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Ask HN: How did you find an audience for your startup or project?
38 points by tmaly 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 12 comments
How did you find the audience of initial users for your startup or side project?

In my experience, your expectations shouldn't be as optimistic as success stories like that of Slack, which had 8000 companies signed up before they launched their product. It's wise to assume that your customer acquisition would be wearyingly slower. You don't have to start with 20-30 customers but just 1-5, who get the value out of your product.

For the last product, which I shut down due to lack of traction, the most valuable leads I received was when my product got featured in a newsletter without being asked. I had posted a comment on a Blog post which described a complicated GA setup to achieve something that my product could do without effort and the author forwarded it to his subscribers.

I think that sums it up quite well: look for people who have the same problem as you're solving and pitch them your product. Any other marketing effort: paid ads, blogging, events require too much investment and I don't think they should be recommended if you're bootstrapping a small product.

Wow, I didn't know that slack did that, any idea how they did that?

What was the product you shut down?

My advice is B2B-type centric, but the principles likely apply in other contexts.

I've used and seen this approach used to both validate, grow and shut down projects.

Build a list of people. Should be your target audience, but if you can't do that, find people that are adjacent or gatekeepers. Ideally this would be ~10 people, but if it's 3, start there anyway.

Go with a specific question/ask. Interview them. Then get them to ask you questions back. Answer as honestly as you can ("I don't know" is fine, but follow up with your suggested process).

At the end, ask who else you should speak with. If you're on the right track, your network and opportunities will grow. If you're not, it'll shrink to nothing. Repeat.

Good luck!

From your competitors! I'm not kidding.

If there's a market for your product, there will be an alternative product for it. Like for me, I had a recipe app. My competitors were recipe blogs, Facebook pages, and groups. If you're building something SaaS, there might be a WordPress plugin doing the same thing.

Your product should be 10x better than the solution they hacked together. If no solution was hacked together, it's possible there's no market for it or that you haven't done enough research before building the product.

There might be some exceptions though, like a note taking app, where the competitor is a piece of paper with no community.

In a former life, I was a product developer, I now consult other pre-rev/pre-money/broke product developers on features, ux, and marketing.

I wrote up a nice narrative a while back [1] on my two "first" products I built. The first "first" was on accident, and the second "first" was... kind of still on accident.

[1] http://jeremyaboyd.com/my-first-product-launches/

Before building any project or startup find where your focused audience are at and try to get closer to them through social networks. So when you build the product, you could ping them back to be your early users.

where would you start to look for the focused audience?

Check Amy Hoy's sales safari. Jonathan Stark has mentioned looking for conferences and publications/newsletters that cater to your target market.

This reminds me a lot of the Market Map from Pat Flynn's book. Its the same idea. Maybe he picked it up from her.

By networking with people who could potentially benefit from using it. This takes time.

Or how did you find the people your product would innately appeal to.

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