity "Only 3 spots left at this price"
Social proof "Over 1 million happy customers"
Exclusivity "For members only"
Urgency "Limited time offer"

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