Often while starting a new business, building a product to solve a problem is prioritized first – not marketing and selling it. While it makes sense to do so, building a product alone won’t help you generate revenue. A lot of startups tend to fail due to lack of traction and customer demand – 42% of the reason(as per CB Insights Survey) being no market need for the product. Under such circumstances, it would really pay to know how to find your first 100 customers.
Throughout this article, we’ll discuss how to go from 0 to a 100 customers. We’ll also include detailed pre-launch and post-launch strategies you can implement. Before we proceed – let’s explore the importance of closing your first customers, and the impact it’ll have on your business.
Why is it important to get your first customers
As mentioned earlier – a startup’s success is heavily tied to its initial validation of customers’ or markets’ needs. If you have no cash flow and customers to show for it, there’s no demand. And Building a product without demand validation deems your investments into development worthless.
Here’s how getting paying customers early can help you –
- Hire talented, highly motivated team members: Startups and businesses with customer traction are very attractive to talented and experienced professionals. A lot of them are looking for opportunities where they can be part of the next Amazon or Google. So by validating customer demand, you’ll be able to attract really great team members
- Attract Venture and Angel Investments: There are tens of thousands of investment firms that’re looking to deploy capital into startups. Early customer traction is one of the strongest indicators for a startup’s future success. Customer traction makes it easier for them to decide if they want to invest.
- Extend your operating runway: Getting paying customers early on is one of the best ways to fund future development. You might already have invested to get things off the ground, and burning cash. Getting getting paying customers early will help you offset early-stage cash burn and turn profitable quicker.
- Generate Social Proof: Getting customers early into launching your product is also a signal for your product being valuable. Sharing the fact will help you build credibility, and get more customers.
So moving on the next section, let’s learn how to find your first 100 customers
How to get your first 100 customers
We’ll split the guide into two parts: Pre-launch and Post-launch activities. Combined, they’ll help engage your early adopters and customers in different stages through product development and launch.
Map out and build your audience online
This is the stage of the business where you find your ideal customers online. It’ll help you later engage and capture them to sell your products at launch.
Social media platforms give you access to user-level data relating to their roles and interests. This makes them a great prospecting channel, attributing to the prospect data that you wouldn’t have otherwise had. When looking for your ideal customers, find users who’d most likely appreciate your product. Potential users who might be in a position to give you valuable feedback are will also be helpful.
Here’s a few ways how you can get your first 100 customers through social media platforms –
Search and DMs
Platforms like Linkedin and Twitter can be used to find and reach out to such users online. Both platforms have powerful search functionalities that help you search and filter results to match your parameters.
As you come across relevant prospects on these platforms, follow and connect with them to start familiarizing yourself to them. You can then proceed to engage with them by sending out messages and collecting their feedback on your product.
“Building in public”
When building your company, documenting your entire journey is another great way to build an audience around it. Called Building in Public, it’s a practice that is being followed by a lot of up-and-coming startups.
This helps you build an audience of other founders and investors who’d like to keep up with your updates. And with more engagement, this audience grows over time to also include potential customers who’d like to use your product.
Email is considered one of the top converting marketing channels online. If you have a sizable following across your social media profiles, you can leverage it to capture emails. Capturing these emails will enable you to reach out and follow-up with all the interested prospects, once your product launches.
Here’s a few examples of how to find your first 100 customers using email:
Search and Capture
You can find emails of your prospects by being connected with them over Linkedin, or simply use prospecting tools to capture their emails.
You can have these emails as part of a segmented list of potential customers(for eg., “Tech Startups Top 10”) to target them separately.
Build landing pages with forms and email capture fields that users can be redirected to from across other platforms. For example – if you’re sharing your product concept on Twitter and want a medium where users can stay in touch and gain access to updates, leave a link to your landing page.
Build multiple such landing pages for every channel or segment you’re targeting. Personalize content on each of them to fit your product’s narrative. Once you start plugging these landing pages into your content on different channels(social platforms, guest posts, blogs, etc), you’ll start generating traffic that will convert into emails.
Even if you aren’t active on social media platforms – you could find other ways to redirect traffic to your email capturing landing pages. This can include Advertising, Blogging, etc – which we’ll move on to next.
Slack and discord communities are groups of professionals or individuals, with common and aligned interest areas. These groups serve the participants by helping everyone network and learn from each other. Here’s how you can find your early customers on community platforms:
Solve Queries and offer recommendations
Finding right the right tools for accomplishing certain tasks or outcomes often is a part of these conversations.
You’ll often find community members asking opinions on tools and products they could use for certain uses. Jump into such conversations, and help them out regardless they’re related to your product or not. The idea is to become active within the community and gain credibility. Later when someone raises a question regarding a problem your product solves, you can plug it.
As you get your first users to share positive reviews, you can share those in these communities. This will help prove the legitimacy of your products and get members interested. You can then offer them community exclusive discounts or extended trials, which will help you convert that audience into signups.
Product Listing Websites
Websites like G2, Product Hunt and AppSumo exist to redirect search queries from users looking for products like yours. These websites typically rank well on search engines and help you boost visibility in keywords relevant to your domain. You could also get featured on the home page of these websites, if editors or visitors vote to do so.
Listing your product – both pre and post release can help you drive referral traffic to your website landing pages, and convert them into users.
Running online advertising campaigns is another such channel you can use to find your bunch of early adopters and prospects. Advertising products like Search and display ads can attract thousands of potential prospects in a short period of time. Ads heavily depend on the kind of creatives you come up with— so make sure you’re framing your product’s value propositions for the most conversions.
Also while running Ad campaigns, experiment with different demographics and interest groups before you complete them. This will help you find your audience among different groups of people on these advertising networks and optimize better for reach.
You can then redirect your advertising traffic towards your website where you can either capture their email addresses, or simply convert them to paying customers.
If you’re acquainted with founders, investors and other influencers on social media platforms that have a significant following, you could get their help to build your audience. They’re known as Influencers, not only because of their audience size, but engagement levels among their audience too. B2B influencers have a lot of credibility – so endorsements from these influencers carry a lot of weight. In such cases, having a network of influencers – founders, investors, marketers you know, really pays.
Ask them to share your products to their audiences, and it’ll help you drive high quality traffic back to your website or landing page. This traffic can then be converted by capturing emails and following-up later for closure.
Writing long format blog-posts around your ideal prospect’s interest areas is another way to generate traffic to your website through search engines. While tedious and time consuming, blog content pays back in dividends over a long stretch of time, even after you’ve launched. If you’re yet to start your product’s development process, and are far away(say 6+ months) from launching, blogging is the best channel if you’re figuring out how to find your first 100 customers.Here’s a few themes for topics you can cover on your blog—
These types of blogs typically cover procedures and guides on user queries that revolve around how to solve certain problems. Pick up and cover topics relevant to your product and domain, targeting your ideal prospects.
User interviews cover your early users’ experience with your product – where you document the impact and results your product generated. These blogs serve as a social proof and help readers relate and believe your product’s value proposition better.
By writing blogs on comparisons with competing or similar products, you’re helping your audience better analyze the offering from each product. Focus on these blogs should be to cover things that pricing pages don’t, and create guides to mimic how buyers would actually make purchase decisions.
Make sure you’re writing and optimizing your blog posts for keywords that are generating decent amounts of traffic, and are low competition, so it’s easier for you to rank your blog posts in search results.
Make them part of the development process
Once you’ve found prospects who’re interested in using your product, next you should engage them and make them part of product development. Let’s learn why and how.
Engage and collect feedback
As you’re developing your product, you need to keep the prospects you’ve found in the loop. Now that you’ve built an audience of prospects on different online platforms, start by asking for the problems they want to have solved using your product. Focus here needs to be on the outcomes that need to be driven from your product, so early users can find it valuable enough to invest. Also collect feedback on competing products and services, hits and misses in their previous experience in solving the problem, etc.
Ship user-requested features
In continuation from our discussion in the previous point, next thing to work on is the feature or benefits list. Remember – these are the prospects that will eventually buy your product, so it’s crucial that you build a product that they really want. You can have them choose a list of features to be developed that help them achieve the outcomes and results in their businesses we talked about previously. You can also have them as beta testers, where they keep using a private-access version of the product, while you collect their engagement data and keep improving your product based on it.
Build a waitlist
The audience you’ve built and engaged so far probably hasn’t meaningfully converted in any way. If your audience and reach is large enough across platforms, you can now start converting them into waitlisted users. Here’s a few ways to do it—
Plug your waitlisting program
Start sharing details on your product waitlist across all your marketing channels, so you can reach a larger audience and convert them into waitlisted users.
Create scarcity and promote FOMO
The whole concept behind waitlists is to create a general sense of scarcity among your audience. This can help you convert customers who aren’t motivated enough, but still considering your product. Limit the number of users who get to access the product after getting out of waitlists – i.e. farther you are in the waitlist, later you get the access. You can also use discount tiers— for example, 50% for the first 40 users, 35% for 41-70 users, and so on. The more benefits you have for your early users, the easier it will be to attract them.
Once you’ve built and nurtured an audience of potential prospects around your product and done building a product for these prospects – it’s time to launch. Your product launch is supposed to make your product available to the open public, and give you some traction. Here’s a few things you can do to attract a bigger audience and convert more of them into paying customers.
Reach out to waitlisted users
The waitlist you’ve built – now’s the time to gather their emails and send them sales sequences to invite signing up for your product. If you’ve structured your waitlist benefits right, you can expect good conversions from this outreach too.
Depending on how big your waitlist and prospects list is, email outreach might get tricky. So you can use tools like SalesHandy that help you send personalized, automated emails. Hence you can send out both cold outreach to prospects you scraped from social platforms, and warm outreach with invites to your waitlisted users without much hassle.
Here’s a video guide on sending email outreach campaigns in under 3 minutes
Set up and optimize for referrals
After sending out invites to your waitlisted users and having them sign up, you should then optimize the product to generate more referrals.
You can do this by placing referral loops as part of the product experience, where existing users find it convenient. Similar to many referral and affiliate programs, you can offer benefits to both your existing and new customers who get referred for optimum conversions. Dropbox’s referral program is a great example of this approach— and can be copied to work for almost any product.
Also focus on providing a great overall product experience for your existing customers, so they are confident in referring it to their acquaintances. Referrals are a key part of scaling growth and customer acquisition, apart from helping figuring out how to find customers for your product.
Get featured on bigger outlets
If you’re generating good reviews from your existing and referred customers, it’s time to further expand your reach. Here’s a few ways you can do it—
Reach out to popular online publications that put out content in line with your expertise. Startups and founders routinely share their stories on platforms like this to generate more awareness around their products and acquire early customers. You can do this by simply reaching out to editors on these publications and pitching them stories around development and adoption of your product. Editors can be found on platforms like Linkedin and Twitter. You can either reach out to them over Direct messages, or find their emails and reach out to multiple such editors across publications and pitch cold.
If you’ve built a decent enough following, you can also appear on interviews and podcasts yourself. You can either reach out to podcast hosts and editors, or just leave an email address for public speaking and interview requests on your social profiles, which will get people to directly get in touch with you.
Getting featured on other media outlets expands your reach beyond your own channels, and helps you reach more people. Grace, it indirectly helps you reach more customers and convert a portion of them either into following you on your social profiles or signing up for your product.
Find, Engage and Convert Intent Rich Customers
As founders and entrepreneurs, we badly want to succeed in our ventures – so much so it turns into wishful thinking, which clouds our judgement. Building products has been glorified for the longest time, but success in startups is much farther than just having a product ready. A lot of your product’s early success is dependent on why you’re building it, as in what problems you’re solving with it. This is only possible once you have an audience around yourself.
Apart from being able to build the right product, we also discovered having an audience helps you figure out how to find your first 100 customers. Your early adopters need to be found and nurtured much before you’ve built the product. They later also turn out to be your evangelists, since they can better relate with the product’s value proposition since they’ve been part of the development process. Leverage these aspects to further scale your base of early customers and gradually get to your first 100 paying customers.
How quickly did you get to 100 customers in your business? Did you use any channels and methods apart from the ones mentioned above? Let us know in the comments below.