How to find the first 100 customers for your startup
Here you are. You’ve got that brilliant idea, the one that could solve a real problem for a lot of people. You’ve defied the odds, hustled hard, and launched your MVP (that’s a fancy term for your minimum viable product). You excitedly spread the word to friends and acquaintances, and in that first week, you hit the jackpot. Users from your inner circle and even some from the mighty Hacker News sign up for your new service or product.
But then, just a week later, cricket! Your traffic flatlines, and it feels like you’re playing a solo game of chess. If this sounds all too familiar, don’t fret – you’re not alone. Many startup founders have been right where you are. They’ve poured their hearts into creating products they believe the world will love, only to find themselves in a virtual ghost town.
The problem is that many startup founders fall victim to the “if they build it, they will come” fallacy. It’s that trap where you believe that simply by creating an incredible product, users will magically swarm to it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work that way, especially in today’s competitive landscape and crowded market.
Building a startup can be challenging, but with determination and perseverance, achieving success is within reach. The key is understanding what works and what doesn’t and drawing insights from the experiences of other founders to avoid their mistakes and missteps. It’s all about embracing a mindset of continuous learning and experimentation, viewing every effort as a stepping stone toward your ultimate goal.
You see, getting your first 100 customers seems like a daunting task, but it’s also an exciting endeavor filled with valuable lessons and rewards. These initial users aren’t mere statistics; they’re the lifeblood of your fledgling business. They’ll validate your product, provide invaluable feedback, and lay the foundation for your future growth.
Chances are, you’ve come across a plethora of articles detailing how to secure those critical first 100 customers. The advice runs the gamut, from tapping into your personal network and delving into email outreach to crafting compelling blogs, finding your niche community online, and even doling out your product for free.
There’s a treasure trove of strategies out there, including mastering social media, hosting webinars, and crafting irresistible lead magnets. Some startup luminaries swear by the allure of free trials, while others harness the power of social media platforms like X (formerly Twitter) for market research, make a splash on Quora, or spark growth via referral programs.
In this piece, we’ll dive deep into 10 proven strategies you can use to find your first 100 customers. These aren’t just random tactics. They’re based on the experiences of successful startup founders and entrepreneurs, case studies, and tactics, fortified by real-world case studies and solid research. With that, below are the top 10 ways to get your first 100 customers for your startup.
Define Your Ideal Customer.
The first step is to define your ideal customer. To kick things off, it’s crucial to establish a clear picture of your perfect customer. Who exactly are they? What are their specific needs and the challenges they’re grappling with? The more precise you can get in defining this, the more effective your marketing efforts will become.
For instance, let’s take the scenario of launching a new business offering software tailored for small enterprises. Your ideal customer here might be a business owner on the lookout for ways to streamline operations and reduce costs through automation. They might also be interested in enhancing customer service or boosting sales.
Once you’ve pinned down your ideal customer, delve into researching their pain points and how your product or service can come to the rescue. This deep understanding will empower you to craft compelling marketing messages that strike a chord with them and increase their likelihood of choosing your offering.
For every customer you acquire, be sure to reach out and set up follow-up calls with as many as possible to get real-time feedback. This approach not only made your customers feel appreciated but also contributed to enhancing the quality of your product or service.
Leverage Your Network: Friends, Acquaintances, and Friends of Friends.
Your network is a valuable resource when it comes to finding your first customers. Begin by tapping into your existing connections. Have conversations with people you already know and extend your reach to those within their circles.
Engage with friends, family, and professional acquaintances, and let them in on your startup journey. Ask if they might be aware of anyone who could be interested. While the pool of prospects may not be enormous, there could be a few promising leads among your close contacts.
Don’t forget about the folks you’ve met at industry events or on online forums. These individuals already have some familiarity with your field, making them more likely candidates for your product or service.
Here’s the key: When you reach out, focus on understanding their pain points. Listen intently and validate your idea. This isn’t the time to go all-in on selling; instead, treat it as a learning phase. In the early stages of customer development, your primary goal is gathering insights.
Dive deep into the challenges these individuals face in the context of the concept you’re building your business around. How have they experienced it? What aspects do they find appealing, and where does it fall short? Have they explored alternatives? What were their impressions?
This process not only helps you secure your first customers but also hones your pitching skills. As an entrepreneur, you might not be the smoothest salesperson, but starting with people you’re comfortable talking to is the first step in becoming a more adept pitchman.
Additionally, aim to expand your network continually. Remember that your existing contacts likely have networks of their own, opening up further opportunities for connections and potential customers.
- Reach out to your existing connections and tap into their extended network.
- Engage in conversations to uncover people’s pain points, actively listen, and validate your business idea.
- Remember, your objective is learning, not selling at this stage.
- Identify and understand these pain points thoroughly.
- Broaden your network by connecting with fellow entrepreneurs and investors.
- Don’t hesitate to seek introductions through your expanded network.
Unlocking the potential of launching products online involves tapping into the power of various online communities, and here’s a little secret: platforms like ProductHunt, HackerNews, and Subreddits (r/entrepreneur, r/startups, r/sideproject) have been instrumental in the successful launch of products for countless startups.
These online communities are a great way to promote your new products. You may be surprised which of these groups/subgroups are willing to try out your new products or services, which can be a great source of getting early adopters for your users. Still, wondering why you should consider these online communities for your own product launch? Here are some compelling reasons:
- Early User Feedback: These communities are teeming with early adopters and tech enthusiasts who eagerly seek out new products. By introducing your product on these platforms, you can tap into this audience to gain valuable early feedback. This feedback helps ensure your product aligns with user needs right from the start.
- Generate Buzz, Hype, and Excitement: A successful launch on ProductHunt or Reddit has the potential to generate significant buzz and excitement around your product. This heightened interest can translate into increased website traffic, a boost in social media followers, and, ultimately, more sales.
- Get Featured By the Community: If your product resonates well with the community, it might find its way to the front page of ProductHunt or Reddit. This prime real estate can exponentially enhance your product’s visibility and reach, potentially catapulting it to a wider audience.
- Influencer Connections: Online communities also provide avenues to build relationships with influencers. Many community members are influencers in their respective fields. By debuting your product in these digital hubs, you can establish relationships with these influencers and potentially enlist their support in promoting your product to their dedicated followers.
As proof of the community’s power, consider Alexander Chen’s experience, founder of 1000 Pound Club, who shared his success story on IndieHackers. He managed to garner 100 users within the first week of launching his product, demonstrating the remarkable potential of online communities. Here’s how Chen described his journey to the first 100 customers.
“Last month I launched my first project 1000 Pound Club and got 100 users in the first week. Here’s a breakdown of where I got these users, how I went about this project, and what I plan to differently next time.
100 User Breakdown
- Reddit: 60 users
- Discord: 25 users
- Indie Hackers: 15 users
- Twitter: 0 users
- Hacker News: 0 users
Reddit was by far my best launch platform, giving me 60 out of my first 100 users. This was followed by Discord in a solid 2nd place, then Indie Hackers in 3rd. I also launched on Twitter on HackerNews, but these were not effective, giving me 0 users from each.”
Create an Engaging Online Presence.
In today’s digital era, it’s essential to have a strong online presence. This means having a well-designed and user-friendly website active social media account. Your social media presence should be engaging to potential customers with valuable content.
Your website should be easy to navigate and should provide clear information about your product or service. Your social media accounts should be used to engage with potential customers and share interesting content. Your blog should be used to share valuable insights and tips that are relevant to your target audience.
In our modern digital age, both consumers and users are well-informed, influential, and actively involved in their online experiences. Today, it’s commonplace for individuals to turn to the internet for information before making purchasing decisions. Their online searches typically revolve around four primary categories:
- Informational: Users seek valuable information to better understand a topic, solve problems, or gather knowledge.
- Navigational: Users are looking for specific websites or pages, often to access a particular resource or destination.
- Commercial: Users want to explore brands, products, or services, possibly comparing options and considering their choices.
- Transactional: Users intend to complete specific actions, such as making a purchase or signing up for a service.
Content marketing provides a great way to attract and engage potential customers. By sharing diverse content like blog posts, infographics, videos, and more, you can provide real value to your audience. This, in turn, helps you build trust and credibility, which can lead to more sales.
When crafting your content, keep your target audience in mind. Focus on topics that directly address their needs and challenges. Ensure your content is well-crafted, informative, and visually appealing, as these elements enhance the overall user experience. By consistently delivering valuable content, you can build lasting connections with your audience and drive business growth.
You can also reach out to writers from blogs and websites that focus on topics related to your industry. Every bit of media coverage you receive is a step forward in your quest to acquire your first 100 customers.
The talk of email brings a bad memory of cold calls to some founders. While email might sometimes feel like a relic from the past, it remains a valuable tool for nurturing leads and turning them into loyal customers. Don’t underestimate its potential! Here’s how you can make the most of email marketing:
- Collect Email Addresses: Start by gathering email addresses from your website visitors. Encourage them to subscribe by offering enticing incentives like exclusive discounts or free trials.
- Segment Your Audience: Don’t send one-size-fits-all emails. Segment your email lists to ensure you’re delivering tailored content to different groups of subscribers. This personalization increases engagement.
- Track Your Progress: Keep a close eye on your email marketing campaigns. Monitor the results to understand what’s working and what’s not. This data-driven approach allows you to refine your strategies.
Additionally, remember that email can be an effective way to reach your target market, which may include executives, researchers, and entrepreneurs. While the results may not always be mind-blowing, you can still engage and connect with users through this channel. So, don’t overlook the power of well-executed email marketing!
Social media advertising.
Social media advertising is a great way to reach potential customers who are already interested in your products or services. Target your ads based on demographics, interests, and other factors to ensure that you’re reaching the right people.
When creating social media ads, be sure to use eye-catching visuals and clear, concise messaging. You should also track your results so that you can see what’s working and what’s not.
You could also experiment with paid ads on social platforms where your target customers hang out while building your brand reputation.
Attend industry events.
Attending industry events is a great way to connect with potential customers face-to-face. This is a great opportunity to share your elevator pitch, hand out business cards, and build relationships. You can pitch your product to potential customers by attending nearby events like startup panels, conferences, and shows. This personal approach aimed to increase our chances of success.
When attending industry events, be sure to dress professionally and bring plenty of business cards. You should also be prepared to answer questions about your product or service.
Partner with complementary businesses.
Partnering with complementary businesses is a great way to reach a wider audience. These partnerships can help you cross-promote each other’s products or services, which can lead to more sales for both businesses. Also, partnering with other businesses in your industry can help you reach a wider audience and create win-win scenarios.
For example, if you’re a software company, you could partner with a web design company to offer a bundled package of services. Or, if you’re a clothing brand, you could partner with a retail store to sell your products in their brick-and-mortar location. These partnerships enable cross-promotion, helping you tap into new audiences and grow your business.
Offer exceptional customer service.
Word-of-mouth referrals are one of the most effective ways to acquire new customers. So, it’s important to offer exceptional customer service to your existing customers. This means going above and beyond to meet their needs and expectations.
When you provide excellent customer service, your customers will be more likely to recommend your business to their friends and colleagues. This can lead to a steady stream of new customers for your business.
Analyze and iterate.
It’s important to continuously analyze your customer acquisition strategies. Use tools like Google Analytics and CRM software to track your progress and identify what’s working and what’s not. Make adjustments to your strategy as needed to ensure that you’re getting the best results.
The customer acquisition process is never static. You need to be willing to experiment and iterate to find what works best for your business. By following these strategies, you can increase your chances of finding your first 100 customers and growing your startup into a successful business.
Learning from Others
We’ve explored the top ten ways to acquire your first 100 customers. However, it’s crucial to recognize that you’re not embarking on this journey alone. Learning from the experiences and ideas of other startup founders and entrepreneurs is very valuable, helping you expand your customer base not only to 100 but potentially millions.
As such, don’t forget to immerse yourself in the wealth of startup blogs, growth hacking narratives, podcasts, and YouTube videos. The knowledge and insights shared by fellow startups offer valuable lessons and a wellspring of inspiration. Finally, we’d like to share with you real-world case studies of successful startups and how they found their first 100 customers
Case studies of successful startups and how they found their first 100 customers
The Strategy: Dropbox, a cloud-based file storage and sharing platform, used a referral program to acquire its initial users.
The Tactic: They offered existing users additional storage space for referring friends. This incentivized users to invite others to the platform.
The Result: Within 15 months, Dropbox went from 100,000 to 4 million users, showcasing the power of a well-executed referral program.
The Strategy: Airbnb, a platform for short-term rentals, leveraged Craigslist to find its first users.
The Tactic: The founders cross-posted Airbnb listings on Craigslist to tap into an existing user base searching for accommodations.
The Result: This initial strategy helped Airbnb gain its first 100 customers quickly, and it has since grown into a global platform.
The Strategy: Buffer, a social media management tool, utilized content marketing to attract its first users.
The Tactic: They created a blog with helpful content about social media and scheduling. This drew in their target audience interested in social media management.
The Result: Buffer’s blog became highly popular, attracting users interested in their product, and their initial customer base grew from there.
The Strategy: Groupon, a daily deals website, used the power of collective buying to acquire its initial customers.
The Tactic: They offered daily deals that required a certain number of people to participate before the deal was activated, encouraging users to share with their friends.
The Result: Groupon quickly gained a substantial user base due to the viral nature of its deals.
The Strategy: HubSpot, a marketing automation software company, focused on inbound marketing to attract its first users.
The Tactic: They created valuable resources such as ebooks, webinars, and tools to help marketers, drawing in their target audience.
The Result: HubSpot’s inbound marketing efforts helped them acquire their initial customers, and they’ve since become a leader in their industry.
The Strategy: LinkedIn, the professional networking platform, used a combination of referrals and partnerships.
The Tactic: They encouraged users to invite their professional contacts and formed partnerships with influential business blogs to promote their platform.
The Result: LinkedIn quickly became a trusted platform for professionals to connect and network.
These case studies demonstrate that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to finding your first 100 customers. The key is to understand your target audience, leverage the right channels, and provide value that resonates with them.
Building your first 100 customers is a challenging but rewarding milestone. These strategies, based on successful founders’ experiences and supported by research, can guide you in your quest for early customers. Remember, it’s about learning and adapting, increasing your chances of success with every step.
In the world of startups, getting your initial 100 customers might appear daunting, but with perseverance, experimentation, and the right tactics, it’s entirely possible. Always keep in mind that startups thrive because their founders make them thrive. Remember:
- Be persistent. Don’t give up if you don’t find success right away. Keep trying different strategies until you find what works for you.
- Be creative. There are no rules when it comes to finding customers. Be willing to think outside the box and try new things.
- Be patient. It takes time to build a successful business. Don’t expect to find your first 100 customers overnight.
In conclusion, the path to your first 100 customers is an adventure filled with lessons, connections, and opportunities. Embrace the journey, adapt, and watch your startup thrive. I hope this article has inspired you to start your own startup and find your first 100 customers. I wish you the very best!