We're building an awesome platform and we need to get beta users. I'm offering exclusive invites on craigslist, stumbleupon, and a few forums and it's not getting me much.
We're just trying to show people awesome events from a bunch of different sources sortable by time and location.
What would you suggest I do to get more views and signups? Has anyone else tried to get the initial 1,000 or so users online and how did you do it?
There are lots of factors and ways to advertise for beta testers, have you thought about the following questions:
Laying the ground work for signups to beta is on the whole the same as laying the ground work for any site or project. Identify who you want to sign up, target influencers both individuals and other sites in your industry, build links and generate discussion (surrounding but doesn't need to centre on your platform), keep up the engagement and follow up anyone who is interested. Retargeting is a cheap but effective way to re-engage people for example. Use social media to drive home the message and make it easy for your signups to spread the message for you to the point that it might be worth incentivising tweets and Facebook likes.
Obviously this all comes at a cost, you need to identify how much each sign up is costing, how much you can afford if either of those is zero you have done your math wrong. I suspect while there is more effort in targeting interest sites then say craigslist and other bottom feeders you will find the reward substantially higher.
"We're just trying to show people awesome events from a bunch of different sources sortable by time and location." Have you tried going to some of those events that you speak of and do some networking, I know this will not get you the first 1,000 sign ups but it will definitely get you on track. For example, in Austin I organize a meetup where people come to pitch their ideas and the like, most of them do get initial traction just by presenting and talking to the other attendees about it (100+ people), try it and it might work.
Another thing that I have been lucky with is in the things that Tim Nash suggested in his answer... create a social media presence, and engage with people that will benefit from the service you will be providing, blog about it and try to write a blog post on an existing blog with an audience, etc... There is not magic pill or quick way to accomplish this, it requires work and a lot of dedication but it is definitely doable without having to spend money on advertising, etc... Good luck!
Along the lines of frenchie's response, see if there are any bloggers that follow the site you are working on. If you can get them to blog the site, others will follow. But don't stop at one; keep going with as many people as you can until you get your 1000 goal. Past 1000, say sorry, but then get people's email address for a mailing list so that if you open the beta to more users or go live, you have even more people to call upon.
Another idea is, if you are in the US, you might consider Kick Starter or outside the US, perhaps Indiegogo as a funding platform to offering some kind of reward for early sales. For example, get in now with our beta and save 50% on future fees for the first X months, or something like that.
Do facebook integration, so that friends of subscribers become aware of their friends' activity in your space, possibly clicking to ask for an invite themselves. Viral works nicely that way.
I am in a similar boat. In my case a mobile app service and a different need.
I am considering
1. google Adwords
2. Narrowing down my offering to a specific industry and then going after conferences, events, bloggers, influencers, etc.
Feel free to drop me a note to share experiences.