Finding our initial customers
Startups succeed due to the heroic efforts of their founders
Hunters was a wonderful cafe in Bath that served craft beer, coffee and artisan food. It was a meeting place for tourists and locals. In Hunters I developed my mobile app game, Conxy, and found its first players. It was hugely exciting persuading people to download and play my little game. Without my mini sales hussle, over an IPA, to get things off the ground, I don’t think Conxy would have been downloaded 4,000 times.
Do things that don’t scale
For a startup to succeed, at least one founder will have to spend a lot of time on sales and marketing. - Paul Graham
Founders tend to believe that a good product is all that is required for success and that growth will take care of itself. This is not true. Products evolve into good ones through engagement with and feedback from customers. Startups take off because founders make them do so and a big element of this is the manual recruitment of customers. This is often a scary prospect for founders who prefer to work on the product instead. Paul Graham’s essay Do Things That Don’t Scale explains why founders should directly engage with customers. Based on Paul’s advice, Airbnb’s founders met early customers and improved their property listings with quality photos and text descriptions.
Founders should sell because they:
Get to know their customers and what matters to them.
Establish credibility with their customers.
Can dynamically adjust the product based on feedback.
Have control over their destiny.
How to sell
You don't learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing and by falling over. -Richard Branson
As explored in User Growth, for users to engage with our product, it needs to be visible, trustworthy and valuable. The best way to do this is face to face contact as Airbnb’s founders and I can attest. Another, somewhat more scalable, approach is via sales emails. Cold Emails to Hot Leads explores how to optimise the chance of attracting the attention of key people. Good sales emails:
Use clear and concise language with 6-8 sentences.
Establish social proof by indicating that you are the founder and describes your success.
Address a significant problem.
Include our website and ask for a call.
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. – Theodore Roosevelt
Our initial customers are early adopters who love new things and do not expect a polished product. We can expect this group to represent less than 5% of the total user population of a successful product. Hence, to a fair degree, finding initial customers is a numbers game.
The sales process is:
Prospecting: Establish a list of potential customers, including name, title/company, email and social media profiles. This can be drawn from our personal network and research.
Prioritise the list: Based on desirability of the prospect, expected ease of engagement and sales success.
Qualification: Send sales emails or otherwise approach prospects.
Sales call, including a product demo. Proposal, including pricing, is made to the prospect. Attempt to close the sale.
Customers start using and paying for the product.
Sales success metrics should be tracked, including: emails sent, open and reply rates, product demos and customer signups. Tools to help include: Apollo.io, Close.com and Hunter.io
Paul Graham Startup Essays post by Phil Martin
The story of Airbnb talk by Nathan Blecharczyk
Founding Sales book by Peter Kazanjy
In 1910, it took much effort to crank the engine of the Ford Model T to get it going, but the journey was worth it.