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Ask HN: How did you acquire your first 100 users?
486 points by karthiksk2012 on April 25, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 183 comments

I’ll second the PG advice: do things that don’t scale is by far the most effective tool I’ve found for finding _and keeping_ users. I’m building small-business tools for fringe retail [0] as a side-project, and those users are usually more than willing to at least investigate new apps if they even have a chance of solving some real problem their business faces. Emailing them personally with a pitch based on a few minute’s research into their business reliably generates leads — and meticulous hand-holding through the first few weeks usually convinces them to stick around.

People are used to paying for software from Intuit or Microsoft or whatever; offering to build (tiny! like, 5-minute one-offs!) features _just for them_ sort of blows their minds. And those features almost always make the product better, usually in a way that I would never have thought of.

I’ve also had pretty great success with an old-school hack: I use an affiliate marketing scheme to turn our most enthusiastic users into mini sales reps. For every new customer they can sign up that converts, I credit their account with a few free months. It totally won’t scale, but it helps me grow into markets where I can’t physically travel out and do sales in person.

[0] https://quailhq.com

offering to build (tiny! like, 5-minute one-offs!) features _just for them_ sort of blows their minds

How did you manage to do that without making it impossible to add major new functionality to your app? Did you nail the basic functionality of the app from the starting gate and go straight into maintenance/feature-tweaking mode?

meticulous hand-holding through the first few weeks usually convinces them to stick around

This must have created some awfully high expectations from users, which is a double-edged sword. Were you able to keep up with expectations when you got enough users to sustain the business?

offering to build (tiny! like, 5-minute one-offs!) features _just for them_ sort of blows their minds

It seems worth noting that this can also be a dangerous strategy. It's really easy to fall into the trap of giving each customer exactly what they ask for, rather than learning what they actually need. If gone unchecked, this is the sort of product strategy that easily leads to disastrous results for product usability and experience.

This isn't to say that as a business you're always (or ever) better at knowing what your customers want than the customer is; but you are in a strategic position to be able to understand what similar customers are asking for, and distill that down to the core problem that needs to be solved.

I'm sure this isn't the extent that the original comment was aiming for, but it felt worth expanding on this since the whole topic is about early products getting users. A key component of that is ensuring you're building a product that people want to use.

A mitigation strategy here is to delay implementing any new feature for a single customer, in order to query your other customers as to whether they need the same or similar feature. Oftentimes you will find other customers who are interested, even if their exact needs are slightly different from the first customer's request.

Best case scenario you get to build the feature once, based on a spec that fits the needs of a larger pool of customers. This reduces the overhead of more customers inevitably requesting similar features weeks or months down the line.

Worst case scenario you still wind up releasing a feature that only one customer is going to use. At least you've tried your best to fold more customers' needs into a single unit of work. Better to have asked and found no takers than to have not asked and wound up with repeated requests for similar features once it's too late to combine the work.

> It's really easy to fall into the trap of giving each customer exactly what they ask for ... this is the sort of product strategy that easily leads to disastrous results.

do you know any product/company examples where this was/is the case?

See aianus response for some examples, I would also add:

- Windows Mobile (pre WP8): Customers may have asked for a mobile computer, but most did not actually want a weak version of their computer crammed onto a tiny screen. Apple and Google helpfully showed them what customers actually wanted with iOS and Android.

- Blockbuster: Customers may have asked for a large selection of movies for rent, but they didn't want a physical location they could drive to and browse through. Netflix gave people a new option (multiple new options)

- MySpace: "Customers" may have asked for customized/personalized profiles, but they didn't mean a dumping ground of random html and css that eliminates any sense of uniformity, brand, identity, etc. Facebook gave people the personal touch they actually wanted without compromising the experience.

Now, these are colossal failures, and we can endlessly debate whether you believe these failures were the deciding factor in their respective products. But I think we can probably agree that, at the very least, failure to cater to the actual customer need (instead of what they simply ask for) was a major flaw in all of these cases. And these are just a few examples.

Also, I'm not sure if it was intentional or not, but you cut my quote at an interesting spot. I'm not trying to suggest that a business should not cater to its customers' requests. Rather, that it should not do so at the expense of trying to understand the need behind the request.

I can't name examples, but I've worked for places where this happened, and the results were paralyzing. The only way to do it right is to add each feature as if all your customers were going to use it, but instead, people cut corners and write features in such a way that they only support the targeted customer(s). They compound the problem by adding special cases in the business logic to make sure the feature doesn't affect other customers even though it's broken for them. They add features for one customer that aren't even logically coherent for other customers. They lower their sights from "make this code work for every valid set of inputs" to "make this code work for all of our current customers, except the ones who won't notice because they don't use this feature yet."

The result is completely unmaintainable. You can't change anything because every piece of data has accidentally acquired special meaning.

"You can't remove the dog_shave_preferences column! It's how we distinguish between customers who were added before June 2013 and customers who were added after!"

The work to add a customer whose data doesn't trigger the right special case logic starts to be seen as a "new feature" rather than fixing bugs.

"Hold on, this is a fundamentally new set of requirements! We've never had a customer before who had the Bloop module enabled and had a logo bigger than 5k and wasn't AcmeCorp! We should have been aware of this new requirement before the customer went live."

The trap is how quickly people adapt to this kind of thinking, to the point where normal engineering starts to feel weird to them. I once quite seriously suggested creating a database table to record which customers a certain feature was broken for and had it shot down because people thought the byzantine special-case tests it would have replaced, which had no other purpose, constituted valuable business logic. The ideas and conditions we had invented to track the limitations of our code had started to feel like real business distinctions that they couldn't imagine living without.

Suffice it to say that eventually we slowed down to the point where declaring a feature freeze didn't feel like a drastic change to anyone, including our customers, and embarked on a substantial rewrite. It didn't end well. I've encountered another example that was a lot more sane (people knew they were doing the wrong thing all along and didn't actually start to believe in the reality of the distinctions they wrote into code) but it suffered from the same maintainability problems.

A word processor company named WordPerfect used a similar "feature on demand" idea quite successfully during their early years in the 1980s. They only abandoned it when it got just too unwieldy, but by then they had become the standard word processor for law firms. They eventually got sold for what was then quite a decent sum.

Horse carriage makers, Kodak, Blackberry

Very good points about avoiding support and customer service traps that you can't back out of. But I think in the context of how to "acquire your first 100 users," trying things that don't scale may be worth the risk. There's limits, I'm sure.

If we are choosing between the problems of:

A) Having users, with high expectations

B) Not having users

Problem A is a way better problem to have. Of course, no business would intentionally try to cultivate a user base of picky, high maintenance pain-in-the-necks. Nor would it be anyone's long term goal to be hacking on user requested features. But if those things bring users, easy trade. It's hard to think of any problem that would be more important than the problem of not having users.


There's also a difference between holding your customer's hand and building unsustainable expectations. The only expectation you've built by holding their hand through the onboarding process is that you care about your customers and want them to have a great experience. That's exactly the expectation you want your customers to have. Many startups have been incredibly successful at acquiring customers from incumbent businesses with more features and possibly cheaper products, by simply caring more about people.

At the end of the day there are people using your product (presumably). The more those people feel you care about them and their problems, the more likely they are to give you a little space as your business gets off the ground. Maybe they're willing to tolerate a few minutes of downtime, the occasional bug, or missing feature, because they know that they're always going to be treated well by your team.

Cultivating strong customer relationships is a great element in any business, and it's virtually a requirement in modern B2B.

It's hard to think of any problem that would be more important than the problem of not having users.

Having a rabid crowd that wants your head on a pike comes to mind. But if that doesn't apply, then your advice is sound.

> ...nail the basic functionality of the app...

As much as possible, yes. The app is essentially a point-of-sale system with a bunch of reporting features bolted on; nailing that core POS functionality in a way that kept it easy to build new reporting features on top was always my top priority.

> Were you able to keep up with expectations when you got enough users to sustain the business?

This is the situation I'm in now, actually -- most of my early users are in a nice steady-state, but I have lost a few who weren't happy with the drop in support as I slowed down on their specific, special-snowflake requests. All of them were also early adopters of the affiliate marketing scheme, though, so they've basically signed up their replacements already, and those users are entering into an app that's in a much more steady state, and have expectations set accordingly.

It's not a perfect outcome, and you're 100% right to call out those high expectations as a potential problem -- but as problems go I find that it's better to have demanding users than non-existant ones :)

On adding features:

You have to be flexible with how you classify your product. If you are stuck in "maintenance\small tweaks only" mindset you will constantly find excuses to say "no".

New features will break your model. It is your job to try and figure out if it is worth the cost. I typically use the "common customer" argument. If this would be useful to the "common customer" it gets serious consideration.

On hand holding:

Most people will "get" your product and stop calling you. There will be some who call all the time. You can use these calls to help direct your work eg: "I'm getting 15 calls a week about username\password issues, it is time to rethink the login\password reset process."

> For every new customer they can sign up that converts, I credit their account with a few free months. It totally won’t scale [...]

I don't know the market/business, but why not? isn't that what Dropbox does at scale?

I would go one step further and say referral promotion/advantage is one of the easiest and most common scalable "cheap marketing" tool. My bank does it, my dropbox does it, my hosting company does it, even the place where I buy my jeans does it.

The other interpretation of this, if you have millions of paid users, that are getting 5 months free.. that's 5 months of you paying the bill and not getting any revenue. That wont scale in terms of maintainability. At least that is what I assumed when I read that.

That totally scales if the new user long term value is sufficient to recoup these 5 months. These 5 months free are an investment, that may or may not pay off, but if it reliably pays off, then yes, it is a very healthy customer acquisition strategy.

To scale it probably needs to provide $ incentives, since power affiliates would rack up thousands of free months which they could never use.

Yes and no, you just need to offer credits. The point is not about re-sellers (that don't have the need to spend what they earn on your service), for those you need $, it's about referral, and if you're selling FOOs, you're probably fine selling a FOO with a 15% discount if it also guarantees you another FOO bought at full price, or even if both FOO are at discount.

People accumulating so much credit to the point that they can't spend it is a non issue in that referral (like Dropbox) is meant to be scaling wide, for scaling tall you need a re-sellers system (like say what Amazon or OVH are offering).

Alternative side, as a big company when I get a nice small startup that tries to fit our needs that way, I keep them close.

It's like the whole "you owe bank money" story. If you owe the back $1,0000 you have a problem, if you owe them 1 million, they have a problem.

In my experience, if you're that startup's largest client, they'll bend over backwards to help you succeed.

"If you owe the bank $100 that's your problem. If you owe the bank $100 million, that's the bank's problem." - J. Paul Getty

For every new customer they can sign up that converts, I credit their account with a few free months. It totally won’t scale, but it helps me grow into markets where I can’t physically travel out and do sales in person.

Why wouldn't it scale? It is a great way to make virality.

Lots of people come up with a good idea for a product, launch, then wonder where to get users. "Start with the market, instead," evolves their consciousness. I offer a different approach: start with the customer acquisition strategy and then build your product.

1) Build a landing page describing the problem and your solution, in terms of emotional value benefits

2) Drive paid traffic to the landing page. Get at least 20 signups. Boom, you're now at 20 users. Paid traffic = Pay Per Click ads. Try Facebook, Reddit, Quora, Google AdWords.

3) Build the thing. Write an email to your list describing the process of how you built the thing and how you found their names.

4) Cross post that very same narrative to discussion forums: Facebook, HN, Reddits, Indie Hackers[forum], wherever.

5) Search on google for one of those "web app directories" or "new startup directories". Block off two hours and painstakingly submit your app to every one.

6) Look for podcasts in your niche. Email all of them and invite yourself on as a guest

7) Look for influencers in your niche. Email all of them and ask them if they'd like a complimentary copy of your product (access to your webapp, etc) in exchange for a testimonial. If the influencers are all pay-to-play, find people who are active but on the verge of influencer status.

8) Send to your friends and family.

9) Post an ad for a usability test on Craigslist. You'll learn a ton and maybe get some quality users.

10) Post a Delighted.com or similar Net Promoter Score survey to your user base. You'll find the "holes" in your bucket that are causing you to leak users rather than compound them.

> 4) Cross post that very same narrative to discussion forums: Facebook, HN, Reddits, Indie Hackers[forum], wherever.

This seems more effective if your primary market is the startup crowd. It could also be distracting if they're not the target demographic and you overvalue their feedback.

I understand where you're coming from, but I disagree. For launching a new technology service, generally adoption follows a pattern: technologists (people who like tech for its own sake), then visionaries in the market itself – who use the tech to boost their own career and get an 'unfair advantage' over their peers, then the chasm. Then come pragmatists, who require social proof from peers in their market, and then conservatives, who require a full service solution (all the complements must exist, such as a support infrastructure). Finally, the laggards, who will only move to a new solution when they are absolutely forced to, such as when the incumbent discontinues support for its offering.

This has all been formulated in great strong detail in the book Crossing The Chasm. Maybe if you are implementing a 'commodity' service that is innovative in absolutely no way whatsoever, you can skip the technologists, but there is such a strong community of online entrepreneurs with a great support ecosystem that I recommend everyone take advantage of it. The only problem is that you have to pay to play – not in terms of money, but in terms of contribution (sharing what you know and helping others). In this case definitely, you really reap what you sow in the karma bank.

I would have to strongly recommend against number eight. It's almost impossible to be done tactfully and it's even harder to avoid the appearance of using your friends.

If I built something cool that I genuinely believed one of my friends would find useful then I would wait for them to seek me out with their problem and just give them perpetual free use with no strings attached and write it off as marketing.

Must depend on your relationship culture. My friends and family would be insulted if I didn't try my product out on them first.

It's worked for me, repeatedly, and it's also been a stepping stone towards a Friends and Family investment. YMMV.

Nice summary, but be careful with FB ads. It can easily suck tons of money for literally nothing. Even if you pay per click, you get clicks from absolutely irrelevant people (bots?), with zero engagement.

My heuristic is that I budget 2x expected LTV per channel for the initial test. So if I think my customer could be worth $100 over their lifetime, I will allocate $200 to reddit ads, Facebook, etc. If I don't get any movement in the funnel (clicking signup; actually signing up; paying; etc...), then I abandon the channel until I have substantially updated the product or messaging. If there is some movement, then I devote effort to optimizing the funnel, starting from the ad creatives toward each segment of the signup flow

My first customers came from emailing a discussion list for Photoshop plug-in developers (since I also make Photoshop plug-ins). I didn't get sales from that email, but one of those developers mentioned my product in their own email newsletter to 10,000+ subscribers, and that is where my first sales came from.

The beta testing strategy others have mentioned also worked for me. But instead of recruiting from beta directories, I asked people in my target market (so, asking for beta testers on Photoshop user forums). I put a long beta signup form/survey on my website, partly to learn about my potential customers, but also to weed out people who wouldn't give detailed feedback.

My best growth hack was giving those beta testers a discount code / link to share with their friends at launch. That encouraged them to talk about my software (and talk about the secret project they'd been helping with!) with their own communities. My beta testers also got a credit in the About box. I wish I could claim it was a carefully constructed marketing strategy, but I'd just thought it was a nice way to thank testers, and it turned out to also gain traction.

I wrote about my experiences running an early beta test, but it's from 2004 so it's highly embarrassing and from a pre-Facebook pre-Reddit era:


1. I scoured the reviews of similar apps and listed the main feature requests that were being stonewalled and implemented them.

2. I then set up keyword alerts for Reddit and Twitter and when somebody mentioned [similar app] I popped in and suggested they try Lanes which, btw, has feature [similar app] has not implemented.

3. I got lucky^. Photos of Lanes began appearing on Tumblr blogs (the #studyblr community) and readers began asking 'what's that website on your laptop'. Queue, lotsa signups.

4. The next 100: I listened to the first 100, intently.

^Of course that stroke of luck would never had transpired had step 1 not helped me figure out how to add value.

The app is https://lanes.io

As a side note to #2, I tend to monitor reddit for people who do that in response to my stuff...I watch discussions on reddit, and when people pop on just to pimp their own competitive products, I remind them via links to reddiquette that such behavior is not appropriate. Reddit is a funny place in that they'll stick with their own, and wait for you to implement a feature vs. jump to someone they think is on reddit solely to market their own product.

Of course, I've also found reddit traffic to be fairly worthless. They show up. They don't buy.

Yes, I should have stipulated you're not simply chasing every mention of a competitor and shouting 'me too'. That's lame, and - as you mention - mostly worthless.

Rather you're keeping an eye on the convo so that should somebody's point of frustration intersect with your solution you can let them know and see if they agree.

The product looks cool. Seeing as it's a free service, how do you make money?

Edit: nevermind, now I see the option to upgrade to lanes plus

FYI: your website is broken on my android phone, it is too wide and doesn't allow me to scroll.

How did you set up the reddit alerts?

Lanes looks really neat! I'll be giving it a go, it does a lot of what I want.

How do you make money or hope to make money?

> hope to make money

Definitely this one. The app is free out of the box but there's extra features for those who want them - productivity insights, Pocket-like features etc.

Getting the first 100 users has actually been the easiest part of the process. It's getting 100 daily new users that's really hard.

For Standard Notes[0], here's what I did:

1. Comment on privacy related HN posts about a privacy-focused notes app. That would have gotten me 40-50 users.

2. Write articles[1] on encryption/privacy/webdev. Some of them made it to frontpage HN, some didn't. That might have gotten me to 500 users.

3. Repeat. Tirelessly. Painstakingly. Depressingly. Just keep going doing small things every day. Eventually they start to compound.

[0]: https://standardnotes.org

[1]: https://journal.standardnotes.org

>It's getting 100 daily new users that's really hard.

I'm part of a local business networking group, and we have members with businesses of all shapes and sizes, from "just launched two months ago" to "I hit 20 employees seven years ago". We were chatting about picking up new followers on social media and I mentioned that you have to celebrate the little successes. One member chimed in "yeah, we got 1000 new follows in Instagram in the last week, which was neat" and I thought to myself "I said little successes". I recently hit 700 total, which was nice.

It does start to have a compounding effect, though. People start giving you word-of-mouth, or take you more seriously when they see how many others are using your product, etc.

This seems great. I'm a big fan of open source but I often hear criticisms from people who are deathly afraid that they can't make money if their source is libre.

Do you have anything to say about the difficulties of running an open source shop? Do you worry about competitors taking your code and standing up their own sites?

Honestly the app being open source is the least of my worries. The source code isn't the hardest part of running this operation. It's really the persistence in keeping going every day, even though some weeks you may see so little results. That's a very hard thing to do, and I doubt someone else will have that same passion with something they didn't make themselves. Other than that, the brand is more important than the code. You can copy the app but you can't copy the message in an authentic way.

I couldn't find pricing information at all on your site for extended...

We provide SAAS to financial institutions and their corporate clients (so the below may not be relevant to your market):

1) make sure your service is a pain killer not a vitamin. This industry does not believe in vitamins and we didn't have the resources for such a long closing cycle. Our tech can be deployed in minutes, is easily understood and requires very little to no backofdice Support 2) Cold call to get meetings. I can't emphasize enough how powerful a cold call is. People on Wall Street get hundreds of emails a day but they are trained to always answer their phone. Be nice, be genuine, solve a painpoint 3) "ask for the order". Sales cycles can drag on, at some point you have to draw line in the sand and ask for the order. Do it humbly and respectfully and be prepared to hear no. The will almost always say yes

Final thought: we never took VC funding. In the beginning friends and mentors said we should as it would "add to your credibility", anecdotally I believe the opposite has happened. I've sat across from many entrepreneur CEOs who chose us not just because we were good at what we did but out of a desire to pay it forward. It's the unwritten code among founders: you grinded to get where you are and people who had no need to helped along the way, you do the same when the time comes. Point of this story is find these people as early as possible, they will become your champions.

Interesting. We haven't had much luck with SAAS in financial institutions. In our experience they want everything on site and running on their own hardware and software. How did you manage to convince them? Or are you limiting yourself to smaller players where it's less of an issue?

Answer here depends on what you're hosting and doing for the bank but generally...assuming you do not require complex integrations into BBG or proprietary tools you should be able to host off-prem. We fought hard for it and eventually got through and our clients greatly appreciate it (we can update very quickly). The key here is selling through the front office instead of the back-office. The golden rule of selling software to a bank is that clients value making a dollar more than they value saving a dollar so do your best to position your solution around that and target the front office. They'll ram it through the system if it indeed is true. PS: happy to chat further "offline/hn". Email me (in profile)

EDIT: Assuming your service is SpiderOak, from my experience/perspective this would be a very hard sell to a bank. They have (albeit inferior) solutions for this and will not trust a third party to do it easily. I wouldnt even know how to go about selling it given you would have to go through the COO and vendor department. We offer a "similar" service in that we host virtual data rooms that contain tons of proprietary / confidential data. The difference is we do it in the context of a transaction (a front-office P&L event) which makes it a much easier sell. It's also not permanent.

Thanks for that!

Oh and for the sake of completeness: I'm not in any way affiliated with SpiderOak, though I suppose some of my post history mentions SO quite often as I'm a rather heavy user of their services.

What's your product/website?

See profile.

I've launched a couple of startups, and usually the combinations of these yield the best results -> word of mouth, reddit comments/posts, quora answers, hackernews posts/comments, comments on top SERPs, twitter posts + following leads, get listed on comparison/review sites or blog posts.

Of course comment when relevant, offer something useful and contribute to the discussion. Don't just spam link to your startup.

tl;dr -- offer customers something they can't buy at a price their willing to pay.

My personal, non-software example was to identify an untapped opportunity in my field, technical recruiting. My clients had 20 to 100 employees, no internal technical recruiter, had already recruited their core team, has run out of organically generated people to interview, and had raised a Series B or later in funding. In 2010, the only options available to them were contingency recruiters, contract recruiters who wanted 6 to 12 month full time contracts, and inexperienced admin staff (aka not experienced technical recruiters).

After learning that it super competitive to sell traditional recruiting services to my clients, I decided to develop a workflow that allowed me to offer them part-time hourly recruiting with no long term commitment. Typically this started off as 10 to 30 hours a week with no commitment (aka fire me at any time). This model worked great, and in 2 years I scaled from just me billing 30 hours per week with one client to 15 people (part time & full time) billing several hundred hours per week.

Service business are not software businesses, but they do share at least one thing in common; selling a product or service customers need & can't buy in an industry you understand is a heck of a lot easier than trying to make something up from scratch.

Good luck!


Wow that is really interesting, how did you manage to sell them a paid (hourly) service when as you said they had firms knocking down their door doing it on contingency?

I managed to develop a pipeline of mostly referral business. When people come to you, it's a different kind of sale.

Not the OP, but commission-based recruiting seems to incentivise the wrong kind of recruiting, i.e. "find someone we can shove down their throat". I would personally rather pay an experienced recruiter by the hour, even if it meant fewer (hopefully higher quality) leads.

I agree, but the incentive for hourly is to wait as long as possible to introduce the candidate, right?

I think the idea behind hourly is to provide the best "bang for their buck". If your clients feel cheated, they will fire you.

Evidently OP did a good job, and made them feel like they were getting high value.

And that was basically the pitch... "We aren't magic, we just do what you would do. If you have the tim to recruit yourself, do it. If not, give us a try, and if it's not working, fire us."

These got Readlang's first 100 users:

1. This post to a language learning forum: http://how-to-learn-any-language.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?T...

2. This post to r/LanguageLearning: https://www.reddit.com/r/languagelearning/comments/1b08ly/re...

If there's a subreddit where your potential audience hangs out that's a good bet. Try to be honest, humble, and non-spammy.

I didn't knew about your website, and I was planning to improve my Italian soon. Seems I'll be starting right now, and it comes really handy to read the newspapers.

Good stuff!

[Readlang] You are missing a sign up link on your home page... I can sign up after installing the chrome extension, but that's just strange.

Alongside the "Install Web Reader" link there's a "Start Learning" link which will take you into the web-app and allow you to sign up. I figured "Start Learning" would be more inviting than "Sign Up" but this is something it might be worth AB testing.

I know, but almost every site has sign-in and sign-up link at the home page. I am a developer, but was confused how to sign up. I thought it was some kind of invitation model... I do not see any problem with putting a sign up link on the homepage. The more ways for your to sign up, the better.

Cool product. I noticed that in the reddit post you offered it to people for free. How did that pan out?

Thanks! It worked fine to get some initial feedback and users. A few months later I added some limits to the free plan and offered a premium subscription, currently at $5 / month or $48 / year. Around 2% of free signups end up converting to paid.

Getting the first hundred users in itself is not hard, post to forums where your users hang out and you'll be at 100 users fairly quickly. The hard part is getting users to keep coming back to your site aka engagement.

The best advice I have come across to get your initial users : do things that don't scale [0]. Yeah, everyone read that post by PG but a surprisingly small number of people actually apply it to their own projects/startups. Practical example : I am building a community for programmers [1], so to get some initial feedback I posted to a Python subreddit and got the first 50 users. I got a lot of valuable feedback, but users hardly came back to my site after a couple of days. So I decided to follow up individually with users who had signed up and started a conversation about my site. I explained to each user what the site is about, how to use it and asked for feedback. I also asked them what their first impressions of the site were and how it can be improved. I learnt that people did not even understand what my site was about, and I knew that I need to focus on conveying the essence of the site to new users. (Still working on it) You gain a lot of insight about users by having conversations with individual users. I managed to help 3 people with their Python related problems so far, in the chat room https://www.metalmanac.com/topics/python/chat/

Once you get a small number of users who are passionate about your project, continue talking to individual users and ask them to share it with their friends and offer to guide each user individually, it works very well. This is obviously not scalable beyond a few hundred users, but getting those passionate users initially is critical. I am currently at this stage.

Once you have a group of 100 or so passionate users, you can share it with a wider community of users (eg- PH, HN for tech projects) and continue focusing on having conversations with individual users.

[0] http://paulgraham.com/ds.html

[1] https://www.metalmanac.com/

Ok, I bite. I went to your site and then clicked to learn javascript. There is a short description about javascript and then a couple of links to javascript tutorials. What now?

This is exactly the problem users are having. Since the purpose of the site and how it works is buried in the About page, people are clueless about what to do next. I am redoing the front page to only focus on explaining what the site is about.

The idea is this :

* provide a community reviewed wiki explaining what X is about and how to go about learning it. The aim is to answer the questions how to learn X programming language/framework/platform and what are the best resources to use.

* provide a Stackoverflow like QA section for users to ask and answer questions.

* provide a forum to submit and discuss learning resources (like HN)

* provide a chatroom to replicate the IRC experience

As you can see this I have completely failed to convey this. So that's what I am working on now : to convey the purpose of the site and improve the UX and UI. Reason for completely failing at this : I focus too much on the tech, the backend, unnecessary optimizations and time wasters like load testing.

It's a decent idea. I think a problem will be that you are trying to compete too much with stackoverflow.

* "provide a community reviewed wiki explaining what X is about": http://stackoverflow.com/tags/javascript/info

* "provide a Stackoverflow like QA section": http://stackoverflow.com/questions/tagged/javascript

* "provide an chatroom to replicate the IRC experience": http://chat.stackoverflow.com/rooms/17/javascript

My hypothesis is that 99% of the people who use Stackoverflow only visit the QA part of it and things like the community wiki and chatroom receive minimal traffic. From talking to a few dozens of users, most people don't even know that the chat room and wiki exist!

The current number of users in the Stackoverflow chat rooms

> with 100 users currently talking in 57 rooms.

The usage of the chat is shockingly low.

I think there's room to provide a better learning experience for developers and providing chat rooms for developers is a low hanging fruit IMO. People here on HN know about IRC and how to use it, but we represent a very small fraction of the population interested in programming, so the idea is to tend to the general population eventually.

This is the first I've heard of a wiki or chatroom on S/O and I probably won't visit them now I know they exist either.

That's definitely part of the issue. When I viewed your site, I didn't have a clue what it did, or whether those were the only categories (they seem to be) or what features were even available here.

But I think your bigger issue is that your site feels completely dead. I mean, it's not hard to find the QA section or chat when you view a topic, but the lack of activity here means there's no real incentive to contribute. I mean, why ask a question if no one else is asking or answering any questions?

So my advice would be to focus on getting the site active to begin with. Maybe do like Reddit and make a bunch of fake users to ask questions about Django and Javascript and whatever else, then answer them with either your main account or one of the other fake ones. That way, when people view the Q/A pages or chats, they'll think there's an actual community there willing to help them out, and actually post a few questions.

It sound like you are trying to compete with codementor.io the problem is that Metal Manac doesn't say anything meaningful and it looks kinda boring with just the bootstrap and no theme. You need to work on the integration between the features and UX, make it memorable! There was a HN tread recently that even bad web design can bring you more visitors/users as long as it's memorable and stands out from the croud.

I agree with you. The site is still very, very early and I am currently focusing on the UI and UX to make the site memorable. Thanks for the honest feedback!

Well, your browser info and metadata have now been sold to third parties for a few pennies, so I'd say mission successful for site owner.

Are people actually still this naive? Reading HN users makes me feel like I'm trapped in the 80s where the internet was a magical mystery that nobody really understood. It's about 40 years too late to just assume the average trash website is actually a meaningful statement about something, or a viable product of some sort.

99.9999999% are just junk. The big ones, you already know about.

> 99.9999999% are just junk.

And that, my friends, is how the mystical nine nines was finally achieved!

Well, what IS the site about? I read your post and went to the website and spent a good 15 seconds trying to figure out what it's about.

Easy fix is just take what's on the About page, strip it down to its bare essence and slap it on the landing page, on top of the search bar but in a way that it stands out (i.e. it should be the first thing users will read).

That's what I am currently working on. The home page will primarily focus on explaining what the site is about. I am thinking about using gif+text to explain how the site works.

At my previous startup which was a home scrap pickup service in India, we acquired our first few hundred users with word of mouth, offline event participation (in an exhibition) and getting an article in a local newspaper.

The exact path to getting the users will differ based on what you're attempting to do. In an awesome HN comment for business advice (a few days ago) I came across this awesome book called Traction; which is like a cookbook for user acquisition. I'm reading the book right now and it should give you a lot of ideas!

Here's what I did for my Chrome extension [1]:

1. Searched the Chrome Web Store, Twitter and Google for users who had said lukewarm or negative things about another extension which addresses a similar user problem in a different way.

2. Searched the same places for people who were clearly interested in the topic of focus and email productivity.

I spent a day or so manually emailing several hundred people in this way. This initial push - and the events that it lead to (e.g. people I contacted recommending the extension to others) - got me 100 WAU within a couple of weeks (and lots of helpful feedback).

(I tried some other things which were much less effective. Listing sites, in particular, were largely a waste of time, though my Product Hunt submission came good when the extension was featured a few months later.)

[1] https://inboxwhenready.org

Treat your business like a consulting service, and treat whatever technology you have not as the end product but as a tool you use to provide whatever service you are providing at higher quality or at lower costs.

Essentially the "do things that don't scale" advice is just this. It puts your technology at the backseat.

I am curious, what is your personal experience with this approach? can you elaborate?

IBM moved much of their business to that where it's about services + their own tech. Many firms used 4GL's or other productivity boosters to deliver more deliverables to customers for same or reduced price. Sun had a neat language for web apps called DASL that they didn't publish since they used it internally for customers they delivered sites/apps to. Google and Facebook develop a lot of software that could be products in themselves just to improve their real stream of revenue from advertisers. Android is a prominent one where they practically give it away to get the ad money from their built-in apps. I developed a mental list of tools and tactics to knock out a large swath of vulnerability in systems and networks that people would only get consulting with me. And so on and so forth.

Nice question. I am just wondering if anyone will disclose their current killer acquisition hacks. Moreover, the question heavily depends on your business, so is it B2B, B2C, online, app, bot, etc.?

However, a good read on this which tackles all ways of user acquisition/Marketing is 'Traction' from the DuckDuckGo founder. It's not an exciting book but gives an ok overview.

You could also just start with the channel which seems most obvious, set up analytics from day one and iterate over and over. With this approach you should get a good feeling if your acquisition strategy works and if yes you should optimize. Otherwise move on to the next channel.

Edit: When you search for Traction on Amazon.com there's also another one on #1 (good Amazon search hack from another other author btw) which is not the mentioned book (the one I mean is blue-ish)

> I am just wondering if anyone will disclose their current killer acquisition hacks.

I see this attitude all the time. Why are people so worried? The fear is this weird chain of reasoning: As soon as you say it tons of people will automatically conclude it is a good idea -> tons of them will be in a position to execute it -> people will flood to the strategy and somehow take away the returns because it is a zero-sum game.

But I find that for every person on HN who automatically concludes something is a good idea, there is another one who disagrees. Second, not everyone is in a position where someone's genius growth hack is even applicable. Third, some of these strategies would still work even if tons of people used them, such as "do things that don't scale." The point is that they are localized.

I guess you can't rule it out, but the chances seem smaller than the number of worriers suggests.

> I see this attitude all the time. Why are people so worried?

If you find the map straight to a goldmine, why should you share it?

Example: Last month you found a new way to target on FB ads (=> mix of ad creatives, country and interest), with tons of traffic at ultra low CPC. The space is quite popular and you are surprised yourself why no one else found this way. Conversions are sky-high and it seems not to end.

Why should you share this? If you share you will destroy the low CPC within days. If you had ever found a goldmine in the past you might understand. And if yes, please share this goldmine.

You can make this example for every Marketing channel. People never share current tactics, only old stuff which isn't working anymore.

Edit: Why the downvote? I try to explain opportunistic behaviour and I understand and even agree that this behaviour isn't nice or something we would expect. But downvoting seems to be easier than replying properly...

I didn't downvote you, but your post seemed narrow-sighted, focused on a single goldmine as if it's the only one that will ever exist. If obscurity is your only defence, it isn't a strong competitive moat. Better to have a technique for finding lots of goldmines.

> If you had ever found a goldmine in the past you might understand. And if yes, please share this goldmine.

I did this once on HN, over a year ago. I shared an exact technique that made me a 50%+ return during the year after I posted it. (Okay, maybe that's more like a tiny mini treasure chest, but it was still a money maker.) I'm not sure anyone even read it. Even if you give people a goldmine the majority won't be in a position to take advantage of it. Or perhaps they have better opportunities.

Sharing tactics can help you make contact with other interesting people, who are open to collaboration or cross-promotion and who provide you with opportunities in return. It's basically the Patio11 / Patrick McKenzie strategy.

I think I can see your perspective now, though I don't agree.

> If you find the map straight to a goldmine, why should you share it?

It's not that you should share it. It's that the risk of people flooding to your strategy and ruining ROI is low, so if you want to share it for some reason (e.g., contributing to the community, being nice), I don't think you should worry.

Your example is artificial. In attempting to justify a fear that I find overly common, you've provided an imaginary scenario where that fear might be justified. I don't think it addresses the argument well. Plus, even in your example, I think the risks are low. Lots of people have to read your comment, believe you're telling the truth, and most importantly, be set up to quickly use the information to drive traffic to their own site. Chances are their products aren't exactly the same as yours, and the conversion rates might not be so high for them. Many will anticipate this and not even try. Everyone else will just extract the higher level "insight" from the keywords and move on.

I'll share a story. There is a very successful company called Ravean, they sell coats and sleeping bags with heated linings. They've done several million on Kickstarter over the past few years. The founder of Ravean did some interviews and explained his ad strategy. He said initially he tried advertising with keywords targeting camping and outdoor consumers. Eventually, after burning up 7 or 8 grand, he erased all his keywords and targeted crowdfunding enthusiasts with keywords like "Kickstarter", "Indiegogo" and "crowdfunding." He claims his conversion rates jumped way, way up. In the interviews, he says "I should charge for this advice." Now he does charge for it:


So, even though there is a freely accessible interview, online, where this guy gives away his knowledge, he still makes money selling the same advice to other people. There is such a sea of information out on the web that any one thing is very likely to get lost.

The Ravean advertising trick is as close to the scenario you mentioned, and here I am, sharing it with HN. But how many people will really read this comment? How many will be doing crowdfunding campaigns in the near future? How many will immediately jump on the advice? Will it move the CPC needle? I doubt it.

Every gold rush in history has ended up that the most money is made selling picks and shovels, not working a claim.

This is why there are so many firms selling marketing tools rather than selling marketing directly.

>I am just wondering if anyone will disclose their current killer acquisition hacks.

I was also confused by this statement, but for a different reason. There is, of course, a mixture of a science and an art in promoting one's own product - but in the end, it should catch on if it actually provides value. A "hack" in this context sounds to me like what you'd call some sort of trick to peddle a product that isn't meant to provide value.

Thanks, Traction sounds helpful; I see now that 'boring' practices and advice (etc.) are quite necessarily better for business/software/technology development audiences like us.

My go-to list:

1. Launch your product on BetaList

2. Create a blog and write a lot. Don't create trivial content. SEO is important but write because you have interesting things to talk about, not because you have to create "content".

3. Share as much as you can on twitter/Slack/FB groups. But never be spammy.

4. Being actively engaged on Twitter (yes!) by regularily searching for your main 1-3 keywords.

5. Start soon with link building. It's hard but eventually will pay.

6. Word of mouth. Encourage and make it easy for your customers to tell others about your product (no, not by including dumb social sharing buttons!)

What not to-do:

Don't start with Ads prematurely. No matter what the platform is. The don't pay initially and will cost you a lot.

>>Don't start with Ads prematurely. No matter what the platform is. The don't pay initially and will cost you a lot.

If you're still in the validation stage and want to identify if you do have an idea that people want and can iterate fast, then ads are a surefire way to get people to your site (as long as you're targeting the right people).

Yes, you can but they can cost you a lot (~2.5$/click on avg on Adwords, and $7/click on Linkedin) and you might want to find other ways to achieve the same result.

I didn't know about betalist.Yes i am trying my hands in content creation and blogging. Thank you for the feedback.Very helpful

Beta websites are amazing. when we entered our closed beta for Tack; http://tack.tech (We combine task management and chat in one platform to make it easier to collaborate, think slack + asana + trello.) We submitted our platform to Betalist and Betapage. We were able to get over 100 teams signed up for our platform within a week and had a few users sign up every week after the "beta launch" (which is pretty good considering we're b2b). The best part is, both betalist and beta page are completely free of charge.

Take advantage of every free promotion/producthunt like service you can (although I would not suggest going on product hunt for your beta).

Other than that cold e-mailing, cold calling, and guest blogs also work really well in the beginning.

I searched for people complaining on twitter about how bad Skype connections ruined their podcast recordings and let them know about my solution. Generally people were pretty happy to know of a better alternative and signed up as well as started sharing it via word of mouth.

For a CSE (comparison shopping engine) for computer hardware it was simple:

- talked to friends on IRC about the website (1996-1997)

- e-mailed the scraped shops and asked for permission, some became users too

When it's obvious what the product does and how useful its benefits are, and the target audience is large, getting to 100 users is really easy.

It's also an advantage if there is a compelling and logical reason to visit the website frequently, so it stays fresh in memory and becomes a habit. In my case it had up-to-date prices collected from shops, so visiting often helped people find good deals and let them observe dropping prices until they could afford a purchase.

If you are distributing an early-access of your product first, the first 100 users could be beta testers. I have gathered an initial community of people using my app by posting to directories like betalist.com, betapage.co etc.

That is a great strategy. These beta users might be less critical if the app does not work the way it is supposed to work too. So this takes a big pressure off the shoulders of the developers.

As a follow up question: Can you share some sites/sources which you would recommend.

I did the following for http://www.oppsdaily.com

1. Posted landing page in a slack chat (first ~10 users)

2. Posted on the indiehackers forum (+30 users)

3. Got mentioned in the indiehackers weekly newsletter (+150)

4. Posted to hacker news (+?)

5. Posted to product hunt (did not go so great)(+?)

6. Started posting weekly metrics to HN - made the frontpage (+1500-2000)

I don't have a SAAS app at the moment but I have had success with... Bots, influencers and ads.

Lots of people seem to think ads don't work here but, I believe it is a matter of targeting and your funnel.

I think the main issues people have when it comes to ads is they poorly execute on...

Targeting - have no idea who will actually want the product and target too broadly with a useless message or, in many cases no message at all.

When people here talk about "doing stuff that doesn't scale", what they are often doing is selling the idea before someone see's the site or product for example. Like a tweet to someone looking for a new notes app - you will normally @ them with a feature or solution right, equally with a forum post - once you know they have the problem. Do the same with your ad & targeting.

Poor sales effort - In an effort to make the page look good, people often try to have as little text as possible. In my experience, the more you say the better because you eventually touch on points the lead cares about. You simply need to make it engaging. This can be done well with a screen capture you record on your computer if you really want to have a page with minimal copy. (But test lots of copy either way)

Price/ product - most people are making stuff people don't care about and won't be interesting enough to part with money for. Might not be nice to read but in many cases, it's true.

I hope this helps.

I've found that Traction [0] covers and explains most of the ideas people will mention here on HN.

[0]: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0976339609/

I would say that it depends on your project. I recently launched my personal side project (https://outsideways.com/) and it took me about 9 months to get my first 100 (soft launch with little marketing, I was busy working on features), and my next 30 in the 10th month. Now I am getting 2 - 3 sign-ups a day (In my case, there will be a seasonal aspect to new sign-ups). I am doing a number of things to promote it:

- Released a multi-week YouTube video series on a related topic of interest, with a plug for my site at the beginning of each video.

- I regularly participate in Facebook groups related to the niche and occasionally plug it there.

- I am babysitting my most active users so that their experience is really good, learning their pain points, and responding quickly to their needs. They are in turn starting to spread the word on their own.

- Talking to friends and family who I think might be interested.

- Personally welcoming everyone who joins to try to make the experience a little more personal.

- Being active in social media (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook), posting interesting and relevant content that would attract the kind of users I am looking for. Following users who I think might be interested. Participating in their content too (i.e. likes, comments, etc.)

For us it was through a Kickstarter (https://medium.com/@alexobenauer/how-i-launched-my-company-w...), and the majority of the first 100 backers (that I didn't already know) were from Hacker News.

What happened to mail pilot

We stopped selling it last year to focus on our next product, which is aimed to solve the root of the email problem. It definitely has a future, so stay tuned!

But through working with our customers for years, we saw that while we really helped people get their email more organized, we weren't solving the root problem: that anyone can dump anything they want into your inbox in the first place.

We felt called to double down on a killer solution we figured out for that problem first (https://throttlehq.com/).

Is it like 33mail? I'm currently using that and tried https://leemail.me/ in the past

your landing page needs some work.. you're overflowing and the viewport isn't set correctly for mobile.

your buttons also need some left and right padding. my company would love to help put your best face forward..

Posted here, get roasted by HN community, being noticed and mentioned in LifeHacker.

I posted on hacker news and made sure to get people signed up to a newsletter. Hacker News has been the launching point for a lot of my projects over the years.

We have SaaS aimed at developers[1] (platform for coding/hosting chatbots) and have tried 3 major prongs to getting our first 100 users (in order of usefulness)

- Meetups

- Content marketing

- Adwords

By far the best is our meetup group. We host a weekly meetup[2] series where we go through the platform and framework and help people write their first bots. It's nice because it also allows us to see how people are using our platform and where the rough edges are. This has been invaluable in quickly fixing small bugs that are meaningful to new devs. Some stuff we wouldn't have even noticed through analytics. We're working on getting better follow-up engagement. We have about 5-10% come back week after week.

We write entries on our blog[3] and post links to a few places (FB groups, twitter) and it's helped out too with recognition. Though our conversion from people signing up for an account from the blog is about 3%. We try a mix of posts that range from non-developer focused to developer focused. We host on medium and have had success with medium's tags and getting readership from other medium articles and the suggested articles bar on the bottom.

Adwords is almost useless at this point, though neither of us has had any prior experience so it could just be us not using the tools to their full potential.

Finally we've gone to 1 conference, NY Techday a few weeks ago. We handed out ~150 business cards and >250 stickers. I think we may have generated 3-4 leads. It was exciting that a few people recognized us from the blog and posting in FB groups, so that was a good reinforcement to keep posting on the blog.

[1] https://alana.cloud

[2] https://www.meetup.com/from-just-a-thought-to-your-1st-chat-...

[3] https://blog.alana.cloud

> Adwords is almost useless at this point, though neither of us has had any prior experience so it could just be us not using the tools to their full potential.

For our B2C company, AdWords turned out to be a stable revenue driver for us. I had little experience in it (I'm a software engineer) and it took about $3k burned over 60 days to really understand how to build a profitable acquisition model using AdWords. I bought a couple books and worked on a bunch of multi-variant testing. I eventually obtained a sustainable and predictable process of obtaining revenue.

Never use AdWords Express, spend about 160 hours minimum of learning how marketing and PPC works, and use only data to drive decisions. ROI comes 4 months later when first starting out. If you're an engineer, AdWords API is a really useful to combine CRM and user data to discover new keywords and personas.

I seeded my site with scraped data for quite a while. Once organic started coming in and twitter referrals and hits increasing I added an email subscription.


I love your website, please continue doing what you're doing! Best of luck!

Thanks man!

I have launched a few products. It is really difficult to get the discussion going on many places like reddit or other discourse forums as there are rules against promoting your products. However, I have had huge success with advertising my product ( a paid contact form endpoint service https://liveformhq.com/ ) on another free product (https://getsimpleform.com/) that I built. If you can build a smaller version of your product which provides value to customers it can be a great source of leads :)

> If you can build a smaller version of your product which provides value to customers it can be a great source of leads :)

This is great advice. I hope more startups would follow it. Make valuable open source tools, create free tier services etc - that brings much more exposure to relevant users/customers because they discover you and not the other way around.

I use your service and found it through Google searches :) liveform is great, would be nice if it had a pipedriver, salesforce, and other crm integrations

Thanks for the feedback. I'll take a look at integrations and see if they can be added. LiveForm has a webhook which can be integrated with any apps that are supported by Zapier, so that should support a lot of use cases.

Do you have any other feedback on improving LiveForm or SimpleForm? I'd love to hear if you've had any pain points.

I was a frequent visiter to a forum where there was a problem I was able to fix. 1 post in that forum was enough to start to get traction.

/r/wow got Guilded's[0] first 100 users. Reddit has a (well-earned) reputation for being very hostile to self-promotion, but I think it's under-appreciated how charitable and enthusiastic redditors are, too. If redditors can tell you put your heart into something, you don't sound like Lord Business, and you actually listen to their feedback, they'll go above and beyond to help you out. Users like this are invaluable, and just as importantly, they make making things fun.

[0] http://www.guilded.gg

I think the fine line regarding self promotion on Reddit is about whether you're part of the community you post in. If you're clearly a community member and have made something to solve a common problem, that tends to be received well, it seems, while if you come in as an outsider clearly trying to sell something to make money, you'll be rejected.

I started by building something simple that would appeal to a tiny group of people I understood: a pastebin service only available over telnet [1]. I posted it on /r/linux, which led to some good conversations and open sourcing what I was doing, building a small HTTP-based service (the start of our API), and having a small group of people to talk to when the product evolved.

The goal was to become a seamless publishing platform, so I built the Android app next (which brought me closer to the broad audience I wanted) and told /r/goodguyapps about it. Every time I went after a new platform -- Chrome OS, iOS, desktop via command-line, web -- I found a community that would want to hear about it and simply had a conversation. I went to listen to people's problems instead of just selling my app, and ended up learning exactly what I should build and what the product could do outside of what I'd originally imagined. Write.as didn't have user accounts for the first year and a half it existed, but somewhere in that process we passed 100 users across various platforms.

[1]: https://github.com/writeas/nerds

My company (http://www.gosmartride.com) allows seniors without smartphones to use Uber.

Two main ways of marketing:

ProductHunt, which gained exposure among tech savvy people. Some referred parents/grandparents to use.

I then went to senior centers with business cards and flyers. All managers there were excited about the idea and happy to let me post a few flyers and distribute business cards.

Wow, this is a great idea! Wish I had known about this last week. I have yet to use Uber, but needed to get my dad to the airport in a hurry. Unfortunately, he did have to hail a cab. Wish I had known about this... thanks for sharing! It'll come in handy in the future.

I asked for honest feedback for my app https://everydaycheck.com on a couple of subreddits where people are trying to get disciplined and improve themselves. Since it was my personal goal too I could easily relate and that brought a lot of signups, great feedback and most importantly, engaged users!

Looks nice, feels a bit like the old Lift app, which sadly turned into a coaching marketplace social thing.

never saw the old Lift app but it is not the first time that someone names it when seeing everydaycheck :p

be assured this won't turn into a coaching marketplace. My goal is to charge a symbolic yearly fee and keep it as it is. After all, it does one thing and it does it right!

I wrote a passionate blog post made the front page of a major subreddit. The story was then syndicated across a few other large blogs in my niche. This resulted in 3,000 sign-ups in a few days-- much more than I had expected!

I've also found reddit ads to be quite useful if you take the time to craft relevant ads and quickly nix ones that do not perform.

OT: Just saw that your company Pixsy is registered in the US and in Germany but based in Germany. Is the US Inc the top company or the German GmbH? Why did you choose that setup and is it working out for you?

I hired a growth hacker to accelerate our app to ~1000 users. I tried sending emails out to people to use the app, but my network just didn't fit the niche we were targeting. I also showed the app to people in Starbucks and wrote custom replies to people online looking for the app: they were of little help.

Who did you hire?

Well for my community sites, they just tended to come in on their own through minimal promotion. I mean, one of my forums is literally about a topic that no one else online is running a website about. For the members there simply were no viable alternatives.

However, when I failed the issue was getting people to use the site, not to sign up. People will sign up for sites and services almost at a whim, but the percentage who will actually contribute is in the single digits. So I ended up with a 'service' that mostly people ended up reading rather than posting on.

Just getting 100 users? Some active social media accounts, posts on other forums and communities, some good content and just damn faking activity until real people join tends to work well enough there.

We provide on-demand freelance services, customers are b2b

Got first 100 by

1) Friends: first asking a few to try; then telling about the idea at parties (also hosted a "launch party" at home, etc. Then at last emailing whole LinkedIn-contactlist. First couple were free, rest more or less discounted but paid. 2) PR. Had a few early newspaper articles when we had initial traction which gave us perhaps 20 customers each. Also posted the article to our facebook, which I think perhaps got us half of those.

(We also tried a lot of other stuff that didnt work, including a big cold call campaign and paying for leads via ads, but it didnt yield much results as it is very hard to do well)

Facebook ads are always really effective for me to build some initial traction.

Clever Facebook ads are definitely effective. Approach it like 99% of FB advertisers, however, and you'll undoubtedly lose money.

Please, define clever. I installed fb pixel and it made a huge diference. What else?

What are your best tips for creating a good facebook ad?

My app is for a very niche population so spreading the word for it was incredibly easy as there are only 3-5 really good hubs for this crowd (pinball players) online.

Cool, do you mean physical pinball machines?

Yeah! It's a social score-ranking app for physical pinball machines. We recently broke 1k users and 20k scores since release this past June.

Facebook Ads -> Blog Posts/Lead Magnets -> Email List

Bootstrapped Solo founder. Beta launch in June 2016. Full launch in December 2016. Crossed $200k in ARR last week.

I would be interested in finding out more on the subject. Would you care to expand a bit on the above?

I built a farm management SaaS product. It's basically a managerial accounting platform. I've written a bunch of blog posts (75 I think) over the last 2 years.

I see what posts perform well on FB, then boost them.

I've spent $22,000 on Facebook ads and have acquired 6,000 leads from the spend.

That's really cool. Thanks for the followup.

My partners and I run a business advertising website in Brazil. Since we didn't have any funds to bootstrap PPC/FB Ads we decided to manually send messages to advertisers (and actually chat with them) running ads on other big websites. That provided us some initial traction without having to put down any money, and also precious feedbacks that guides us through design iterations until today.

I published my Chrome extension on the Chrome Web Store and wrote up a little post on Github about how I made it, then posted that to a subreddit, I can't remember if it was /google or /chrome or /webdev. Unfortunately since then I can't seem to get past ~400 users but it was a pretty good kickstart.

Really great feedback. The reason I asked this question is I just launched my app https://pipecourse.com/ and its been few days. I tried cold emailing people but getting almost no response. Any particular feedback for this will be appreciated.

I'm right in a similar place with my own project* right now so thanks for asking your question.

I think you have may have a cool idea with pipecourses but honestly the main page doesn't provide enough info for me to tell. Mostly, I have no idea what a 'pipecourse' is and how it is supposed to work.

(As best I can understand, it's sort of like Medium or Google+ but designed for more granular following. It's not really clear what it means to follow experiences/ideas/etc... instead of people. Obviously it's still people writing things. Do you just follow tags that anyone can post to? Or if you follow a given 'pipecourse' how is that different from just following a blog on RSS?)

An easily discoverable 'What are pipecourses?' page would be really helpful. At the very least provide a little blurb up top explaining what it does and what makes it unique, and/or a few use cases. "Pipecourses is a blogging platform designed to give users more granular, topic-based control over what they post and follow. (plus a 1-sentence example use case)"

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I don't know how constructive this is, since I may not be the target audience, but my one piece of feedback would be that, after looking at the site for 10-15 seconds, I had literally no idea what service you are offering. Like I said, could just be me though.

If you want real feedback, take away every mention of YOU and the company from the home page. Rewrite it from the perspective of your potential first 100 users. Show them exactly what pipecourse is doing that they can't find on some other site.

Got it. I actually created a pipecourse on my startup thinking it will be a way to show users one of the usecases of the platform.But i get your point.Thank you.

Nothing particularly wrong with showing off on the landing page, quite cool that your app suits it. The issue is the topic - it should be about the app and it's relation to the user, not about you or the company. You could quite easily (if I follow the product idea) create a course about the product itself. Sort of like a walk through or tutorial explaining it.

True.The idea behind creating on the story of pipecourse is because usually people blog about what worked for them and only when things get succesful. By blogging also about what i tried,what didn't work , i thought people can relate better and I think if lot of startups did this, I think we can learn a lot from each other.

On mobile, iOS chrome portrait, the front page jumps around as you loop though the words in the "Follow..." section. Some words are longer and line break down, the shorter words don't need a line break. It makes the whole page pretty annoying, just thought you'd want to know

I replied to every single thread in the Dropbox forums pushing my new app that would help solve their problems. Seemed to work well enough!

I then also left comments on every blog I could find talking about the problem. A lot of manual leg work that definitely paid off.

1)Mailing lists.

2) Personally calling up/emailing up with a few dozen people I thought were a good fit, and then always asking them "Who else do you think would be interested in this?", even if they thought it was a bad concept.

Ads are good actually to acquire your first 100 users. But not on common platforms (Google Ads, Youtube, Facebook). You can find with websites with high traffic and ask them to put up your ad messages.

If: 100 phone calls -> 10 meetings

10 meetings -> 1 contracts

To get 100 contracts, just make 10,000 phone calls.

Find your ratio and start from the top.

In the beginning, improving ratio is not as importatnt as increasing your denominator. Just get out there.

You can get lots of users on social media. Just work through the social graph starting with your connections. Personalized messages work best. Just ask for their opinion.

Bought them from India, like every other company.

That sounds like a surefire way of getting worthless customers. If your customers are not your target audience then they will never engage with your product and that's worse than not having customers.

Could you be more specific, for those of us that are not used to "buy" customers from India ?

Probably a Silicon Valley joke: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-W0CBOGnnI

I acquired our first 100 users by running Facebook Lead Generation ads. I got their emails and thousands of page likes.

How much did that cost you?

I did a thing that don't scale. I wrote emails to my potential customers, not cold emails but real emails.

We made it a requirement for managers to use our internal application. Har-har-har

Very interesting thread. I would like to read answers for B2B.

i became a customer of each of my customers - to build a rapport/communication line.

PS: in my case it was booking a ride/cab, so not as expensive as you think

I think building an amazing product is the way to get them automatically.

You need much more than that, a great product is no use if nobody knows about it.

Have you tried this? :)

If you have an amazing product you can start from http://www.appsumo.com :-)

Do you have more information on that? Did you do a deal with Appsumo before? What are usually the terms for such a deal?

As I know they have about ~1M users. Once your product is verified almost all of them receive a newsletter about your product. Your product is sold by the fixed price forever. But they take a big % (40%+) for that deal. I heard from some projects which have been used AppSumo and that the impact is really great. Thousands of new users and sales.

Until you've actually done that ;)

What is an app I wonder? Is it sort of a codeword for frontend embedded in logic impossible for the user to decipher with invisible sys hooks everywhere because the os is opaque to the user or is it something else?

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