All your customers are partners in your mission
Not sure about customers being partners in the mission but without a customer base, you don’t have a business but a hobby. This holds true for any kind of product or service. Similar being the case for a blog, which is just another page on a server without a reader base.
Why 1000 customers?
Despite being a key aspect of building something, product/tech-oriented founders discount the distribution aspect of building. The emphasis on the product and what it can do, become such a big-time sink that very little focus goes on acquiring the first set of customers. The problem can be further simplified by acquiring the first 1000 customers.
Not thinking about the problem, often results in situations where we end up building something which is not needed by the market or building a product for a small market. Without getting to the first 1000 customers and understanding their usage behaviour, it’s difficult to tell if we have product-market fit.
Once you get 1000 people to try out your product and if a sizeable chunk of them continue to use the product beyond a month. You know that you have some kind of product-market fit.
This retention percentage will vary by the industry and the kind of business. For B2B SAAS, the monthly churn is supposed to be low, around ~2%, so that yearly churn is somewhere around 25%. The same number for the consumer market is a lot more lenient. The number is around 65% monthly retention for something like FB. This is an awesome video by YC here.
The first step to acquiring customers is to figure out the exact specifics of who, they are. You are trying to answer some of these questions?
- What are the demographics?
- Where do they live?
- What places do they hangout?
- What is the typical lingo?
A good idea about your user base helps in the next step of reaching out to them. This clarity in terms of the user base is needed to be able to work upon the next step of reaching out to the customer base.
Depending on the feedback and until, product-market fit is achieved, this user base can be iterated upon. As we better understand our user base and likely customer base, the easier it is to build the distribution.
Where do my customer's hangout?
The next step to identify all channels or areas where this user base hangouts. The next step is to present in those areas and just going about doing the raw hustle.
While it depends on where your customer's hang out but there are broadly two categories. Online and Offline. High-end products or services are only present in rich neighbourhoods. Online requires a similar approach and thought process.
Some very popular channels or areas with a community of like-minded people where they are active
- Reddit Community: Lots of homogenous groups of people with similar interest. Tightly controlled by mods and strict community conditions.
- FB Groups: Another popular hangout zone for like-minded people. From real estate search in cities to coupon hunters. Much easier to post and grow.
- Online Forums: Lots of online forums have a similar experience as above and good to reach people.
- Twitter: Another place to find early adopters and like-minded people. One of the best platforms for early distribution building.
- Youtube: This is another medium that has a collection of influencers and their cult-like
- Quora: Another Q/A platform and still very popular space to find out answers to some really interesting questions.
Now that we kinda have an idea about who the customer is and where they happen to hang out. Most of these good-quality communities have high moderation which is what makes the community great. Thereby, the approach to reach people has to be more nuanced and paced correctly.
The next step is to figure out a way to reach out to them. Though, we have listed a bunch of communities/forums. It’s not easy to promote or pitch our product/solution.
These are some of the ways to go about building this distribution. In the early days, it’s better to brute force things and doing organic reach. This helps in figuring out what works and also keep an eye on product-market fit.
- Youtube/Blogs: Evangelising part of the equation. This could be self-owned as well as borrowed through partnerships and deals with others. Very useful for deep tech products which need good explanation and context for people to get. Influencer marketing done right can be a huge moat.
- Google/FB Ads: The default way to reach people is to just go after and buy traffic using Ads. But to be done right, this needs a lot more homework. Very easy to burn money without knowing what you are doing. Start small and with a defined CPC to keep tight control and then slowly increase it.
- Email Marketing: Highly effective but a slow process. Emphasises the need to have the emails of your potential customers. Given Amazon SES and other tools, incredibly cheap as well. The big challenge with reputation management. Take time to build the base up. Great way to engage the first 1000 customers
There are other probable ways such as product hunt, PR etc but those are most useful either when targeting dev tools or post-product-market fit.
- Amazon SES + Wrapper: The way to scale emailing operations and cheap is to use. Works out to be $1 for 10,000 mails. This works beyond the first 1000 customers.
- Backend Analytics: Besides the obvious google analytics. Have a backend analytics tracker for users. This will help in prioritising, whom to call.
Lots of hustle required. Multiple channels but figure out which work for you and concentrate on the first 2–3 to get the early base of users. No need to get the marketing system’s productisation done yet.