Most startups fail within the first year struggling to find early traction. Getting your first customers is always challenging and also a significant milestone for any startup. No matter how great your business idea is, if you don’t have customers to validate it, you don’t have a sustainable business.
The importance of early adopters
Early adopters are a unique kind of customers, and they are invaluable to a startup. They understand that there will be errors in the first versions of your product, they don’t need testimonials, and they’ll offer valuable feedback so you can build the tool in the right direction. But more importantly is that the early adopters will legitimize your business, demonstrating that there is a market for your product or services.
The number of early adopters you need depends on what’s your target audience. If you sell a very expensive product or service at an enterprise level, you need just a few customers. If you sell a cheap service, you’ll need at least 100 customers to get the needed friction.
If you are still in the early stages of starting your business, in this post, I’ll show several ways we are using, and we plan to use to get the first 100 customers at a startup.
1. Use the connections you have
The first thing to do to get your first customers is to use your existing connections. Create a list of every person you know, friend or business acquaintances that might be interested in your product. Meet them for coffee, lunch or simply schedule a phone call to pitch them your new business. If they do not embrace your new startup, ask them to share the idea with their friends. You’ll be surprised how many people are willing to help.
Ask the co-founders and the other team members to do the same thing. The word of mouth is critical at this stage.
2. Start blogging
You should start blogging even before you start working on building your tool or business. For many successful SaaS startups, blogging has proven to be their most valuable channel for getting new customers.
Blogging is not just about writing content for your company’s blog. You should also aim to become a contributor on reputable publications from your industry. By doing so, you can tap into already established communities, and your startup will get more exposure.
If no one has heard about your startup, you have zero brand credibility. But with awesome content, published on reputable sites, you can lay the first bricks towards building your reputation.
3. Do cold email outreach
Email outreach is very important, especially for B2B companies. If your potential customers are other businesses, do some research and find who is the right person to reach. Note that most founders, co-founders, managers, sales persons and almost anyone that works in a startup, has a have very busy schedule. That means your email outreach has to be top notch to be successful.
Before emailing, research on potential problems in his or her business. It will help you customize your email message, so it doesn’t look like spam. Only reach out to people that might be interested in your product or service.
4. Learn from competitors
Your competitors are a golden mine waiting to be explored. Even if your business offers something that’s new in the industry, surely there’s someone that’s offering somehow related services or products.
Learning from your competitors is important. You can find what bloggers wrote about your competitor’s products and then reach out to them and offer a free premium account on your recently launched startup. Building a good relationship with the industry bloggers can help you acquire quality backlinks and get more traffic to your site, which ultimately can lead to customers.
You can also learn from your competitors on social media and see what their customer’s problems or feedback is. A simple search on Twitter can show you who is sharing your competitor’s articles, and who is talking about them.
5. Go to conferences and meetups
While there might not be much meetup activity where you are located, you can go where the scene is more vibrant, and events are frequent. Going to events where small business owners meet is a great way to expand your network connections and get more feedback for your startup. That’s especially great if you are doing business to business.
6. Go to local incubators
Incubators are great for networking and for pitching your startup in front of an audience that understands online businesses. You can build relationships and make partnerships with other startups that joined the incubator. Even if almost everyone is in the early stages of their startup, such partnerships can turn out to be very productive after a few months or sometimes years.
Incubators are also a place where everyone is interested in learning more about other startups, and surely a place where you can find some of your first customers.
7. Online communities
There are numerous communities where you can be active and brand yourself. Product Hunt is widely known for being the most active tech community, and any founder wishes to be listed there. If you reach the first page of Product Hunt, you’ll surely get tens if not hundreds of new customers. When your startup is listed on Product Hunt, use every connection you have, to ask for a vote.
Hacker News is another community where you can submit your startup and see what others think about it. Reddit has a startups topic that’s very active and where you can interact with other founders. Last but not least, Quora is a great place where founders and potential customers spend their time.
Your first customers should be your advocates, and you should treat them accordingly. They’ll breathe life into your business.