Generating the first 100 users of a website

Mike Masello

November 4th, 2013

Hello FD community.  I'm working for an online dating startup in NYC targeting the Asian community.  Getting our first batch of initial users is proving to be a challenge.  What methods have people used to build a targeted user base for web-startups?  People like to join something established with an existing user base.  Any suggestions or comments would be appreciated.

Michael Brill Technology startup exec focused on AI-driven products

November 4th, 2013

Why does the world need a seemingly late-to-the-game, underfunded Asian dating site? If you can answer that question really well, I'm sure we can find a way to get 100 users.

Tal Flanchraych Product Leader (ex-Amazon, Wag)

November 4th, 2013

Do it manually by finding your first 100 users one by one. No one outside of your friends and colleagues will start using this without being emotionally invested in the app or its founders, and the only way to get them to be is to build a relationship with each of them. However, just like any new relationship, you can't just start pitching yourself or your app at them -- it needs to be a two way conversation about how you can fulfill each other's needs. If you do this right, you'll find yourself not with 100 initial users, but 100 initial evangelists who will be constantly sending you feedback and ideas. Caveat: this will take a lot more work than you think. However, it'll also be far more rewarding than you think.

This is what I would do in your case:

1) Identify potential users in your target audience (single Asian friends of friends?)

2) Invite them to lunch or coffee on the basis of "wanting to learn more about their dating life as research for our company."

3) Make it all about them at first. Don't even tell them what you've built other than "a dating app" at first. They don't give a shit about your app, but they do give a shit about solving their own problems -- so let them talk about their problems. Also ask them about other aspects of their lives -- what they do for work, what they do for fun. People love talking about themselves and if you're genuinely interested in what they have to say, they'll be genuinely interested in how you think you can help them.

4) Now that you know what matters to them, tell them what you're working on but tailor your pitch to focus on how your app could solve their particular problem. Be honest -- tell them that you've just launched and you don't have many users yet -- but get them excited about the story and the vision of the app. People connect well to stories.

5) Give them a title. Make them feel special. Say you loved their feedback so much that you want them to join your official User Advisory Panel or something as a Founding Member, which means they get to test out new features before everyone else does, give feedback on existing features, come to sick launch parties with free beer, yadda yadda. Once people have titles, they're more likely to want to live up to them, especially if involves them being confided in for their brilliant opinions. I don't care if the person *actually* had good feedback or not -- this is more about stroking the person's ego than anything else. You can always ignore their feedback.

6) Find out what you can do for them, even outside the context of the app. Did they mention they're unhappy with their job? Connect them with a recruiter you know. Are they into Mumford and Sons? Find out when the band is playing and email them saying something like "hey, just saw this and thought of you -- wanted to make sure you knew about this show." Treat them like a friend and they'll want to reciprocate (in this case, by helping you with your app).

7) Ask them about their friends' dating lives. Then encourage them to introduce you to their friends. It's easier to get to 100 users if 2 out of every 3 users are coming from a friend referral, though it'll be nearly impossible to get strong referrals with dating apps early on since network effects only apply when strangers join the app; my dating life won't get any better if I have 50 or 50000 friends on the app, since I already know all of them. I recommend you take their friends out for coffee too and give them the full dog and pony show if you want them to actually sign up and use it.

And remember: your best new users are your existing users. Focus on retention above all else. It's better to have 10 invested users at first than 100 users who will be quick to delete your app after 3 days.

Jonathan Chang Product Marketing and Creative Leader

November 4th, 2013

Hi Michael. Great question.

Assuming that you don't have a large marketing budget, that you're investing all of your resources in developing your product / service, and you don't want to go head to head with some of the more established online dating services, you're best bet is to grow your user base through your product.

This means that your product should provide opportunities for your users to share it socially such as:
  • Users can share their profile with friends for review prior to sharing it with the public
  • Users can create profiles for their friends
  • Users can share profiles of potential matches with their friends
  • Users can ask their friends for opinions on potential matches
Basically, your use cases for your service are a great starting point to identify where users can share your service socially.  In addition, I'd do your best to position your product as an exclusive, early adopter opportunity and create real customer testimonials out of successes.


Dimitry Rotstein Founder at Miranor

November 4th, 2013

Paul Graham recommends manual recruiting ( and I think it's the best (if not the only) way in most cases. To put it simple, the first 100 users you need to track down, meet in person (or at least on the phone), and convince to sign up. Or better yet just get their approval and sign them up yourself, because most people will have forgotten all about it in minutes, even if they sincerely meant to sign up.
A more scalable way is to recruit via appropriate forums, communities, and such (note that not all communities allow advertising). Remember that according to studies a person needs to see an invitation to sign up 7 times on average before he actually goes through this, and the invitation should be somewhat different every time to create an illusion of many people talking about the same thing (most people like to follow the crowd, as you mentioned yourself). While you're at it, keep in mind that a picture is worth a thousand words and a video is worth a thousand pictures.

Mike Masello

November 25th, 2013

Hi Everyone,

I wanted to follow up and share what's worked for us.  We're at about 160 users now and had some success with a mix of friends & family and street work/event-networking.  What's added the most users is Facebook ads and sponsorship within a meetup group.

This community has really impressed me with all the advice provided.


Rob G

November 4th, 2013

i'm feeling lazy today.  Do you want 100 signups (some of whom will be whiners/negative or at best inactive) or do you want 100 evangelists?  presumably the latter in which case there is no substitute i know of for hand-to-hand, person-to-person sales: 
1. answer Michael B's question first.
- i would add: "what makes you different/unique"? 
2. follow Tal F's advice. 

Austin Cornelio Co-Founder & Frontend Engineering Consultant

November 27th, 2013

Check out what has to offer. They offer "play books" that suggest strategies on how to accomplish things just like this. I know there is (or was once one) that could help you with this problem. 

Also, great comments by fellow members. Great thoughts here.


Mat Mathews Director at Ntrepid Corporation

November 4th, 2013

Michael, from a behavioral science and population segmentation perspective, there are numerous Asian cultures and they consume and share information and messages in different ways. Moreover there are different buzz wrds or cultural triggers that you can use to draw attention.  Can you provide some insight on a particular group that your trying to draw or are you going after descendants of East, South, Southeast, and southwest Asia?  

Mike Masello

November 4th, 2013

@Jonathan - you're right on.  We have a small marketing budget, as most startups do.  The idea of getting the first users to spread the word virally through the Internet is a good approach.  It's on the list.

@Mat - The data I've read has said generally Asians are becoming more open to dating outside their specific ethnicity, but there are definitely differences.  To start we're targeting China/Eastern Asia.

@Dimitry - Thank you.  The Paul Graham read was helpful as is the forum suggestion.  Fragile is the feeling early on...

@Tal - All great points and it's helping add to potential next steps.  I agree retention is very important.  We need to have the first batch to have a positive experience.

@Michael - We've had mixed feedback.  Some see a distinction, some say why can't I just filter on eHarmony.  We're working to better communicate the why.

@Rob - yes

Happy to hear more thoughts that are out there.