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So You’re a Startup: How to Get Customers

Our So You’re A Startup series is nearing it’s end, but we’ve still got a few more for you. For 10 weeks, we’ve been answering your startup questions and hopefully giving you some much needed startup advice.

For So You’re A Startup number ten, we thought we’d talk about customer acquisition. 

You can raise all the money in the world, but if no one wants to use your product, no one will. Your product could be the most amazing, use the most advanced technology, and be the most groundbreaking, but it really doesn’t matter if no one uses it. So really, you should be thinking about who is going to use your product while you build it. As the wise Paul G once said, “In nearly every failed startup, the real problem was that customers didn’t want the product.” Make sure that there’s demand for your product before you spend a year of your life building it.

How do you find out if people want your product? Make a prototype (a MVP that isn’t going to take 3 months to build) and get it in front of a potential customer. You’ll be able to see what they think of it and then revamp it based on their feedback. Hopefully it has the potential to be something that people really want.

After finding out that your product is in demand, you need to figure out who will use it. Identify your perfect customer and get down to specifics – how much does the problem you’re solving affect them, how often would they use your solution, when would they use it, how, etc. Try focussing on the perfect customer first instead of the typical customer. Targeting a niche may not seem the most effective at first – after all, you want to conquer the world – but that specificity will help you. Finding this niche and creating a strong, clear marketing message to appeal to this niche will be much more affective than a generic, vague message.

Once you create this message and know exactly who you’re looking for, you need to get the word out. You aren’t going to get customers if no one knows about you. One of the hardest things to do is to let the people who need your product know that you have it. Fortunately, there’s an inexpensive way to spread the word: social networks. We wrote a whole blog on social media for startups, check it out to get started.

Look for people who are talking about the problem you solve on Twitter – it’s as easy as clicking search. Get in on those conversations (in a non-creepy way) and let people know about what you’re offering.

You should also write a blog using key words (SEO) to bring potential users to your solution. Selling cupcakes? Write a blog about satisfying hunger. You’d be surprised by how many people Google search “I am hungry.” Getting your cupcake store to the top of the returning results list for that search could be huge. This Hacker News meetup video by Rand Fishkin, SEO expert, offers a lot of great insight into acquiring customers for free. He talks about the importance of marketing as soon as you start out – building your marketing strategy along with your product will enable you to do better.

Once you start acquiring customers, you need to keep them. Be exceptional at customer service. People’s service expectations are very low these days, so it won’t be very hard to exceed their expectations. Corporate giants get away with treating customers poorly all the time – this is one of your biggest competitive advantages over them. In the early stages, you should make time to be the best at customer service.

Sometimes, your customers will not be happy. They might be rude or they might just be completely unreasonable. As tempting as it may be, resist the urge to be like these guys:

When first starting out, it’s okay to have fantastic customer service that will make your customers love you – even if it won’t necessarily scale once your startup grows. This great customer service will be the most effective way to help you learn about your users. As Paul Graham said in his essay about not dying, “It will be good for your morale to have even a handful of users who really love you, and startups run on morale. But also it will tell you what to focus on. What is it about you that they love? Can you do more of that? Where can you find more people who love that sort of thing? As long as you have some core of users who love you, all you have to do is expand it.” You will find great value in servicing your customers hands-on – they’ll be happy to talk to the actual creator of the product, someone who knows its ins and outs and can fix its bugs immediately.

This great customer service will lead to your customers telling their friends about you. Word of mouth is the least expensive and most effective way to get customers and is definitely something you should rely on. Having your startup integrated with Facebook and Twitter will allow you to get at the forefront of where your customers talk to their friends. Use that to your advantage – create shareable content and respond to any concerns brought up by social media users.

Unfortunately, there is no algorithm or simple 3 step process to make people instantly fall in love with your product. But, we do hope that these tips help you start thinking the right way about acquiring customers!

What has your experience with getting customers been like? Have any more tips you’d like to share? Comment below!

Tune in next week to hear our take on writing surveys.