Another key thing is to understand the community. There is radical cultural diversity between subreddits which manifests in very different reactions to self-promotion. It's essential to engage appropriately and respectfully.
Something I've used for other projects is searching for coverage of competitors in the same space, then pitching to people who have already featured them. Again, very important to hand-tailor each pitch and offer value to the person you're contacting.
To add similar services I've been using for quite a while:
http://www.noisli.com/ (very nice UI with changing background colour, a distration free editor and so on)
http://mynoise.net/NoiseMachines/ (quite professional)
I'll have a hunt for some appropriate samples. I have to do some back-end tweaks before I can add more sounds, though, because there's a practical limit to how many samples the browser can stream at once.
Thanks very much for your suggestion!
For the life of me, though, I haven't been able to remember the name the last couple time's I've wanted it (and my bookmarks are horrendously disorganized at the moment), and googling different iterations of "white noise generator sliders people birds rain" didn't yield success. I need to stash this away somewhere I won't lose it...
I have actually wondered about the name thing. It is a little whimsical, and I guess it would be easy to mix up with lots of similar descriptions like "a quiet buzz" or "a gentle burble". From that perspective, it might have been better to choose something more memorable.
The site won't rank well in google for descriptive terms because it doesn't contain a lot of text. Even for terms it does contain, it doesn't do very well (e.g. it ranks at ~20 for "ambient noise" in google US). I haven't worried about that so far because the large majority of the traffic is direct, social or for the exact term "a soft murmur".
Based on your other comments it seems like you really know what you're doing in these spaces. I'm no expert, but based on all the positive feedback, capturing organic search traffic could help you kill it. Show them and they'll stick.
And the luck/chance involved :) basically, the votes a new link gets in first 30mins largely decides whether it will make to front page or not. More specifically, the first upvote because then social proof kicks in (hey it must be good if someone liked it).
So while posting to HN/Reddit might help to kick in, I would take it more as 'good if it hits, fine if it doesn't'.
In a nutshell when he was building WPEngine he went to LinkedIn and found folks who were Wordpress consultants. He then sent them a follow email and said he's building a product for "folks like you and would love to talk to you about your pains, needs, etc" (customer development stuff) and offered to pay for their time. It worked well - he sent 40, 100% agreed to talk, actually talked to 38, and 0 asked for money. He suggests this worked so well because the offer to pay showed he was respectful of their time so they were happy to help. YMMV.
Based on my experience, it's very hard for people to accept something new in the first place, for example, when WP was introduced. And this is still happening now. Once a group of people accept a new concept, building on top of it to improve the system is a little easier.
OK. Thinking about it, there might have been a market there all along, but how come no one served it before?
I mean Jason is crazy brilliant (talk to him, it's an experience!), but surely others could have come up with the same idea - right? I guess we'll never know, but my guess is that not too many people went out and searched for a thing like WPEngine before WPEngine
There are 75 million (!) WordPress sites in the world. It would be amazing if any software platform with 75 million users didn't have a large number of consultants available to help people with it.
1) What existing solution do you believe your product (or prospective product) is better than?
2) Where can you find a critical mass of people who use the existing solution?
3) Go there. Talk to them. Show them your product.
Now, none of this is trivial. First, because assuming you're operating lean, you start with no real clue if you're "better" than anyone or anything else, or on what dimensions that actually matter. You start with a hypothesis, and you have to seek out opinions (customer development). Second, because the existing solution might not be what you think it is. Or it might not be a product at all. It might be a behavior people are doing, or an "off-label" use of another product.
But by and large, this method works. It might not get you scale. But it'll get you in front of potential users, and those users will be primed to try out your product. The trick is in identifying the existing solution, finding people who use it, and getting some of their time.
In more formal terms, if you are trying to steal someone else's customer you have to do something on day 1 (first sale) that is more than 100% as good.
But if you are marketing to different customers, you are acting like a reseller of your competition, with the difference that you don't actually have to buy it from them, but can make it at cost.
It's far better to be in the second situation. I don't think the right strategy is to take on entrenched competition head-on. It's better to create a new market.
If you start with a fresh idea, then you have to test and discover if what you are offering is viable. By taking an existing product or service, and improving upon it, that entire first phase of discovery is done for you.
That's why most new businesses aren't building something novel (ie: opening up a restaurant, retail store, software consulting, etc...).
That discovery phase is expensive. So if you're boot-strapping or limited on capital and time, then you're in a situation where creating something new is extremely risky. Even large companies with lots of resources often fail when launching a novel product.
Not every company is like Apple.
And conversely, many successful companies built on existing solutions. Google wasn't the first search engine. Facebook wasn't the first social network. Microsoft Word wasn't the first word processor.
I'll agree that "It's better to create a new market." But only IF you have the resources to take on that kind of risk.
An ability to intuit what's right - what'll work - without needing to test and prove every hypothesis (expensive), or worse: launch a product that falls flat (crazy expensive). It's definitely something some people are better at than others. Jobs was obviously a total pro. Gates was alright. Ballmer sucks at it.
A lot of that is taste. Taste mixed with direction.
I'm not talking about stealing from competition. What I'm saying is that every startup is solving a pain point or a need-state of some sort. That's the reason for the existence of the startup in the first place. You might have competitors attempting to solve the same pain point in the same way, and you might not. Either way, you're trying to solve a pain point.
How do you gauge the validity of your product and find your first 100 users? You do this by gauging the validity of the pain point you've identified. You do this because, in a sense, the value of your product is the delta between Your Solution and User Pain. Nine times out of ten, users have an existing solution (or behavior) they're doing to try to solve the pain -- but your product is going to be better, or at least you hope.
Let's look at your iPod example. There were some MP3 players in the market before the iPod launched, but for the sake of argument, we'll say that these players were insignificant at the time. So what was the pain point, and what was the existing solution, when Apple launched the iPod? The pain point was not being able to take your music library on the go -- most people had to make do with a single CD at a time. Their existing solutions? Walkmen, portable radios, MP3 collections on their computers, and so forth. What was Apple's solution? "1,000 songs in your pocket."
It's a common misconception that Apple "creates new markets" by bringing entirely-new-to-the-world products to everybody at once. Yes, they can do that now. They've got billions of dollars, a well-oiled marketing and distribution machine, their own highly successful sales channel, and distribution at every major retailer in the country. But that wasn't the case back in 2001. When Apple launched the iPod, it didn't launch to "everybody." It had to start with a segment of the market, which in 2001, was a relatively small set of Mac users and early tech adopters with big MP3 collections. It addressed and added more segments over the next few years, slowly building a snowball into critical mass, which it wouldn't achieve until roughly 2004-2006.
Most startups are like Apple in 2001, not Apple in 2014. They don't have a megaphone they can shout from. Their customer set isn't the set of basically all consumers. In the long run, sure, that's a fantastic place to be. But you have to start somewhere a lot more specific.
Which brings me back to the original topic: how do you get your first 100 users? The best way to get them is to assess which subset of users you believe will have the biggest delta between your value proposition and an existing need or pain. That's all I was trying to say. It's not about "stealing someone else's customers," per se. It's about solving needs. In the long run, maybe a billion people have this need, and you're indeed opening up a new market. Awesome. But you can't start there. You don't start with the set of all addressable users; you start with a subset of extremely addressable users.
By definition if the startup can get users to do something, anything, then those users are doing something, anything using the startup - also by definition. If they weren't doing something, anything with the startup, they would either a) be doing something, anything without the startup (pain point) or b) experiencing a need-state (something, anything as a latent need that they are not using.) This would follow from definitions.
If you're not begging the question, could you propose a hypothetical startup as a counterexample, i.e. describe a startup that would not be solving a pain point or need-state of some sort, if we imagine the (counterfactual) scenario that people do however use it.
For example: if a startup sells you the right to remove a virus (that you didn't know about, and which doesn't exist). Is this a pain point? Is this a latent need? By definition it would have to be, as you are paying for it. That's why I say you're begging the question. Kaspersky by definition is filling the need to feel secure (by the definition that they are actually making sales.)
If a fitness company really sells you the knowledge that you're at least doing something, by staying enrolled, even though its model depends on 90% of people not showing up. That would be an example. Are they filling a need to be enrolled, without going? By definition, they are.
If these skinner-box games (apps) get traction, without being fun, then are they filling a need? By definition they are. Zynga by definition is filling a need to "casually game". (By the definition that they are doing so.)
McDonald's is by definition filling a need for McDonald's food and/or experience etc.
So to talk about 'needs' or 'pain points' are both somewhat silly, if we get to define these things as anything you can get people to do. (Your chance at a counterexample would be to state something you can get people to do, that would not be a latent need or a pain point - for example if you get people to behave very irrationally to use your service. Go ahead and try to come up with examples.)
Specifically, I don't think people felt "pain" over not having a Facebook wall of their friends' updates. It's just something Facebook created for them. It's no good to retroactively say that it was an 'unfilled need' as by definition this would be a catch-all for anything that doesn't fit in the first bucket, of pain points.
Basically, I am saying that if a startup does anything, it would fit by definition into something that was already done, and therefore a pain-point, or something that wasn't already done, and therefore a latent need the moment you start selling it, retroactively, since the beginning of time. The moment the first of something is used or sold it becomes a retroactive latent need going back to the beginning of time. It's simply begging the question completely.
Nor is this a shallow observation. If we switched it to, "build something that people will use", then that is not a very good answer to how to get your first 100 users, as the definition of something that people will use, is something that people use. By definition you can get 100 users if you build something that a hundred people will use...
I suppose you can make deeper observation that the goal of a startup is to make something that people independently will decide to use based on a description alone, or an initial experience, or their friends using it, or its having social prestige, or based on a specific advertising copy, or in the context of the industry and other advertising they've seen, or based on their historical purchasing habits and impressions, or . . . . . . . . .
you see, as soon as you make it deeper, it no longer fits your buckets at all, really. At most we can make it a shorthand for, "produce a company that you would be a customer of", since you can probably judge introspectively whether that you would be a customer if you were still an outsider, given the company's products, copy, marketing, etc.
But make no mistake: plenty of successful startups do not have the kind of offering their founders would have jumped at.
I've also had luck with some other niche community sites such as Designer News. The important piece here is to try and integrate yourself into the community instead of just spamming them with links to your website. Get involved in conversations about things other than your start-up (people notice this and appreciate it). Make friends with the moderators. When Designer News was still private with no search capabilities I wrote a quick search engine built on sphinx to index all of the posts and make them searchable. Not only did this get me an invite to the community but also sent some nice traffic to my start-ups site via a small link on the search page.
I've had little to no success with twitter and facebook, although I might be doing it wrong. Some of the targeted communities that you can find through google plus look somewhat promising, but I've yet to fully explore these.
Our most vocal power users are people we know personally, or met at local events (our local co-working space).
0. Identify and name your target group, e.g. commercial real estate agents in CA.
1. Find these people on Linkedin using advanced search option and invite them to connect.
2. Once connected you have their e-mail address, so send them a short e-mail (better response rate than InMails) describing the business problem and your solution. Short means 3-5 sentences, no attachments, just try to attract their attention.
3. Don't forget about follow-ups.
4. They will reply if interested and bam, you have a lead! Now it's time to set up a call and go into details.
5. Rinse and repeat. Stay persistent, you should send at least 20+ every day. Track response rates and adjust, you should achieve at least 5-10% easily.
If you have many competitors I am probably getting lot's of these e-mails which means you would have much harder time to get my attention.
Let's say you are a hosting provider, I probably would not like to get an e-mail from you offering me some good price or hard to understand feature of yours, because there are probably lot's of cheap hosting providers out there and every other provider is trying to differentiate themselves somehow. Other than "identifying my problem" you really shouldn't sound like giving me a sales pitch.
But if you noticed that, let's say I have 350ms response time in Asia when it's only 50 in USA and you have some solution for it, I probably will reply you even if I am not going to buy your service right away.
That reminds me of a technique I used when doing freelance Web design. I focused on restaurants with bad websites. I wrote a crawler that searched for restaurants with email addresses on the site, but bad html like font or center tags or flash. I would then email them a sample site with their name and logo inserted programmatically. It got pretty good response.
I get some cold emails that, while slightly disguised, boil down to: "a paper you wrote came up in a Google scholar search for 'Prolog', and we also have a logic and/or rule system that's great, pls see this website and let me know if you want any details on licensing". Those are not usually that interesting, since of course I know there are such systems out there, and can Google for them myself...
On the other hand, if you read in the Future Work section of a paper I wrote something along the lines of, "it'd be great if X existed, but it doesn't seem to", and you think you really have built something meeting the description of X, then emailing me saying so is usually quite interesting and non-generic.
I'm sort of learning this point from others and trying to apply it to draw people's attention. I showed people that you need to build a private version of the web that stores the only information you are interested in or related to you. And we have a tool to help you create your Private
Web with a few clicks. But I failed. Can you please pinpoint out why? The Kickstarter project is here: http://kck.st/JNqv8z
If your solution really works, it should be an easy sell.
I'm an armchair entrepreneur for now (just getting that out of the way), but the advice I've seen over and over again can be generalized as: "Go out and talk to peope". You'll want to avoid starting with a sales pitch. Instead, talk to them about their business (or life) and see if your product is a fit (ie: don't try to sell a social network for cats to a dog owner). If it seems like there's some product fit, ask how they are filling the need now. If appropriate, give the the elevator pitch and a 1min demo on your live product. Ideally, convert them by having them sign up for a trial right then and there on your computer, followed by walking them through the COOLEST thing they can do on your product.
That's my 2 cents. Also interested what others think.
Getting out and taking to people, as you say, is where it is at, regardless of your business goals. Start with the three F's of fundraising (friends, family, fools) and go from there. Posting on Reddit and HN is good to create discussion or buzz, but it won't by itself get you sales.
Another thing I would recommend is that you do two things:
1. Write a marketing plan. Talk about the market, who you are going for, and how you will reach them. Discuss both PR and advertising, as well as other forms of outreach. Review it, write it as a team. Get everyone on the same page.
2. Then once that is done, put it on the shelf and don't look at it for a year. Act as if the plan doesn't exist. Go out and promote your product. Come back in a year and compare what you did and what you accomplished to what you set out in the plan.
I want to point out the the above snippet assumes/implies a fairly deep knowledge of your intended audience, the problem space you are working in and several other things, any one of which might be the real problem as to why the OP is not getting traction.
Not a criticism. Just ...an elaboration, I guess.
You won't be a good golf club salesman if you know absolutely nothing about golf.
Tech Blogs (they thought we were to boring to cover)
HN (no interest)
Reddit (no interest)
Ad Words (I think I sucked at it)
So I shrugged and kept improving then one day out of the blue, a big Mommy blog covered us for ways to keep up to date on coupons.
This one coverage leads to our first 200 users, and then another blog (MakeUseOf) covered us, which then lead to other industry specific blogs to cover us. Now we are getting 70+ new accounts a day and have over 120k users.
My advice (if the OP is asking) would be to target industry specific blogs/sites that would find your product useful and covers news that relates to your websites offerings, that is what I do now.
1. Set up a blog on your domain
2. write 20+ articles on industry-related topics (this alone will bring in some traffic)
3. get a number of emails from prospective customers
4. write a PERSONALIZED email to everyone on the list and ask if they are interested in an interview to be published on your blog. Offer a link from your blog as additional incentive
My response rate so far was >80%
However, for my use case (i.e. emailing cold contacts) you usually don't get their address handed to you. I just looked them up with a combination of Yellow Pages and Google-Fu.
Now that I think of it, I could probably ask the people on my list for interviews. Thanks for the idea, Patrick :-)
We built a tool that was instantly useful to them, and in exchange we instantly had 100+ users. We released an extremely "M" MVP and had real users from day one. Because they were using it free and we were building features in response to their direct feedback, they were very understanding about it being a rough prototype. Two years later, they voluntarily opted to generously backpay us for use of the tool (we didn't even ask them to).
If you can get real users from very early on, even if your tool is rough, do it! It will help you build what's really useful to people, and involving early users in the design process actively means they are motivated to use the tool early and help you make it work as well as possible as quickly as possible.
At the same time though, we've had massive pull from enterprise customers for consulting to go alongside the tool to help them do really good internal collaboration and culture change to a more distributed leadership model, as well as facilitate constituent and stakeholder collaboration. That's been a significant source of income for us.
Overall, the commitment to "pay what you can" has been core to our model and our values, and we're sticking with it, but we're experimenting with interpreting it in different ways. It's very important to us to both be independently financially sustainable, and to give our tool to groups doing great stuff in their communities regardless of their financial means.
I collected some thoughts on this that you might find helpful:
- get a splash page up and start collecting emails
- guest blog - particularly in places you know your would-be-users will read
- organize an event
- play around with paid marketing
It's super early, but we've already gotten 500 users who are looking to beta test software and we've already started sending out codes.
Our goal is to make it the best platform for developers to get their first 100 users and the best place for users to get early & free access to awesome apps.
If you're interested please sign up either as a user or a developer—we're sending out stuff weekly!
In essence: Go where your users hang out. With few exceptions, this is probably NOT the same place as where startup geeks hang out.
One example: my startup has a website for the Energy & Utilities industry. We got a bunch of early users by forming a partnership with a trade organization for energy providers.
It's not the sort of deal that "easy" in that it took real work to put together. But I think it's worked out great for everyone.
I had them leave their email if they wanted to be notified of the survey results, and then when Beathound was ready to go I sent them a nice email that said "Thanks for filling out my survey! You didn't win the gift card, but [here] are the results, and [here] is what I built using them."
I had a terrible time giving the gift card to the person who won it, because they were in Australia and I'm in Canada - if you're going to give something away for your survey, make sure that you can easily do it internationally.
To get our first 1000 I used a combination of Twitter, LinkedIn Groups and my own blog and newsletter
I think it was around 3 months so it wasn't as fresh but what I did was go through email addresses one by one, picked out the companies that sounded the most promising and opened up a dialogue to get those guys in early.
Then kept the other guys informed to try and keep them excited. Although if I would have done it just before launching I would have saved a lot of effort.
I work with a lot of startups, and one of the things we keep learning is that it is a lot harder to get customers than it is to build something. Therefore try to think of marketing as a puzzle, a challenge to be solved. The key is to keep experimenting, and measure everything until you find something that works, then keep experimenting and measuring.
You can see the entire album here
1. When users sign up for our email drip campaign (which consists of drive-to's for our blog), they also receive an invite to a private Facebook Group. We manually approve every person in the Group, and use the Group to learn about our customers, connect them with each other, survey new ideas, and build a sense of community. The Group has been wildly key to our building process. We're seeing about 55-60% of our email sign-ups join the Group, with about 20% being active participants.
2. My co-founder and I put out an offer to all our customers/readers to meet us for a cup of coffee, on us. We're in Portland and NYC, so only for those folks.
3. Sent personal emails to our networks promoting Collabo and asking them for feedback.
4. I manually scraped the follower lists of our competitors and industry big dogs on Twitter and followed them, which yielded some really good results, mostly in terms of gaining targeted followers.
5. Lots of time spent offering advice and sharing stories/knowledge on communities like r/startups and r/freelance.
6. In the process of guest blogging on sites that serve our niche market.
The next 100 were friends, people who follow me on Twitter/Facebook, and Show HN/Show Lobsters/Show Reddit. Got a few more paid customers from this segment but the conversion rate was not great at all.
Now I'm working on the next 1,000 which will probably involve some "real press coverage" and some reviews on niche blogs or guest posts. This part has been the hardest for me and would love any advice/intros.
 Briefmetrics [https://briefmetrics.com/], email summaries of your Google Analytics.
 Show HN [https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6641385], which annoyingly got flagged pretty early on and never got any traction. Considering doing another Show HN, but kind of worried about annoying the HN hivemind.
 Show Lobsters [https://lobste.rs/s/ppcmud/show_lobsters_i_built_briefmetric...], some good feedback, this went as well as I could have hoped for the size of the audience. Been really enjoying the Lobsters community.
 Show Reddit [http://www.reddit.com/r/analytics/comments/1uk9na/briefmetri...] Got a chunk of visitors, but all the comments were from people I knew so the feedback was a bit of an echochamber.
Right now it falls into two groups across two dimensions:
1a. Small-medium businesses
1b. Individuals with many web projects
2a. Already use the Google Analytics frontend regularly but feel that this recurring process is too cumbersome (often 20-40 clicks per property) and would rather have email reports to save time/effort.
2b. Have GA and like the idea of it, but never remember to check it regularly so they miss out on the value of analytics unless they get regular email reports.
Why do you think Flippa? I imagine people looking to get rid of their property for money are less likely to pay to monitor its analytics? Then again, it could be a good audience for people who own multiple properties.
Go and find out where you customer hangs out online. Who already has your perfect audience on their mailing list? See if you can write something of value for their audience and tap into existing groups.
When you do get users, ask how they found you then double down on promoting in that channel.
Also, if your customers can find you without the assistance of search rankings (which can change at any time) then surely that's a good thing.
If you're in a specific field (e.g. online cello sales), do outreach to things like relevant forums and subreddits. You'll get targeted use which will provide quality feedback, hopefully. If it's a broad spectrum project, buy up relevant and cheap(ish) ads in several venues. Push use with some definable group that you can interact with directly, get emails via a newsletter, etc.
We're targeting software engineers & smaller startups looking to hire in the bay area. Find an icebreaker and when they naturally ask what you do, have your elevator pitch ready. If they're interested they'll ask you for url info or start downloading it on the spot. If not, no worries.
We often work at coffee shops in that area. When someone starts talking, we're happy to chat. Typically when they need to plug in a laptop or they ask you to watch their stuff. Attending meetups that your target audience goes to can be very worthwhile.
 http://blonk.co is an job finding app that connects job seekers to co-founders or their potential dept. leader in large companies, skipping the recruiters entirely.
My last commercial project was an OTT IPTV startup which we mainly promoted through adwords, some premium online ads in our target demographic, and doing interviews with media outlets that were serving that demographic. In terms of CPA adwords were by far the most cost effective.
My current project is in the entertainment. We are looking to get buy in from a couple of prominent people in the space before we go live and expect that a "we like it" from them will give us critical mass very quickly.
Maybe our experience can help others...
Ingratiate yourself to these communities by participating in discussions unrelated to what you're working on.
By then, you should be able to post a full thread describing what you've done, offer a few screenshots and ask if people will try it. By replying to people's questions and being friendly, you will keep the thread reasonably topped and pick up users that way.
This also works in general interest internet forums, so long as you are a reasonable participant and posting in the correct areas.
Be sure not to fall into the trap of using users/straight growth as a vanity metric. Any website can get decent growth with a spammy strategy. You want quality users that will help grow the product.
How One Strategic Partnership Generated Hockey Stick Growth For Our Online Community http://justinblase.quora.com/How-One-Strategic-Partnership-G...
If you're trying this hard to market then you're probably making a bad product.
1. Telling all of our friends to create accounts and post some 'gigs', so the site didnt look like a ghost town.
2. Going to various forums for bloggers, web developers, part-time entrepreneurs etc and asking them for feedback. (In other word, finding communities that we thought would use the site and asking them for feedback.)
3. Pushing some press releases to local news sites.
1) Personally craft a unique, thoughtful reply to every sales question.
2) Use our own VPN ourselves on a daily basis so we can empathize with our customers and improve our product
3) Provide stellar support for our product. For example remotely troubleshooting issues on customers computers or setting up a custom VPN server temporarily if customers are in a pinch.
4) Reward our influential customers by offering a referral fee.
I managed got some ads etc. I will appreciate feedback :) and suggestions related with the site (it's not in english but it's extremely easy so it should be understandable).
HN is far, far away from our target audience, so posts here - even on the top of the front page - have gotten me pretty much 0 conversions. That's fine, though.
But yeah, I would think few startups would find the HN community a bullseye.
Super labor intensive.
Really interested to hear your experience (and the "pain points") as I know someone who is trying to write a book about this and he's always on the lookout for folks with different perspectives.