What Startups Can Learn From Nigerian Scammers?

Ever wondered why the spam emails from Nigeria is always so badly formatted with poor grammar? Or why is it always from a member of a Nigerian royal family?

I always wondered why don’t they use better formatting and good english, as I am sure that it will convert thousands more.

A few days ago, I read a study by a Microsoft researcher that made me understand that the Nigerian scammers are way smarter than I though and explained why the attack still works after all these years.

TL;DR of the study: The goal of these scammers is to exploit highly gullible people. As a scammer, you don’t want to spend a few hours of your time with someone who will eventually respond with “Hey wait a fucking minute, you’re not a prince!” after doing a Google search. Ideally, they want someone so out-of-touch that they don’t even have relatives or friends to communicate with, someone who does have access to the Google and who might call out the scam.


Case 1: The scammer sends a well crafted email to a list of 10000 emails. If the email converts 1% of the list, he still needs to spend a few hours emailing each of the 1000 responders to convince them to do favours.

Case 2: The scammer sends a badly written email to a list of 10000 emails and converts 0.01%.. This ten who replied are an highly gullible group as they have just responded to the scammy email i.e. the thieves have kept the same “Nigerian prince” story for so long that the only people who actually take the time to respond are also the ones that are the most likely to hand over huge amounts of money to someone they’ve never met.

Case 2 leads to an objectively favourable result for the scammer.

The research shows that spam emails claiming to be from a country other than Nigeria are actually more work for the scammers. In situations like this, the sender often has to spend time coaxing individuals who may eventually realize they’re being taken advantage of. Those who respond to emails from the Nigerian prince are often gullible enough to hand over their money with much less effort.

I think these scammers are classic examples of someone having deep understanding of who are their real customers and their buying behaviour.

Most startups fail to do this and end up converting thousands without actually making any money.

I think startups need to start thinking like a Nigerian scammer to effectively convert only customers with higher lifetime value compared to just throwing a huge net (and wasting lots of money to acquire low quality users).

The less time you spend with non qualified leads, the more time you have left to spend with the better customers who will be willing to pay for your product or services.

So, the next time you are about to do a huge campaign, ask yourself:

What would a Nigerian scammer do?

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