Growth · Business Strategy

Customer acquisition or revenue during early stage?

Neha P

July 13th, 2015

What would you say is most important during an early stage pre-revenue startup -  customer acquisition or revenue even if it is a very small amount? If you need to pick one over the other what would it be?

Carlos Diaz CEO & co-founder at Kwarter

July 13th, 2015

Before focusing on Customer Acquisition I would rather focus on Customer Retention. You need to make sure before you bring more user that your service is not leaky and that you retain at least 20% of the users after 30 days. Once you reach this milestone I would focus on acquisition. Revenue comes later.

Kris Bliesner Founder and Chief Technology Officer at 2nd Watch

July 13th, 2015

Startup decisions are rarely binary.  I would look at it as an "and" not an "or".  I am a big fan of driving revenue as it proves that someone is willing to pay for your product or service.  You can dial in the right amount but a paying customer beats a non-paying one all day long.

Rob Alford Co-founder of Jora Local, 10+ years industry exp, MBA - Will work with smart, motivated people!

October 21st, 2018

There are few things that you should be trying to validate as part of building your business - And as per "The lean startup" (Eric Ries)... finding MVP ways to validate these early/cheaply are key to understanding how successful you will be in the future.

I think about it in this order;

1) Acquisition - Can you find and sell your idea to people (even if free trial)? Is it a good idea? (as judged by others)

2) Retention - Is your product any good? Do people want to continue using it? Did it solve their need well?

3) Revenue - If they like it, are they willing to pay? And are they willing to pay enough for you to cover costs and make a profit? What's the LTV?

4) Scaling Up - Now you know the product works and can make money... can you scale this up and over what time frame? Are your acquisition channels sufficient? Does your CPA/CAC remain stable as you scale? Can you break-even quick enough... and not run out of seed funds?

So i'd say you should definitely 'test' acquisition first... to understand viability. But you should also, quickly move on to understanding revenue. As acquisitions without revenue aren't very useful.

Charlie Graham Entrepreneur & Executive With 15+ Yrs Exp. Building Successful Consumer & SaaS Businesses

July 13th, 2015

I vote for neither.  IMHO your key metric should be engagement - how much are people using your product on a daily/weekly basis?  How much do they LOVE it?  If they start using it, how sad would they be if you took it away from them?

Build a product that people love and can't live without and you'll have a much easier way of getting both revenue (since they would pay for it with their attention or their pocketbook) and customer acquisition (since they will tell their friends).  You'll also have great reference customers who can give testimonials to prospective investors.

At the early stages, the only reasons I think you would want charge up-front is a) to validate people recognize they have a big enough need that they are willing to pay a  promise to solve it and b) that it encourages some level of commitment to at least try the service. And the primary reason to focus on customer acquisition is to build a big enough audience to test versions of your product and see if you can build a product they can't live with out.  (In the process of getting those users you'll end up learning a lot about how to correctly target your audience and grow it).

Hope that helps! 

Kate Hiscox

July 13th, 2015

It really depends on the scenario. You want to lock your customer base in and that can be achieved through a variety of ways including having them pay. If you don't fear that they'll pick up and run away to the next, shiny solution then I would go for customer acquisition as you'll have time to figure out how to monetise them.

Stephen PMP Project Management Professional

July 13th, 2015

If the revenue is $.01 is that ideal?  Probably not.  I agree with the retention comment over the paying customer comment.  Much easier to monetize a community than it is to increase prices for an existing paying customer.

Tommy Katzenellenbogen

July 13th, 2015

I would say the most important thing is proving assumptions. It really depends on the business model and space you are in. But if you would make choose, I always like to see growth in traction over growth in revenue.

Langston Richardson Founder of Startup for Jobseeking Tools + AI

February 17th, 2017

I guess I'm like Captain Kirk as the actor William Shatner. I don't think the answers are a clear either A or B. I would want to do the impossible: why not both?

The question would be what ways can a business model out acquisition and revenue generation in a way that can be proven to the leadership as well as to investors? It doesn't need to be something that hits a homerun. Simply a logical plan where both can happen and a logical contingency to address with that plan goes awry. I think ultimately, acquisition and revenue hold each other's hand and becomes a challenge when they are considered together.

Brendan Benzing Cofounder at MyNeighbor

July 13th, 2015

Customer Acquistion, unless your are B2B, but even then it is valuable if they are using you. Sent from my phone

Brian Hilgendorf Visionary Entrepreneur and Financial Executive

July 14th, 2015

In my opinion customer acquisition is more important in the early stages then revenue.  If you can clearly demonstrate how you will attract customers and what that cost is then the revenue discussion has less ambiguity.  As you scale the focus will shift to revenue, but early on customer acquisition metrics are more important.