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  • Writer's pictureTony Paul

How to get early customers for your startup

Updated: Feb 11, 2021

If you’re starting a company, chances are you build a product and then try to acquire customers. According to Marc Andreessen of VC firm Andreessen-Horowitz, many entrepreneurs who build great products simply don’t have a good distribution strategy. The number of early adopters is a key metric investors consider while funding an early stage startup.

Doing product development and marketing in parallel is a better way to build your product startup. You need to build only those features that are absolutely necessary for your minimum lovable product (It’s the new MVP).

Feedback from early users is critical in making sure that you are building something people really want. More early customers mean more feedbacks and a better and lovable product.

One of the easiest ways to get early adopters is to identify companies using a complementary technology. For example, a sales intelligence solution might work well with salesforce CRM(or any other CRM’s). You can pitch your product to those who are already using the salesforce CRM.

If you can clearly communicate the value, you can win the deal. But this method doesn’t work

for all kind of products.

We’ve launched a startup partner program two months  ago. Since then we are working closely with some startups building B2B and B2C products. Working with startups is always a delightful experience and we usually have long brainstorming sessions with them. Sharing great ideas and the opportunity to learn something new makes these sessions very interesting.

One of the partner companies has built a prototype of a Business intelligence product. They were struggling to acquire enough early customers and the complementary technology approach didn’t work for them.

During a brainstorming session, one of our marketing interns proposed an idea to acquire pilot customers for the B2B product they were building. The idea was simple, build an ideal buyer profile, match it with data aggregated from sources where their customers mostly hang out.

They targeted startups as signing up an enterprise customer costs more time and money.

1) Build an ideal buyer profile – Build the profile of an ideal buyer based on the characteristics of the few early adopters you have. This profile is built based on the Industry, a number of employees, annual revenue, the technologies they are using, the products they are using etc.

2) Aggregate data – The next thing to do is to build profiles of companies by aggregating and correlating data from different startups directories like,CrunchBase etc.

3) Compare data – Segment this data and compare with the ideal buyer profile. Set some benchmarks and narrow down the list. We’ve aggregated 5700+ profiles but after comparing there were only 650 profiles matching the ideal buyer profile. A quick hack to do this is by cleverly using the import contacts via CSV option in CRM’s. I use HubSpot CRM, but almost all the CRM’s comes with a 14-day free trial. 🙂

4) Enriching the profiles – Just having company profile data is insufficient, you need the E-mail addresses of the decision makers to contact them. There are many services for lead enrichment, but we use Leadintel, a tool we built in-house.

5) Contacting – They split the list into four. The first list of two hundred contacts was distributed equally among four founders. They tried finding a mutual connection in LinkedIn and asked for an introduction. It really worked and they got around 20 appointments via LinkedIn alone. They tried emailing the contacts and got a response rate of 15%. In two weeks, they were able to sign up 16 customers.

They tweaked the strategy and in one month they’ve had over 40 early adopters even before having a public launch.

Here are some hacks you can try to increase the e-mail response rates –

  1. Visit their LinkedIn profile multiple times before sending the email.

  2. Follow them in twitter.

  3. Retweet their tweets.

  4. Comment on their discussion in LinkedIn groups or Blog post.

The essence of these hacks is to build curiosity and making them familiar with your name.

If they noticed you, they won’t feel like getting an email from a stranger when you send the pitch.

Use tools like sidekick or yesware to track emails and follow up until you get a definitive answer.

Note: Hacks are for sensible use only.

Share your tips and thoughts below!



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