Remember the Heinz Ketchup commercial with Carly Simon touting the virtues of anticipation along with images of ketchup with the taste that’s worth the wait?

I’m reminded of that right now as I wait in a virtual line for the ultimate ioS app that promises to tame my inbox. The app is Mailbox—an app that helps you achieve “Mailbox Zero.” The service checks your email from the cloud and delivers it at super-fast speed to your phone. From there, you can decide whether to act on it now, later or never, all with the swipe of a finger. As of writing this blog, there are 105,619 nerds in front of me in a virtual line to get the app. (On the bright side, there are 193,917 people behind me.)

The buzz began back in December when Techfluentials got early Beta access and shortly proclaimed it “the next big thing.” Said TechCrunch’s Ryan Lawler, “Every now and then, I get my hands on an application or piece of technology that I can’t wait to tell the rest of the world about. Something that is a joy to use, tackles a major problem in a totally intuitive way and makes otherwise difficult tasks unfathomably easy. Something that has the potential to fundamentally change the way we do things.”

I wasn’t as lucky as Lawler. I never received early access. Or, perhaps, the invite got lost in my inbox.

In the months that followed, word of mouth continued to spread as the scrappy start-up did everything right to sustain the buzz:

· Provide early access to the media and other influencers. Check.

· Embrace social media to relentlessly tell your story. (The start-up’s trailer video alone generated more than 1.2 million views and more than 250,000 sign-ups). Check.

· Spur conversations at buzz-worthy events like SXSW. Check.

It also helps to have a killer Day Two story: the Cinderella start-up with just 13 employees had been acquired by Dropbox.

Just three weeks after launch, Mailbox revealed it was already delivering 50 million messages a day. (By comparison, it took Twitter three years before it had the infrastructure to process the same amount of messages). What’s more, the waiting list was more than 1.5 million people strong.

There was just one problem: the company didn’t have the infrastructure in place to keep up with demand and scale accordingly. To best serve customers with a good user experience, Mailbox introduced a waiting list. To get on the list, you download the Apple app to reserve your spot in line. Reservations are filled on a first-come, first-serve basis. At any moment, you can tap on the app to see your progress. And, with just one touch, you can stay current on the latest developments and discussions.

clip_image001At SXSW, Mailbox CEO Gentry Underwood explained that the waiting list is an honest and transparent solution. But I think it’s also brilliant in its simplicity: the ritualization of checking daily where you are in the queue keeps customers engaged and excited while the company does what it needs to do to ensure that when it’s your turn to partake, the experience is a good one.

The waiting game enables to effectively sustain word of mouth as it rolls out the service to new customers. Think of all the attention Apple receives when its new iProduct finally hits the shelves and loyal consumers wait patiently—often for days—to be the first to get in.

I’m guessing I have at least a few weeks before I’ll be able to experience Mailbox firsthand. In the meantime, the company has orchestrated a brilliant campaign to keep me –wait for it — wa-a-aitin’.

Peter Duckler

Peter Duckler