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How to Find Your Earliest Users (indiehackers.com)
356 points by ChanningAllen on June 8, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 44 comments

For us (Dependabot) the best advice I ever got was that your initial customers should come from sales, not marketing, even for a really low-price SaaS product. I was literally giving Dependabot away for the first 6 months of its existence, but I was still doing concierge sales on it.

When you sell to customers directly you get to hear their reactions and get a much better sense of what's valuable to them. You also make yourself more approachable if/when they've got feedback down the line. Finally, you get a predictable return to your effort (even if it's low!), which prevents the kind of boom and bust that can burn you out in the early days.

I'd really, really highly recommend anyone else looking to start a B2B business take the same approach, even if your product is way too cheap for sales to be scalable.

This hits home. Literraly signed up the first paying customer for my monitoring SaaS [0] two days ago. It was done through discussing issues over mail, a tiny bit of “hand holding” and treating the customer as a launching partner (which they totally are). That first Stripe notification is pretty awesome [0] https://checklyhq.com

Just checked out your site. Two things I ran into, the first was that the site seemingly wouldn't load. So I quickly typed in https://www.checklyhq.com and it doesn't resolve. Then I went back to the original url and gave it a bit of time, took maybe eight seconds to load the content, and it's doing that every time (HN flood?). It seems like something is fully loading, blocking the page load, before it finally displays the whole page.

Anyway, I'd definitely suggest redirecting the www to the naked domain.

Thanks for the tips. Crazy how things like this can slip. The site is static and on AWS Cloudfront, but it's a quick port from the actual Vue.js app which makes it rather big. Will make it server rendered (and faster) in the future. For now just reshuffled some v-cloak tags which should result in a quicker experience.

Very happy for you. I'm on the same exact boat, first customer signed up on the 6th of this month which I'm ecstatic about. Wondering if you are German since it says Berlin as the HQ at the bottom of your page?

Hi, I'm not German (Dutch) but live and work in Berlin. The office on the site is indeed my "buro".

Sight looks great. I would suggest selling benefits rather than features in the top fold of your homepage.

Hi tnolet I am co-founder of SenseGrow (http://sensegrow.com) would try out checklyhq. Was looking for something like this.

Awesome, don't hesitate to reach out if you have questions. Looks like the API checks would really be a good match for your IOT endpoints.

That's awesome congrats!

It's a nice looking site too.

Good luck!

Please put your site behind CloudFlare (if have not already). They have a free plan and it's totally worth it

Yes! 100% agreed. I got into computers because kinda didn't like talking to people. But learning to do good user interviews (which has a lot in common to a consultative sales process) has been amazingly helpful.

I coached for a long time at a weekend workshop called Lean Startup Machine and it was amazing how much teams would benefit from just talking with 5-10 potential users. They'd often come back in a few hours and say, "Ok, our previously brilliant idea turned out to be entirely dumb, because we didn't understand X, Y, and Z about our users. Let's try this again."

Every developer should be forced to tech support at some point. And additionally sales calls. While I really hated doing the latter it gave me some appreciation to what they have to do. Customer support gives you insight into how your actual customer used your service and their pain points. It's incredibly valuable as developer to see that point of view directly.

Absolutely agreed! A while back I gave a talk on why everybody should do support: https://vimeo.com/136270620

Hi @greysteil :)

Couldn't agree with this more. I also have a low-priced SAAS product [0] and spent a ton of time early on talking to new users who signed up. I wouldn't even call it "sales". I just wanted to hear from early users' own mouths why they had signed up, what they hoped to get out of the product, and how it was working for them so far. These conversations (which I still do today) provided invaluable insights into how to improve my product.

[0] https://github.com/marketplace/pull-reminders

We did the same thing at Gingr. My co-founder and I were doing sales on our own for almost a the entire first year. We gave the product away for free and visited businesses in person after sign up to build a personal relationship.

One thing I’d add is that we approached these businesses like partners, not customers. Our pitch is that we wanted to create something great (that would save them lots of time) and wanted to hear directly from the horse’s mouth what would make the product great.

unrelated by on the bottom of every page of your website it says "GINGR, BOULDER, CO, 80302, UNITED STATES" no street address is not a good impression. Have you looked into renting a mailbox at a UPS Store? addresses on those things look like real street addresses with suite numbers and all.

Ah, good catch! We actually have a real office (and thus street address) these days. Will update. Thanks!

We [0] took the same approach since launching (which has been a while now). We focused on: 1) Outbound calls/emails, and 2) Networks

Rather than relying on the ROI of long term marketing techniques such as content marketing early. Otherwise, it takes too long to learn from your users/iterate on the product.

[0] https://telointerview.com/

Interesting, indeed you would want feedback from users that want to pay for your product, rather than those who just want to take it for a test spin.

This is absolutely valuable advice. Initial sales interaction gives you a lot of market insight. It has a lotof value in initial days.

For a tech product, look no further than where you are right now. HN has been one of the best sources of users for EnvKey[1], a developer-focused configuration and secrets manager. While HN has a reputation for toughness, it's also full of early adopters who will give you great feedback and be understanding as you figure things out.

And don't be afraid to play small ball. Of course it's amazing to get on the front page of HN, PH, big subreddits, etc., but it's also hit-or-miss and subject to the whims of the hivemind. Posting comments in relevant threads is slower, but it can drive a surprising amount of traffic over time, and the conversion rates will often be much higher than a 'featured' placement.

Of course, you need to take care that you're adding something to the discussion and not just advertising. Basically, your comment should be able to stand on its own as something valuable without any mention of your product, but make people curious about what you're doing, so that by the time they get to your link, they actually want to click it and learn more.

Another tip: if you have a product that has sdks for various languages, integrations with other platforms, etc., treat each one as a mini-launch to that community. It's often much easier to get attention with "here's a cool new thing for Elixir" vs. "here's something for everyone".

1 - https://www.envkey.com

This has definitely been the case for me over at breachinsider.com too – the ShowHN brought our first handful of customers, which have been a real delight to work with and completely fit the description outlined above... they understand the position we are in, and are happy to report issues or bugs they find (and are happy when we fix them in hours rather than weeks).

Generally speaking (and not in anyway a comment directed at the lovely people behind EnvKey), it can be a double edged sword, as if you are seen to only plug your business, even if you do add to the conversation, it can come across as a little disingenuous or pushy. So if you do take this route, don’t forget to be human and post normally sometimes.

> So if you do take this route, don’t forget to be human and post normally sometimes.

Great point. As an inveterate HN addict, this isn't an issue for me, but it's important to strike a balance.

It's like asking friends for favors. It's totally fine, but if it's the only reason you ever get in touch, it will start to get old.

I think your second tip is precisely what I've been trying with http://2FB.me because Shareable Tweets is kind of ambiguous. But for YouTubers who want to experience watching video as a simulcast, there is YouTube Share Enhancer which is the 2FB tool plus.

YouTube Share Enhancer: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/youtube-share-enha...

SoundCloud Share Enhancer: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/share-enhancer-for...

> Posting comments in relevant threads is slower, but it can drive a surprising amount of traffic over time, and the conversion rates will often be much higher than a 'featured' placement.

Could you elaborate on this? Do you see ongoing traffic coming in from comments on old HN threads (even old ones)?

Occasionally, yes, but by "over time" I meant that it's something you can do repeatedly that adds up, not that a single comment gets much long-tail traffic by itself.

Makes sense. Nice product by the way!

What does PH stand for?

Product Hunt

When I started browserless.io, I was having a heck of a time getting Chrome running properly in Docker. After about 1 month of hit-n-miss `docker build`'s (which was taking ~15 minutes each time due to the amount of deps and lack of layer caching therein), I decided to sort popular open-source libs by comments and reactions. To my surprise I wasn't the only one experiencing this issue!

This actually turned out to help in two ways: I knew _exactly_ what to build, and where to find first users. After that I point I really haven't had to market or even cold-call anyone since (thanks to SEO and GitHub) most folks find the solution when there in the midst of the problem.

If you're looking to build something, and are tech-savy, I think it's an interesting thing to go to popular OS projects and do some research. It'll open your eyes as to what others are needing and (sometimes willing) to pay for.

I agree, you can find a lot of peoples pain points from just going to forums.

Looking back now, it amazes me at how often you see people crying out for a solution that they want to pay someone for. Mainly CMS plugins, but there's still a lot of opportunity out there.

Also, nice product!

Common sense theme here: focus on a small group of people and delight them. If they're having the same problem, chances are others are as well. Be authentic, work smart, and deliver value based on what people are telling you.

I liked this for contrast:

Additionally, when we started the company I didn't have much money, but I saw that the most commonly searched term for SoundCloud producers was "How do I get more Reposts on SoundCloud?" A repost on SoundCloud is like a retweet on Twitter, so artists want as many of them as possible so their music will get heard.

I thought if I named the company Repost and dominated the SEO on that specific search we could get some free inbound traffic. My assumption worked. I believe if you search "SoundCloud repost" in Google we're one of the top hits, and something like 25% of our inbound applicants come organically.

I found this one very interesting too. I wanted to ask the founder how he knew "the most commonly searched term for SoundCloud producers was..." Is this somethig someone just threw out as a bit of anecdotal evidence? A running joke in the community or common knowledge among fellow producers? Or was there a specific analysis of say Google trends he did to come up with this nugget of insight? I think if you can identify a common search terms for a niche group then you can find common problems to solve... But how did he do that or know that?

As part of its marketing products Google used to have a keyword analysis tool that enabled the look up of search statistics for keywords. It also recommend keywords based on a target URL. They’ve changed their tools since I used it last, but I assume something similar still exists.

The approach of discovering a keyword niche and targeting it is harder now that more people know about the technique.

I'm going through this right now with my real estate related site OpenHouseTour[1]. It's definitely different (and eye opening) when you're dealing with clients that aren't as savvy with computers and you're having to explain how to do things like copy and paste. I try to take the XKCD one of the lucky 10,000 approach and just think about how much time learning this will save them in other parts of their life, but sometimes it's hard.

1 - https://www.openhousetour.ca

If you're struggling with that kind of support, I recommend that you start playing a game. It's called "learn something new every contact".

The rules are simple. Whenever you talk to a client you haven't spoken to before, your goal is to learn something new. It might be something new about your product/problem, but it could be completely unrelated. Hell, through the years I've learned how to make an insanely good brine for turkeys, piss off Mormons in Utah and make a killer whiskey sour.

I recommend this because at this point, that level of support you're providing is business development, so the impression you leave is very important. Clients tend to feel very awkward when they have simple problems with someone they deem an expert. And, if you can provide that level of support while seeming genuinely interested in your clients, you'll win more than you lose. Try it!! Worst case scenario, you might learn to make a turkey so good you'll get emotional thinking about it...:)

hahaha. Thanks, that's good advice. I'm not the most personable (luckily my wife is) and honestly when you put it this way it sounds so simple, but for the life of me I wonder how on earth people manage to do this without feeling scripted like "what are your interests?". How do you get to the point where you actually know enough about someone to say hey, that's something they know that I would like to learn?

Unfortunately, the shortest possible answer is really hand wavy and vague. That kind of knowledge tends to come fairly organically if you really listen to what people say and aren't afraid to share a little bit about yourself.

When you're in the early stages of a venture, ideally, you know a little bit about the person you're talking to, know a bit about the problem they're having and are genuinely interested in how they found you and if your solution is working for them. That gives you a ton of fertile ground. In this stage, I love to thank people for using my product, tell them that because my product is so new it's very important to me that all of my users are very happy, and then ask them for any feedback or advice they have. It sounds very corny and scripted (and honestly, it is), but most of the time, if my product is any good and if it solves a real problem, everyone I talk to will have something.

At that point, it's about always validating what the person says to you. It doesn't matter if you agree, if you plan to implement the feature, or if you think it is the most incredibly stupid thing you've ever heard. Someone cares enough about your product to give you some feedback! Hearing feedback is an honour and I think it should be treated as such.

If you get those two things down, you'll learn from almost everyone you talk to. Particularly those people who need a little extra help. And, when you're working with people who need a little extra help, it's good to validate them too. Maybe you have a user who has trouble with copying and pasting. That sucks, but it's also an unbelievable opportunity. As builders, we need people like that to help us escape our own little, highly technical echo chambers!

Aside from those things, it really just comes down to active listening. If you listen closely, you'll start to notice that lots of people leave little threads in their statements. They'll often leave these little threads when they're about to pause and let you talk. For example, if you ask "how are you?" someone who is really open to talking will reply, "I'm good, it's a beautiful day today." That little thread about a beautiful day opens up lots of questions. If you don't already know where they're from, you can ask. If you do know, you can confirm, "Ah, you're from Timbuktu, right?"

Also, it's important to note that this only really works if you're genuinely interested in what people are saying. A big part of the game is knowing when to stop playing. We live in a world where it's expected to be prosocial and interested in everyone around you. But honestly, there's nothing wrong with being selective in who interests you. I would caution you that if you aren't genuinely interested in what people are telling you, you need to either get genuinely interested, or you need to replace yourself with someone who is. But, there's no value judgement in that. We're all programmed differently and it's all good.

Not OP but thanks, this was helpful to me too!

I'm still weeks from where I want to accept customers... and I'm getting nervous.

The title is misleading. It should be “How to Get Your First Users”.

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