One of the most challenging situations faced by startups is to get the initial traction. No matter how innovative your product is, if you don’t have initial customers, no methods of growth hacking can bring in change. Even more challenging is to figure out the majestic ways to acquire new customers when you have limited human and monetary resources.
Viral growth never happens in the initial stages. Forget about it. Focus on building the intial customer base for your product and services. Justin’s and Gabriel’s book Traction break down startup traction into 3 phases. By “initial” I’m going to assume you are in Traction Phase 1:
“Phase I … involves pursuing initial traction … in ways that don’t scale — giving talks, writing guest posts, emailing people you have relationships with, attending conferences and doing whatever you can to get in front of customers”.
My advice is to relentlessly pursue opportunities to help your prospective customers 1-on-1 with anything related to the problems you’re solving. This is best done face-to-face over a meeting, but 30-minute Skype calls or Hangouts also work.
To get these opportunities you’ll have to go out and find them and engage them in live events (meetups, conferences) or share helpful content and guides on places they hang out like LinkedIn groups on Quora questions. Once they show an interest in you and your work try offer to help them. Don’t work for free — just spend 30 minutes with them giving suggestions to help them solve their problems.
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Iterating in product and acquiring customers should go hand in hand while preparing strategies for gaining initial traction for your startup. Here are 7 splendid routes you can take to formulate the tactics of acquiring initial customers and getting initial traction for your company.
BUILD GREAT PRODUCT
There is no alternative to building an useful product. 5 years back an average product would work. Not now. By building a great product I never mean to delay the product launch until something special is created. This is not going to happen.
Great product simply means that you should have an X-Factor apart from what your competitor are offering. Find out the problems users are facing while using your competitors products and solve the issue in your product. The reason to do this is mainly:
- Customers have too many choices.
- There is lot of competition
- Customers are becoming sophisticated.
Paul Buchheit says that you have to find three features that are critical to your product early on. Start with your product and follow the iteration cycle. Evolution means a lot in innovation. Google was never like today in the intital days. Visionary aim to enhance your product adds on to your initial traction strategies.
THE FACEBOOK FABLE
What I see now-a-days that most startups create a Facebook page as an customer acquisition strategy in the initial stages. Never depend on Facebook. According to my experience, Facebook is dead to get initial traction for your product. Having a business page on Facebook will create an illusion cycle and you will lose your money.
However, it may seem unusual to you. You can invest on ads for increasing likes on your page. The reach decreases when the people who liked your page doesn’t interact with the post. You will be left with a Facebook property with enormous likes but no sales. A dying situation for startups.
Try to analyze different customer acquisition channels. Experiment with Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Reddit, Blogs, Influencers and Guest Blogging. Forums work well for SaaS companies. You can always post on forums (paid or organic) to acquire the initial customers for your SaaS product.
The marketing channel completely depends on the target customers. Figure out where your possible customers are online at. Efficient analytics can help you analyze that. I simply mean, experiment with anything.
THINGS THAT DON’T SCALE
According to Paul Graham of Y-Combinator ““One of the most common types of advice we give at Y- Combinator is to do things that don’t scale.” What it means is you have to give a little push to your product manually, instead of waiting for it to skyrocket itself. Graham recalls the success of Stripe. The company had a great product that would have attracted customers, but the company was aggressive and recruited users early on.
Whether it be via guest blogging, reaching out to influencers or hosting an event where you meet users, you need to nudge your startup. It may take longer than you’d like, and it will involve plenty of hard work and motivation, but it’s one of the best methods to gain traction.
It’s better to fail at a small scale and figure out the missing things than fail at a large scale and lose a lot of users. Be prepared to take the long rough road.
BUILD PRODUCT EVANGELISTS
Product evangelist simply means people who tend to recommend products to others without any pressure from your startup. It also means that people likes your product so much that they recommend it to others without expecting any commission or benefit from your startup.
Early adopters are probably the people who can turn into product evangelists more easily. If your early adopters are influencers, there are possibilities you will start a cycle of growth hacking mechanism at a very early stage. I don’t exactly know how to find influencers who are early adopters as it depends on various factors including your industry and market trends.
However, converting users into evangelists depends on the level of customer satisfaction. If people know you are building a great product and you are there when they face a problem, their likelihood to recommend it to peer groups increases manifold.
Referrals benefits is a part of customer satisfaction if you talk about evangelist only. They recommend your products to others free of cost. How about giving some discounts, freebies or goodies to them. It will enhance your customer satisfaction grade and turn more adopters into evangelists.
ANALYTICS — HARD DECISION
Analyze. Analyze. Analyze. It is tough to conclude logical decisions through analytics when you don’t have enough data. For founders, its difficult to cut down some functions from your product or service due to emotional connection. Business is all about hard decisions.
If something is gaining your customers, helps you to increase retention, keep it else kill it. Conducting A/B tests might not be possible early on because it’s difficult to analyse what’s right and what’s wrong with a small set of users. But still use Google Analytics or Mixpanel to figure out what is working and what‘s not.
As Hiten Shah, Kissmetrics’s co-founder, has explained “growing your business without tracking your marketing performance is like driving with both hands over your eyes.”
OUT OF THE BOX RISKS
There’s no stone engraved guidelines to gain initial traction. Play out. Experiment. Think. Airbnb has attributed “the sales of a cereal we created around the time of the 2008 presidential election called Obama Os’” as not only a way to fund the company, but also gain publicity.
Publicity stunts can be very helpful. If you take example of “Freedom 250”, the smartphone manufacturer. It created a buzz around by connecting to the “Make In India” initiative by the Government of India. The price was another factor which led the company to gain free advertisement benefits from different media channels.
Create buzzing campaigns on social media with great analytics. The Bullseye Framework is a lean approach towards narrowing down the numerous choices of marketing channels to the vital few that really matter. The methodology is based on clustering of priority along with constant experimentation.
THE “AHA” MOMENT
In his book Outliers, Malcolm Galdwell famously claimed that becoming an expert in a task requires 10,000 hours of practice. The claim provided a simple, quantifiable path to success.
Like Gladwell’s 10,000 hours, “aha moments” blend different experiences into a single number. As a result, they shouldn’t be viewed as scientific tipping points; they’re often round numbers picked in the middle of a range of possibilities. One Facebook user might kind of like Facebook after becoming friends with 4 people and 20 days; another might be addicted once they create 10 friendships in 2 hours.
The “aha moment” is a misnomer. It’s not a moment. It’s a set of actions that separate customers who find value in your product from those who don’t.
For Facebook this was to get the users to 10 friends in seven days. They knew that if they were able to do so, their likelihood of retaining the users will increase multifold.
So figure the Aha! moment for your own startup. And try to improve the onboarding of product so that more people reach that moment as quickly as possible.