I work with a number of early-stage startups and they regularly ask me a lot of broad, industry-wide questions. I normally advise them to think more granularly about their specific idea and avoid thinking that just because a unicorn did it, so can they.
That being said, I love this question because I feel it challenges founders to think creatively about their marketing and learn how to solve their first (of many) complex problems as founders.
One tactic that I like, for example, is reaching out to relevant offline meet-up groups, meeting their members, and working your way into their email lists. This way you have established IRL relationships with some of your earliest users.
yeah reach out to absolutely every contact you have. squeeze your address book dry and go to a handful of related meetup groups to network and get word out.
I wouldnt go on a mailing or squeeze my contacts. Id try some more focalised method based on what the app actually does and for whom it is created. You might well have 1000 people around you, but how many are really interesting for you ? So you need to think in the persona way. Who are the real users you want - who will pay, who will be just a burden ? If in future you would like to develop your app in the user oriented direction - you might get the "misleading" input to your vision of the app.
As an example : If you are a music app - why not go in the places where people meet to listen, create music etc - open mics, music schools, free recording studios etc etc
You can invest in some flyers and it will be more efficient than trying to convince all your fb friends, which might not be so interested in that.
Assuming you are only 3 founders doing a user based product, whether free or paid. The three must first be users themselves. Each founder has the inherent passion and knowledge on the product and is at a higher chance of convincing 10 people in his circles to use the product. Moreover, the 10, if convinced can bring other 10 On board by word of mouth or sharing.
3 - > (30 + 3) - > (30 + 3 + [30 * 10]) = > You only need the 300 last users to bring on 2 extra people on and you will have more than 1000 users.
The passion dissipates and reduces. The closet people to the founders are more likely to believe and bring even more people on board, especially if the product is of high quality and relevant.
Your family, close friends, people you met in conferences who believed in you, class mates (for founders still learning). These people form your first 100 users. I used this method and it worked. Our platform now has 12,000+ users.
Cool idea Brian. Did you reward any of these people in any way? Or just convince them (and get them to convince their contacts, etc, etc) that you were lovely people trying to make a difference and that you would love them forever if they gave their support...?
Every startup requires its own unique hack. In this case, the hack involves getting 1,000 users but seeing as products are different, the source of where users come from is different as well.
For example, I could have a million friends and still not be able to get them signed up as users simply because they have zero interest in server hosting because they don't even own a website in the first place.
The way I see it, every product caters to a particular target audience. If your goal is to acquire your first users on a zero budget, you have to do your research and find out where they spend their time online or offline and reach out to them in a non-invasive way while providing some sort of value. If you do have a budget, try to find out the same thing and use paid marketing channels to reach out to them.
If your product represents a common interest then you can use an invite system or a smart viral loop that will incentivize your users to spread the word. As the interest is more common, the chances are big that some of their friends will be interested and your viral loop might work really well.
If your product is very niche then your goal should be to find the easiest and most cost effective way to find your target audience and focus on decreasing your CPA while increasing your reach. One cool way to achieve this is by using FB's custom audiences when advertising on their platform. What it does is track users on your site, use that data to help you target similar people with similar interests on Facebook as they seem to be the most interested.
At the end of the day, the trick is in finding the right hack custom to your product and market.
@Steve For the people very close to me, I was able to convince them that I " ... would love them forever if they gave their support. " However, I put up a small low cost affiliate service when I realized the people they bring in may not be very convinced. Although very small, and considering where I come from (Kenya) and our target market (youths) I was able to offer small amounts of cell phone airtime (credit) for invites that turned out to sign ups in form of a pointing system.
We still use it up to now and it is going well. I have had people invite up to 30 people on board. If you would like to see how we are using this, just let me know.
Anything that you can do to address groups of potential customers rather than knocking on doors one at a time is likely more valuable, and less resource intensive than other methods. Is there something they already need where you can hold their attention while including a pitch for your product?
It's a big question. A lot of people would love to have the answer.
I have done this with customers' of mine (I provide innovation consulting services)
1. Target niche
2. understand their problems
3. Partly solve their problems (content, offers, events, etc...)
4. Fight hard to increase your reach (don't expect people to talk about you by themselves)
There's more to it. But that's how simple it is.