User Acquisition Strategies Don’t Have To Scale
You’ve built a product, now how do you get people to use it and find a sustainable source of customers?
Do things that don’t scale. - Joe Gebbia, Co-founder Airbnb
Named The World’s 19th Most Innovative Company Of 2012 by Fast Company, Airbnb has added value for their community in ways that don’t scale. These tactics have had significant impacts on their product experience and helped them gain customers.
Airbnb now offers its hosts free professional photography services from more than 2,000 freelancers who have visited 13,000 listings across six continents. The startup realized the long-term benefits–such as improved aesthetics and verified property addresses–far outweighed the costs. Travelers are two and a half times more likely to book these enhanced listings, which earn their hosts an average of $1,025 per month.
It’s likely the strategy that acquires your first user will be different than the one that finds your hundred thousandth. You’ll need to experiment to see what works best for your product. Just keep in mind the impact less scalable efforts can have at any stage of your growth.
To help get you started, this post introduces you to 10 strategies for getting more users:
- Go Find Your Users
- The Viral Loop
- Word Of Mouth
- Social Media
- Guerrilla Marketing
1. Go Find Your Users
People always ask “Are you solving a problem?” but an equally important question is “Who is your customer?” Once you know this, you can seek them out and get direct feedback on your idea or product.
You need to be wherever your target users are. If you’re building a SaaS app for musicians then be on every musician forum, IRC chatroom and Facebook group. Add value and engage, don’t just self promote. These can drive high quality word-of-mouth referrals.
I’ve used Meetup in the past to find related events in London. You’re almost guaranteed to find a meetup related to your startup where you’ll have the chance to speak to fifty or a hundred possible users.
There are a number of communities for startups and founders to share what they’re building today such as Hacker News, /r/Startups and QUIBB. Share your product on these forums and you’ll receive direct feedback and a some traffic too. Although it’s unlikely that this will be your most engaged user-base.
If you’re looking for pure signups then you can submit your startup to a number of blogs & lists. Such as Beta List, The Museum of Modern Betas, StartupLi.st, Startups FM, BetaKit and KillerStartups. These users may be even less engaged but will help build an initial community.
2. The Viral Loop
A great way to build a user base is to create a viral loop around something related and interesting that leads the visitor to check out your product and then share it with their friends. Sometimes it’s an especially interesting blogpost or a related weekend hack that has share-ability.
Many have seen the Dollar Shave Club or Undrip videos. For some companies YouTube is a valuable promotional platform. Warby Parker responds to support questions via YouTube videos. With each video receiving from hundreds to thousands of views. These are the kind of experiments that can add value.
3. Word of Mouth
Word of mouth is an important way users find new products yet it’s something you can’t control. At launch it’s impossible to keep track of word of mouth but in the past I’ve recommended startups based on aspects of their business beyond just the product.
Do things your way, not the way your competitors do, and people will notice. If you’re building a SaaS service why couldn’t you send a personal email to your first 100 users welcoming them? Offering amazing customer service stands out, look at Zappos, 37 Signals and IntercomIO. They got attention from how they interact with their community.
Everyone loves free. For SaaS businesses freemium is a common tactic to entice users and increase morale. Uber often gives away free credits for new users at events and over the London Olympics they gave away free trips for each hour after a British Olympian won a medal in London. This stood out and I saw a lot more tweets thanking them in my timeline than ever before. Giveaways can drive traffic but visitors looking to win a prize don’t necessarily have an intent to buy.
For many startups simple referral schemes can drive sign ups but they require an initial user base. Dropbox implements this well by including an incentive their customers will value: giving them 500MB per referral. I see more of these invites than I do for any paid schemes from my non-startup circle-of-friends.
Starting a blog requires work but if you become a thought leader in your space it is very valuable for driving traffic. One tactic is to try guest blogging and write for another publication with an audience, mentioning your startup in the byline (or tying it in). This is most commonly used for products in social media, marketing tools and SaaS companies. Find blogs relevant to what you’re building. Leo Widrich succeeded with many of these strategies at Buffer.
Content is all about creating value for your readers. SlideShare presentations seem to rank so high in Google. For example the musician startup could create “Ten ways that musicians can find new venues” and put together some actionable content that drives them to their product.
My last startup focused on email but for many businesses Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the most valuable path. SEOmoz have a great presentation called SEOMoz for Startups that they gave at YC. Too many have been burned by algorithm tweaks and other anomalies so don’t rely on it alone. Having a blog will help this because more of your pages will be non-promotional and linked to by trustworthy sites externally.
8. Social Media
Social Media presence is very much about context. With the right tools it can work to your advantage. If you know who your customer is you may be able to find them talking about a problem that your product fixes. Little Bird is a new tool to find influencers within a topic. If you have a valuable product then interact, get feedback and you may find they’ll share what you’re doing with their community.
On Facebook I found that Facebook comments on product pages drove a lot of sales. Most people have a wider reach on Facebook than their Twitter following.
Quite a few founders have found value in Instagram and Pinterest as promotional platforms. If you can find a visual connect with what you do then they can be great. Scan has a beautiful QR related page on Instagram that is a stellar example. LaunchRock uses Pinterest to share great examples of customer launch pages examples.
Finally, Your product isn’t designed for everyone. If need be, send them to your competitors because you’re building relationships and showing that your goal is to help them.
Press can be brilliant but generally It drives a lot of short term traffic. Which press outlet you are covered in matters. I was once interviewed on French TV and didn’t see any noticeable change in traffic because it wasn’t the right audience.
Founders want to get on TechCrunch as much for the recognition and investor interest as the traffic. Having a story that goes beyond just a launch, such as traction, funding or an interesting angle, helps when seeking press coverage.
You may find that the smaller blogs around your niche are the most valuable because two hundred active users is better than a thousand that instantly drop off.
Help a Reporter Out is an almost sobering but interesting concept where journalists request stories to fit into their piece or segment. For example: “ABC news is looking for a SF based founder in the financial space to talk about X”. Make use of it if you’re trying to gain press attention.
10. Guerilla Marketing
Guerrilla Marketing is using what you have at your disposal to market your product in the real world. Sahil Lavingia left lunches at HackerDojo and wrote Gumroad links on them so that people could pay for them. If you do something interesting that shows off what you’re building there’s a good chance that people will share it and bring more attention than the original proposition.
Mastercard has given out £10 prepaid credit cards at London tech events through vendors using mobile payments. This is smarter for them than just sponsoring the food.
Go Build Your Own Momentum
These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg but the stories and resources in this post offer a good starting point to help you get your first thousand users. Startups are about momentum and it’s your job is to start building it.
Signup at LaunchRock.co to get your free account and start acquiring your audience today.
Editor’s Note: This post was excerpted and adapted from a post published by Andrew Brackin with his permission. Andrew is an 18-year old startup founder who previously founded the marketplace, GetDealy (100k signups) and runs the Tomorrow’s Web Meetup in London. Read the original post on Andrew’s Quora blog and follow him on Twitter.