U.S. Chess Champion Andrew Ng Launches Chesscademy, Tells Us About His Accidental Viral Marketing Strategy


Chesscademy features free videos, puzzles and quizzes to help improve chess skills, and users can rest assured they are in the hands of a master — literally. CEO and co-founder Andrew Ng (pictured above, middle) is a five-time National Scholastic Chess Champion, and also won a World Amateur Team Championship with the Princeton University squad earlier this year.

Chesscademy has pulled in over 220,000 page views and 3,500 users in a little less than two weeks of operation, but Ng tells us the most effective marketing campaigns thus far have been organic: the team’s response to a Reddit question about chess eventually led to 600-700 signups, and a top-ranked post on Hacker News generated further serendipitous interest.

“On Reddit, it is extremely important to keep in mind the voting algorithm – the upvote/downvote system operates on a logarithmic scale, so the first 10 votes are just as important as the next 100 or the next 1000,” Ng wrote in an e-mail earlier this week. “I found that having friends upvote the post in the very beginning helps it get over the initial hump and drives the traffic for the rest of the post’s trending duration.”

With technical co-founders Francis Hinson, a sophomore at the University of Rochester, and Sabar Dasgupta, a high school senior whom Ng tells us is already enrolled in upper-level Princeton computer science courses, Chesscademy hopes to eventually roll out a subscription model for premium content, as well as further leverage Ng’s connections to Grandmasters and chess luminaries around the world.

Compared to competitors Chess.com and Chesstempo.com, Chesscademy’s UI and overall design is much more intuitive and, frankly, more modern. I’m also impressed the Chesscademy team was able to score a home run on Reddit in a very genuine way — by answering user questions about chess strategy — as opposed to reverse-engineering a viral hit. Recall that Stanford scientists have proven the best way to have success on Reddit (and other online forums) is with original content, although it still doesn’t hurt to do some research.

“I made sure to do hours of research on the optimal time to post and what words were in a successful Hacker News post,” Ng said. “I analyzed persuasive words and noted the simple titles that attracted the most traffic.”

In marketing, as in chess, nothin’ beats practice.