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Ask HN: How do you get people to use your product when you suck at networking?
280 points by ziggystardust on Oct 2, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 100 comments
TL;DR: Built a simple web app product, can't get it off the ground. Help!

To give context to this question, allow me to explain my situation.

I have been working as a freelance developer for a few years now and at times the work load gets a little difficult to handle. That's when I hop on to websites like freelancer.com and upwork to find a few other freelancers to help me out. The results have been really bad, bad quality developers at extreme rates cause they have have paid accounts.

Somehow, on multiple occasions I've managed to find skilled and in-budget developers on craigslist. I presume this is because of craigslist's dead simple methodology and lack of rating systems or paid accounts.

Taking this into consideration, I built a little web app called FreelanceList.in (http://freelancelist.in/ still in beta.. or alpha-ish) thats follows the craigslist philosophy but focuses on freelancers.

Now the current situation is that I'm not able to get freelancelist.in off the ground! I'm good at building products with a team but have no experience with branding or promotions.

The projects I work on as a freelancer usually have an active audience or a good brand value hence, I have no idea about launching this off the ground.

What do you think should be the next step ? While you're at it, please leave a feedback too :) Thank you!

I have some feedback for you.

First, your business has to solve a very intense chicken or the egg problem. Quality freelancers will not join until there are good projects. And you won't get good projects until you have quality freelancers. In freelancing, the problem is even more difficult to solve as both sides of the exchange require quite a large investment in time. Listing yourself as a freelancer (and building a high quality listing) takes work. And listing a project also takes work. This is an obscenely difficult problem to solve and networking alone will not get you there.

Second, you decided to enter a market with a ton of competition. Your competitors range from the simple but effective (Craiglist) to the complicated but mostly useless. People who list projects are wise to the game - they know that most sites deliver shit. And freelancers are also wise. Whenever I've joined a freelancer website, I've been inundated with 'offers' to do 200 hours of work for $500 USD. How do you provide better value to both sides of the market?

Third, your website is quite bad. If I just navigated there by chance, I'd have no idea what I was even looking at. Much less would I have any idea what to actually do. Your language and choice of words betray a serious lack of professionalism. Work on your copy a touch and maybe find someone to read it over - preferably someone who will tell you the unvarnished truth.


"Due to some amount of trolling on the site, filters to be implemented and the site will be cleaned up within the next 24 hours."

That's not only a grammatical nightmare, but you're coming right out and telling people not to trust you!

Or, consider "no bullshit listings for freelancers." At best, that's an extremely unprofessional attempt to sound edgy and hip.

Good luck with this!! You seem like a good person and I'd love to see you fix this (badly broken) business.

Advice taken. Thanks for the straight forward feedback! appreciate it :)

The site was just a weekend experiment and is not even close to complete, so I'm at a stage where I can consider all your advice and implement whatever seems best for this project. - Clearly nobody thinks the title is professional, so that'll be gone for good - A lot of people said they had no idea what the site offered on the first look, so a landing page probably needs to be added

Good, friendly, free, advice! You'd be crazy not to take it, OP. Good luck!

Re ‘no bullshit listings for freelancers’, it worked for Gandi[1]. I guess OP is copying them though.

[1] https://www.gandi.net/

Gandi also used to compete heavily on price and used simplicity as a niche. (Less so now, I notice).

Nop. This is the first time I'm hearing of gandi.net but nice to know

At the end of the day it boils down to consistently making content and publishing it in multiple channels. Read Content Machine by Dan North and Authority by Nathan Barry. Both books give you really good insight into how to make "sticky" content. You will need to write articles on Medium.com and answer Quora.com questions - each piece should reference each other creating a web that drives traffic back to your central brand website. Look at the Garry Vaynerchuck course on Udemy, he describes how to use the various social media channels to build a personal brand. My website has been tracking how well his course has been performing http://www.coursenut.com/courses/udemy-building-a-personal-b...

Finally host your own landing page, stick Google analytics on it, and track how your visitors behave with Inspectlet.com and experiment with A/B tests (split tests). If you want to learn how to do this on AWS check out my course and I'll throw in a coupon and save 70% https://www.udemy.com/go-landing-pages/?couponCode=HACKERNEW...

Many thanks and good luck!

Is that course actually useful? Watching a lot of Gary V's vlogs and ask shows makes it seem like he only puts that out for people who are clueless.

Is it Social Media for Dummies or is it actual discussion of strategies?

Super relevant question at that point. I am highly skeptical on Gary Vs stuff as well.

I think his strategy can work, but the catch is you need some charisma and to persevere over a number of years, which are both harder than they look. Therefore take a hard look at yourself beforehand.

I start products with marketing as the base, that way when it comes to launch day, I have everything I need to start spreading the word about it. So many developers do their launch in reverse; they build their product, and then marketing is left as an afterthought.

So get your Producthunt invite, build some Karma on Hackernews, share useful links on Twitter and gain a following. Create Facebook pages, write tutorials for your product, do Reddit AMAs, do Reddit selfposts, etc

Try to add value as much as possible. All the best marketers I know are doing Youtube screencasts for free and showing their prospects that the company has a genuine passion for the product(s).

I agree with you completely. I built this prototype as a quick bare bones weekend project . Now Im looking to do the marketing and build on top of what I have or even throw away what I have and rebuild according to real market feedback.

As mentioned in another comment below I think a landing page is required to describe what the site is offering

It's good advice, but a full-time job---and if you aren't a "marketing person," difficult. It's why startups are often started by partners.

"Do things that don't scale" comes to mind. http://paulgraham.com/ds.html

You eventually want a product that users come to on their own, but in the beginning, you could talk to users on both sides to get them to come to the table. If you are interested in the space, this should come easy!

For instance, talk to people who want apps and sites created. Formulate their requirements into really great, attractive, clear posts on the job board. Give them logins to your site so that they can see the post. Now you have real users, and real job listings.

Now "advertise" the job listings, and/or your site in general with freelancers (tweeting the jobs, tweeting at freelancers, announcements with popular hashtags, telling your freelancer friends about the new site, etc etc). As others have said, when there are job listings, the freelancers will stick after their first click when they see there are listings.

Get feedback from both sides. I think the freelancers will be more able/willing to communicate electronically their feedback, and you will already be in touch with some people who had apps/site projects, so you can get feedback from some of them directly. Rinse and repeat many times.

I do think the existing freelancer sites need improvement in the personal touch area, so I think it's totally possible for you to compete, and even a major advantage to you in the beginning stages since I think success will hinge upon you doing things like this, which don't scale.

Good luck, please post a follow up to let us know how it goes!

This is the best advice I think you've received. Yes, the site needs work, yes, you need to redo the copy, but to solve the chicken and egg problem you need to contact people trying to hire freelancers and post jobs for them. Consider it a feature of the app. A walled garden that solves your chicken and egg problem as well as making your service a multiple better than your competitors.

When you can't keep up with your listings then you have "new problems" and new problems pay way better than old problems.

I had an idea to do exactly this, about the time Freelancer bought up the better freelance sites like RaC etc. Hold hands with the project owners to create decent, even good, specs - and then delegate the work in chunks to several developers. Sort of a freelancer production line...

Several things:

(1) Your real market is the people/companies seeking to hire freelancers. You need to focus the site on that. Once you start having jobs listed, the freelancers will come. Otherwise, as a freelancer there is no real reason to join unless you offering some other benefit. (2) It's fine if you only want to have freelancers from Mumbai or Bangalore, but if you want listings you need to open that up to more than just those to locations. (3) Change the Title of the page "No bullshit Listings for Freelancers" really doesn't sound professional and if you are targeting people/companies seeking to hire, may be a turn-off. (4) Create a landing page that tells what and why. I understand you want "simple" but at the same time you need to explain what/why/how.

based on feedbacks, here's a little demo landing page.. do you think its possible to work along these lines? http://freelancelistin.launchrock.com

Get good at networking. It seems like you decided that you're already bad at it. You got good at programming and it took time right? You're not going to get good at networking casually just as much as a 'biz guy' is not going to get casually good at programming enough to launch a product.

That's the plan @rublev :)

I'd be great if you guys could point me in the right direction but within the context of this project .

Problem with networking is it's largely a soft skill, so there's no playbook. There's no 'API' or associated documentation.

One of the biggest mistakes I made in my life was assuming that soft skills have no play book.

Then at work, senior people and invited speakers decided to have occasional lectures once in a while and explained their soft skills.

Yes, while advice is not as "algorithmic" as it is in mathematics, there is good advice - some of it well tested. Around the same time, I started reading psychology books by academics (Influence by Cialdini is a great one), as well as negotiation books. Suddenly, all the pieces fell together. I could often tie in the research to how people network.

Getting back to the point:

Everyone seems to recommend Keith Ferrazzi's book "Never Eat Alone". I myself have not read it, and the Amazon reviews are actually quite poor. Yet, everyone I know who is someone and has lectured about soft skills recommends it. The last time someone did, I asked if the complaints in the Amazon reviews were accurate. The answer was "Yes, but I still recommend it."

There are other hacks. Every week or other week connect with someone professionally and ask for their time: A half our for coffee, etc. Maintain a list of people to potentially connect with.

There is etiquette involved, especially if the person is very senior. Always be mindful of their time, don't be late, and don't complain if the other party cancels on short notice.

Then there's the issue of what to discuss when you meet someone. Learn about it. Read up on it. The most common advice I remember is: Butter them up and get them to talk about themselves.

Sorry I can't be more specific. I have not yet put this much into practice, so I don't want to come off as an expert. Just thought I'd repeat some of what senior people have told me.

One thing that worked for me was volunteering. I didn't volunteer to meet people, I only volunteered because I had time and wanted to do something useful. I met very interesting people this way, which was a surprise (to me) side effect. Another awesome thing is the type of people you get to meet - they are friendlier, more sincere and nicer than the ones you meet at normal networking (meetup.com, bars etc) events.

Cool, I used to volunteer in high school, but I used local clubs there to find those opportunities to help. Where do you go?

Surely there's a simple way to improve: go to events and talk to people.

I'm a fan of the book "Win the Crowd: Unlock the Secrets of Influence, Charisma, and Showmanship" - https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0060742054 Written by Steve Cohen, a magician, on the subject of charisma and effective speaking to groups of people.

I personally believe that networking, at its core, is an exercise in effective speaking. The goal of it being to convince the other party you're interesting enough to warrant further conversations.

I'd say the main areas of personal development to increase networking ability would be:

- Effective speaking

- Charisma

- Interpersonal communication

- Strong personal interests

This is all my opinion but I think with those four elements anyone can succeed at networking with enough effort.

I liked the definition here of the third item: http://www.pstcc.edu/facstaff/dking/interpr.htm

It's especially important to understand that a networking situation is a professional environment. I've networked with others before at events who immediately jump to some of the most inappropriate subjects and it just blows my mind. I think the prevalence of alcohol at these events leads people to that but it's just so unprofessional. I think if there's alcohol at a networking event people should just carry the same glass around all night. If you want people to listen to you being coherent and aware of social cues is key.

The last item is really just about having something to talk about. I was part of a coed business fraternity back in college and whenever we did pledge drives people would come to network with us to show their interest in joining. I remember how the ones who had the least to say seemed like they weren't doing anything outside of their subject of interest. Interests allow people to relate to others and gives them the ability to have something to say when communication has died down.

Again, just my personal opinion, and others may disagree which is fine. I grew up with social anxiety disorder which was so bad that I couldn't look at others in the eyes until late in high school without having anxiety attacks. I worked my way out of it by forcing myself into situations that made me uncomfortable and by looking into books like the one above to get ideas about how to communicate. The most important thing to do to become better at networking is to just go out and network -- nothing beats real experience.

>I'd be great if you guys could point me in the right direction but within the context of this project .

To a large extent, networking involves a lot of doing. You can read all the theory (and you should!), but you can only become comfortable networking by spending a lot of time meeting people. To this effect, one of the best decisions I've ever made was to work in public spaces.

Networking is like sport. It takes practice, in the sense of practicum.

..and if you ever find a pool of people always looking for projects to be done, let us know!

From the YC lecture series:

Lecture 4 - Building Product, Talking to Users, and Growing (Adora Cheung)


Note that your site currently doesn't work in Safari (desktop or mobile). A quick glance at the error console shows that you're using the Fetch API [1]. Polyfills are available.

Have you tried running any adverts? Ultimately, I suspect it comes down to either running a marketing campaign yourself or networking enough to find someone else who's prepared to handle that side.

[1] http://caniuse.com/#search=fetch

turns out I have been developing the site on safari tech preview and fetch api is only supported on tech preview! Thanks for the feedback.. I'll work on this.

You can use this polyfill and it should work: https://github.com/github/fetch

Done and online http://www.freelancelist.in/ . Thanks, you guys! :)

You should be using a polyfill no matter what; not everybody runs the latest builds. Some people don't even know what a latest build is--even tech people.

I think your title simplifies your issue to the extent it's difficult to answer.

#1 Is your product aimed at freelancers like yourself as you describe, for when "work load gets a little difficult to handle" and these busy freelancers are looking for "other freelancers to help" do some of the heavy lifting, but you (busy freelancer) remain the point person between the client on an already established project?


#2 Is your product aimed at everyone i.e. competing directly with freelancer.com and upwork.com where you are trying to: (a) get a market of clients to post their project needing a freelancer and (b) have a community of freelancers for clients to hire from?... With your revenue being some version of taking a small cut per job.

I realize your site is pre-beta and not finished. But knowing the actual goal here helps provide feedback and better advice for next steps.

Side note: How to get people to use _______ (fill in blank) when you suck at networking has very different answers depending on what the product is. Sucking at networking is rarely the main issue. I suck/don't enjoy networking but it turns out it only gets you started, other kinetic factors take over quickly (word of mouth by clients is an example).

Initial goal was #1 but no freelancer will stay on the site unless theres a steady flow of projects . So it turns out #1 is not a very sustainable model. The model will have to eventually move towards #2 But it's definitely not necessary that it'll move towards #2 as we are trying to do a direct feedback cycle of development. I guess we can Let it evolve?

Old side projects are the inverse of Moore's law - project relevance is cut in half ~every 2 years. Wait too long and projects become useless/outdated. Go after it soon or drop it. Work on something new.

A site for freelancers needing extra manpower from skilled "sub-freelancers" isn't such a bad idea. It could be sustainable and profitable. I wouldn't discount this idea too quickly.

IMHHO ignore "eventually will have to move toward xyz" thoughts creeping in at this point. No path is a must follow. Maybe there are third or fourth directions it could turn toward.

Again, hard to give concrete advice with the limited info, but:

(I) The site is not ready or close to ready. Start with a newsletter or email list maybe? Can be weekly or ad hoc. Potential hook: "Are you a freelancer who would like to be notified by email ONLY when a fellow freelancer needs some extra help on a big project that pays $ and requires skills you have?"...Time needed, skills needed, pay involved and lead FL contact info will be listed. Sign up here!!! (you can have check boxes for skills during sign up - verify if you can).


(II) Decide if you want to compete/join freelancer.com and upwork.com market. Why? How? What's different? How different? Are you sure you want to?...Networking with freelancers won't be your problem - they will come. Client side noise is a bigger problem (some people call/lump this with "CAC"). Displacing or joining market incumbents will be a pain; Need a =>product and money and luck and energy. Not impossible biz to get into but a slog.

Start a new HN thread when that project #(II) is actually beta ready and you have a 1-2 sentence why your site vs freelancer.com or whomever.

I vote for #(I). I bet there are freelancers who need help on big projects and are looking for quality, reliable second pairs of hands to sub-contract work to. Use that experience and email list to decide if you want to devote your life to #(II) as that option is a not a side gig type of endeavor. GL!

> Old side projects are the inverse of Moore's law - project relevance is cut in half ~every 2 years. Wait too long and projects become useless/outdated.

I don't think everything falls under this. I have some ideas I never got around to finishing that are years and years old and would still be just as viable today (just have to be made for a different platform, different payment structure, and somewhat different design). Although these projects I'm referring to are games.

That being said I generally agree with the statement.

I love the quality of replies that you guys are providing!!

I think I'm gonna combine your hook and newsletter idea with another posters landing page idea . If I have a good running email list it'll be way easier to get things off the ground !

Q: How do you get people to use your product when you suck at networking?

A: Ask this question on HN mentioning your product!

Damn... you're good!

Agreed. In case the OP is reading, I'm left with the feeling of having been duped into reading an advertisement where I had intended to lend a helping hand. I invite the OP to consider just how bad this is: I feel like my benevolence has been punished.

Tricking people is not a good marketing strategy. Part of the reason I visit HN is to see what others are doing. "Hey, look at this business I'm lauching" would have been an infinitely better headline.

Don't deceive. People will resent you for even the smallest, most insignificant deceit. Exhibit A: me, right now. Objectively, you haven't really hurt me, but I'm still ticked off. ;)

haha! no way.. The site is literally 2 hours of work and no way can be called a 'product'. This question popped into my head while working on the prototype.. I'm sorry if you feel misled but that wasn't my intention at all

No need to apologize! I just wanted to give you my earnest reaction, as I suspect others may have reacted like me.

And 2 hours of work is still a product! It's an efficiently-built product, which is a good thing!

Ads. Seriously. Say what you want about ads but they have helped me gain traction on both my games and my products. Only enough to get the word of mouth moving and after that it usually sorts it out itself.

I would advise against ads if you're just starting and don't even know if you have a real product on your hands nor how to run ads. That's an easy way to waste a lot of money very fast.

I'm talking ad spending in the range of $5-10 a day for a couple of weeks. That's usually enough for things to take off or at least see if there's any interest in your product at all.

Agree, ads are an optimization. They are okay as a multiplier of what you already validated to some degree

Disagree. Ads are great for validating your product quickly.

Do you have a repeat process you use with your advertising? E.g. to determine whom to target and on what platform?

Maybe ads could help you validate value proposition but here people was referring to investing a probably significant value in ads and not just using it to explore/validate marketing strategy, fair?

> people was referring to investing a probably significant value in ads

Who did? I started the discussion and if you read the whole thread you can see I'm talking about spending $5-10 a day.

Or hire someone that knows what they are doing? Such a common situation to see people with no experience have a crack at running advertising and then tell people it doesn't work. It's like someone trying to build a website without experience and when it sucks saying HTML is broken.

You are not at the branding and promotions stage - you are at the UX and user studies stage.

Your user experience is ... void of any considerations for your user. No way to search for a particular set of projects, no way to see potential matches, no way to see how old a particular request is, no way to unselect a city, etc.

I would strongly recommend you avoid marketing and promotions until you have iterated several times on real user feedback. Your current product will most likely leak users so you'll just be wasting money.

Don't try to get user testing through marketing - that's super inefficient. Just pay people directly to use your product and give you some real world feedback. Much faster, cost effective, and easier to do.

To address your need for marketing - I strongly think this is a red herring.

Don't spend effort or money to grow your website until you've validated that your website actually solves a real problem and does it well. It doesn't cost that much to validate and it can save you a ton of wasted effort.

I've skipped this step several times, and I can tell you it is not worth it. You can spend a year marketing and growing your project only to realize that it's just not a strong enough value add to be a business.

Your brain doesn't want to hear rejection so it often skips this step. But listen to reason. You can spend a week paying real users to tell you how much your app sucks, or you can spend a year of your time and energy and thousands of dollars marketing to come to the same conclusion.

Don't skip this!!!

I tried to list myself on your site but the only options for city are Mumbai and Bangalore. I guess I could just pick the closest, but it's still 4,500 miles...

I was hoping to start in India first and slowly allow other countries.. Maybe I should open it up for all right away?

Why would location matter for the bulk of freelancing?

It may be useful for local payment platforms e.g. if you started this in China you might advertise it so that users can easily pay using AliPay. Perhaps it's a business or regulatory issue - presumably the website takes a cut of the payment and working only in your home currency simplifies that.

Other issues are that you can easily deal with support requests in your own language and timezone (and cultural effects matter a lot too). If you live in India and deal only with Indians then you can respond to problems immediately. If all your jobs are in the US and all your freelancers are in India then you have a disparity there.

The simple answer to your question is that for the freelancer it doesn't, but for the platform it may simplify things a lot to keep it local. In fact at a hyperlocal level (say a mid size town) there may even be a more lucrative market than going global because your USP is specifically connecting devs and companies in the same place.

Personally when I'm looking to work with someone.. I always prefer someone closer to me. meeting once a week or even once a month to discuss the project is better than not meeting at all

Yeah, aside from: Developers in that part of the world often work for less than the federal minimum wage of the United States and you'd want to exploit them for profit.

Why don't you ask the developers that you have used off of craigslist what would make them want to sign up?

They are your target market, no?

Yes.. I can But if I call them on right now they might get an impression that it's a useless site with no project listings to apply for.

I am not saying to get them to sign up.

Interview them. Find their biggest pain with using craigslist to find work.

That is how you will "sell" your service. You solve their problem, and you can articulate that in an ad or forum post.

Just in case anyone is interested and wants to collaborate, This project is open sourced at https://github.com/Obsessive/FreelanceList.in

I've experienced the same with Upwork/freelancer. Rating systems seem really broken too on Upwork especially. They're either game-able or the platform must like to inflate ratings rather. And I've tried cheap vs expensive and there seems to be no relationship to quality as you pay more.

It's really frustrating as I know there must be really good guys out there but I suspect they establish 121 relationships quickly and move off a platform clipping their earnings. Or some guys start well for some jobs and then you can see they farm off work and the quality goes to hell.

I've considered this problem myself. The best solution I can think of is for a platform with physical offices in likely cities for cheaper devs. People work for an 'in-house' projects a known project manager that has high QA standards, and after X time proving them-self they get clearance to 'freelance' from where-ever and bid for projects independently. Or simply not allowed on the platform.

It would come at a cost of human management, but I imagine many would pay a premium for known quality. And given the amount of freelancer to jobs ratio there seems room to cull lower performers and maintain a stable of quality devs. I guess it would be something between Toptal and Freelancer....

Feel free to steal it. I really need something like this.

It seems like you built a product that you want. You've made the assumption that people other than you don't like using freelancer.com or CL. To me it doesn't make sense to try to make a product like this without first having several people tell you why they agree with you (that the status quo isn't good enough) and what they want different and are ready to use your beta when it is ready. Then use it yourself to handle your overflow. If that works well for people looking it may generate organic growth. But as others have said, use reddit etc. to keep getting more people to try your product and give you feedback.

I'm going to get downvoted for this, but make some fake content. Projects users can bid on, but will never win. If real projects get put up, manually try to get developers interested in bidding on it and into your system.

Yep it is completely immoral in this case.

In reddit's case they were providing real content, just created by them. In this case the content is completely fake.

I also think this would be harmful to the business. I have very few interactions with a service before I make a judgement on them, if most of my interactions go nowhere (as would be the case if they are fake) I would stop using the service.

However if the service was just slow I would be likely to still use it, just check it less frequently.

Of course one viable way of adding content would be to repost content from other sites - with suitable indications of course.

+1 to fake as in completely made up being a terrible idea. It might be a good idea to manually enter content you got in other ways, though. Like flip through other job listing sites, and copy some over to yours manually, or call up the companies and ask them if it's okay if you enter the info for their position on your site yourself. Then find freelancers either online or in person and do the same thing - copy their info over to your site, ask them if it's okay to do it, or meet them in person somewhere and do it for them. You'll have to be careful to not "spam" either side with too much content that they won't be interested in, or they'll all just block you. But it could make it appear that there's more activity on your site than there really is, which may make people who find it more organically more willing to at least try it.

They could define a few things that the site needs and use the site to hire developers to help build the site. It's real content created by them, similar to what Reddit did.

Reddit did the same thing initially. I guess it's "growth hacking".

Reddit isn't the same thing. Reddit is a place for people to find interesting content and interesting discussions. If those discussions and links are being created by 500 people or 1 frantic person the end product is the same.

Having people waste time bidding on fake projects that have no chance of happening is not the same end product as a realistic site where projects are posted by real people and have a chance of happening.

Also I'll tell you from experience: Even if your product is 100% real people who lose their bids are going to think it is a fraud. If you site actually is a fraud you are just going to burn through all the early adopters extremely quickly. The strategy should be the opposite --- have the content be so good that early adopters feel like they've hit a goldmine.

I would love to read/know more if you don't mind

This is illegal in USA and UK. Most countries have legislation that recruitment agencies must follow, and one of the stipulations is usually real and accurate job postings, because of the many scams and fraudulent practices involving fake postings.

OP should consult a lawyer about the relevant legal and licensing requirements for running a recruitment agency.

The easiest way to get there quickly is probably to partner with someone who is good at networking. If you're on your own, that brings a lot of other benefits, too.

So you're a freelancer, and your aim is to build a platform for freelancers.

What immediately comes to my mind is Justin.tv. It was originally just a website featuring one guy constantly livestreaming his life via a camera on his hat. Eventually it became a livestreaming platform and gave birth to what's now Twitch.

I've read a few comments in this thread to the effect of "develop a personal brand," and I think that's exactly what you need to do. Firmly establish yourself as a high-quality, in-demand freelancer, and then transition towards forming a network of freelancers. Maybe initially it'll only be people you've directly worked with whose quality you can personally vouch for. Once you show you can provide quality talent and have drawn in clients, then you can start opening up your platform to more freelancers.

I'll note that I don't have much entrepreneurial experience, so take my advice with a grain of salt.

Who is the target audience for your product? Where do they hang out? Who are the influencers in their communities? Talk to your target users and get feedback. If the product is a really great product/market fit then you don't need to network to get users. You need to make sure your product is solving a need for someone and then find ways to let them know about it.

I have found advertising online to be a full time job, one I'm not willing to perform, when development is also a full time job. I've gotten much better mileage out of attending meetups, getting to know people, and eventually doing talks.

I know you said you are bad at networking, but the market doesn't care. You'll have to choose: either waste your time for basically zero response advertising online, or learn how to get over or hide your personal issues long enough to make networking work.

I didn't used to like it, either. I have very strong opinions about modern corporate culture (emphasis on the "cult"), that it grates me raw to see so many other people aspire to such hell. I had to learn to just keep my mouth shut, avoid the instant gratification of telling someone they were wrong to avoid turning then off of me so I could focus on my long term goal of building my business.

TL;DR: mostly pull but with appropriate application of hustling

Networking isn't scalable unless you have something industry/domain specific and can reach influencers (top bloggers, users, etc.). It's probably better to work on appealing SEO, design and succint message in a way which automatically sells potential customers on its value. Let the product sell itself 24x7 so you don't have to do as much work. Then, once profit is coming in, think about a sales team and hustling others whom don't/won't self-discover. At the beginning, focus on schelping to solve real/hard problems, providing fanatical support to early customers and other things that don't scale; and eventually make the product experience so compelling they voluntarily spread the word as well.

For advice, do whatever you can to build a small community of dedicated users (like I could be for example.)

I went to the site and it was blank. Pressed refresh and took too long to load. I would never return to this site under normal circumstances, but since you made a case for yourself here I'll check it out another time -- if it's slow then I'd probably never go back. Use amazon to auto-scale your instances if you get too much traffic, or .. well really do whatever you can because a slow website will kill your business.

I am a startup with limited capital who needs competent freelancers, your site seems apt. Hope it works when I visit it next time.

Oh, also you have a troll who has posted a bunch of curse words. You probably need to filter for that.

One thing that might solve your chicken/egg/community problem AND troll problem is an invite-only list of a few dozen people.. make your product seem scarce and special, and then take great care of the few users you have and grow that way.

Make a great product. Know your audience. If they try it and don't use it then the product is bad. You don't have a marketing problem. You have a product problem.

Product and marketing problems are often very closely related, especially when the product depends on users actually using it. For example, what makes Hacker News special isn't the software, it's the users. Same goes for Reddit, Twitter, and lots of other sites.

Seems like sort of had been done before (and failed?) http://www.assemblymade.com/ unless I misunderstand?

What are you trying to say?

This isn't very compelling. I recommend solving different problems. (I hope I'm not harsh, I'm just trying to be honest)

Like you said, freelancers are both job seekers and providers. Get on freelancer's radar. Can you make a series of videos of you giving a talk about the broken freelancer market and what you are doing about it? UpWork brought ppl over by closing elances doors. You have nothing. Start a movement.

You have an extremely tough sell there. It sounds like you're trying to get in on a commodity product, without the sales chops. you may want to continue working for someone else -- that's not a bad thing, it just sounds like where you will be better off.

1. Networking is actually a very bad way to secure initial customers. It is very unlikely that you are going to find yourself in a room with your target customers. You'll end up wasting time and energy on people who are never going to use your product.

2. Develop a persona for your target customer. Make it tangible so you can imagine your end-user. Imagine how they go about their days. What their interest are; what their hobbies are. What they do in the morning; what they do at night. Their fears and challenges. What is the challenge that your product is solving for these people?

3. Now, you should have a sense of who you want to reach. It might be quite a broad category... 'Heads of Business Development in start-ups', 'Design freelancers on PeoplePerHour'. At this point you should be in a position to think about where you might be able to find lists of these people. Go niche, so you don't overreach. It's easy to capture a small market than a big one. Start small, and grow to new markets. Maybe, if you're building a freelancer website, it'll mean dialing down your target market to 'design freelancers in Aspen'. Try to find a directory of people online that meet this category.

4. Create a database of all these people. Only start with 100. It should have their names, companies, email addresses, and a notes column. Fill all this data in. This is a list of potential early adopters.

5. Draft these people a short, targeted email laying out in CLEAR and DIRECT language your valuable proposition. 'I spotted your were a design freelancer in Aspen. I'm building... I thought you might be interested because... Is this something you might want to use?' Follow up a week later with an even shorter note for people that didn't reply. RESPECT their details. Don't spam them. This is a PERSONALISED message.

6. You will receive two responses (a) 'yes' -- that's great, you have an early adopter; track their use of the service and value them; (b) 'no' -- that's even better, ask them why they don't think it's a good fit for them; ask them for feedback; why isn't it attractive; what would make it attractive?

7. Fill in your database with all these responses. After you have 20-50 responses, you have some important intelligence about whether you have built a product which ACTUALLY solves a market problem (i.e., you have market fit); if not, pivot -- build a product that responds to these people's feedback.

8. Rinse and repeat.

Sorry for the plug... people have told me that the most time consuming bit of this process is finding these people and their emails. That's why I built Find Emails Team. You can find it here: http://findemailsteam.com. For a few dollars, we can put a manual team to work to find these contact details for you.

Best of luck!

Hire somebody who doesn't suck. Get some social proof from reputable spokespeople.

Forward you app to your alumni

tutors and students alike?

check out growthHackers.com - its a forum specially devoted to your predicament.

There's a ton of competition. Try something else.

Attack a niche. You can't take the big guys on head-to-head, so take a small bite out of them... Pick a niche technology and then optimize SEO and launch a small ad buy for it. http://stackoverflow.com/research/developer-survey-2016#tech... (or magento, wordpress, unity, etc...)

even if you enter the space race, there's a ton of competition.

The idea of a bare minimal open sourced app is to build a product based on user feedback cycle instead of copying what other freelance websites are doing. This is the only way we can have an app that truly makes a freelancer happy!

Competition isn't necessarily a bad thing, imo. A lot of companies and successful businesses enter a field where there is a proven demand and need and find a way to stand out.

Peter Thiel doesn't think so. See "competition is for losers" et. al. http://www.wsj.com/articles/peter-thiel-competition-is-for-l...

There is a street in Tokyo with 70+ restaurants all offering the same product. They all continue to exist.

(Monjya Street) http://www.tokyometro.jp/en/attractions/monja_st/

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