Founder Insight gives you insight from the startup trenches.
In a post from the Gridblaze blog, Mikhail Choo, Founder and CEO of Gridblaze, lists his favorite user acquisition hacks for startups in the early, middle, and late stages. A Graduate of the Singapore Founder Institute, Gridblaze was acquired by an indisclosed Silicon Valley-based technology company for a reported seven figure amount.
Below, To 1,000 and Beyond: Startup Growth Hack Strategies has been republished.
“Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s theory of business success was on the right track, but there was one important ingredient he forgot to mention – the need to get the word out. Without a growing user base, even the most brilliantly designed mousetrap will eventually be gathering cobwebs in a dusty corner.
Building that user base is a time-consuming activity. According to Gabriel Weinberg, you should plan on spending 50% of your time gaining customers. You might be looking at your to-do list wondering how you can focus on customer growth when you’re pulling all-nighters just to accomplish product development. The answer is simple, though the execution isn’t: you just gotta do it.
Marketing is crazy important. It’s the rare product that isn’t competing with a slew of other similar competitors. And even if there’s no one else in your vertical now, it won’t take long before they’re beating down the door. That’s why user acquisition should be a top-of-the-list priority. But, the way you go about hacking user growth all depends on where you are in your startup’s lifecycle. Here’s some strategies to pursue based on your current position:
The First 1,000 Users
You’ve flipped the switch, the product is live. Now who’s going to use it? There are several techniques for getting to that magic 1,000:
- Leverage your networks. This is where all that time you wasted building your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn circles finally pays off. Offer specials to friends and friends of friends in order to get the word out. Try to ensure that their experience is as awesome as possible, so that they’ll start referring their friends and friends of friends. Incentivize as much as needed.
- "Invent demand", as Steve Sammartino did for Rentoid. If your product requires interaction, you may have to start out seeding activity while early users are still checking it out. According to the book PayPalWars, the payment giant got started using a bot that purchased products on eBay, then demanded to use Paypal for paying the sellers. This pushed the market towards adopting PayPal as the online currency of choice. A suggestion from Sangeet Paul Choudray is to buy some initial users from platforms such as MechanicalTurk to get activity started for cheap.
Once you’ve obtained that first 1K, now it’s time to become a real player in the market. This stage is tricky as you’re still spending tons of time on product development, but now you’ve got users to keep happy as well. Leverage the strengths of this phase of growth using some of the following ideas:
- Niche your marketing by focusing on several verticals and then doing some good old-fashioned direct marketing via Facebook, blogs, AdWords and other targeted marketing avenues. You want to waste as little time as possible, so make sure the groups you’re trying to reach have a strong leaning towards your type of product/service. You might hit the jackpot. Then again, you might discover one of those verticals could care less. Be ready to pivot your focus to another group as needed.
- Build the product that users must have. Now that you’ve got a good group on board, be consistent about performing regular UI/UX testing. Everyone that’s currently signed up should be having the most awesome experience ever. If not, you need to know immediately. You want to be creating a product that people truly want, not just what you want.
- Create a few features that blow your users away. Obviously you want your whole product to be like that, but in reality, that’s pretty hard to do. You can kill yourself trying to come up with a whole product that is nothing short of “wow” or you can . choose a few key features and make ‘em competition killers.
- Get your users to promote you. In a blogpost for TechCrunch, Iris Shoor details how she went from chasing down customers for testimonials to instead recruiting those who were already contacting her. “After talking to users about their [support] request and learning how they were using our app and how it helped them be more productive, I asked their permission to write about it.” Publish those happy user statements everywhere you can.
Big, Bigger, Biggest
You’ve gotten a decent amount of users, but now’s no time to slack off. It’s only with a continued focus on building your business empire that you’ll ever have a chance at approaching Amazon or Twitter-like ubiquity.
- Reward your power users so that they’ll keep the word of mouth going. Offer discounts based on usage, give them exclusive access to new beta features in order to build excitement and stroke their ego by letting them know how valuable they are.
- Meet up with users by throwing parties on a regular basis. People love to meet (or at least be in the same room as) the founders of their favorite product. They also love to share their stories and experiences. By having live meet-ups on a yearly basis, you can generate excitement and give your users a way to connect with you and with each other.
- Keep getting feedback and responding to it. As the saying goes, “Evolve or evaporate.” User needs change, so keep your finger on the pulse by regularly soliciting and responding to comments from your customers. Avoid auto-responders if at all possible; there’s nothing like getting a real “thanks!” from a real person when offering up input.
- Integrate testimonials into site design by using the logos of your biggest clients on landing pages; by inserting “I love this product” comments from real users on every page; by hosting a Twitter feed from satisfied customers; by having a live sign-up feed. For more ideas, check out “The 6 Best Growth Hacks”.
At whatever stage of growth your company is currently at, the most valuable advice for having a profitable business still looks a whole lot like what Emerson propounded more than a century ago. If you build a better company, a better user experience, a better product and then throw in a little bit of growth hacking help, the world will beat a path to your door.
At Gridblaze, we’ve always tried to put these strategies into practice from developer acquisition and creating wow in our products. As in everything in life, it’s a constant spiral upwards in growth and never being satisfied."