I've analyzed all 497 founder interviews on Indie Hackers and uncovered the marketing channels that worked consistently for founders. After I finished my analysis, I started the User Acquisition Channels series to provide insights on each channel.
This article will be a "hub article" of sorts that includes an overview of each marketing channel and a link to more detailed post(s) where you'll be able to learn more about each channel. I'll be updating this post on ongoing basis as I uncover new channels and strategies.
In order for a marketing channel to be in this list, I need to see 5 or more founders talking about how it worked for them. All of the channels below fit this criteria.
Ordering: The marketing channels below are ordered by the frequency of mentions. So far, most founders talked about SEO, so it's #1 in the list. Freelancing marketplaces are in the last place, because I saw the least amount of founders talking about it, etc.
Without further ado, let's get started.
SEO is a pretty saturated channel, and it usually takes months to start seeing decent traffic on Google.
Most of the people who were successful with SEO tried used other acquisition channels first. Many founders also noticed that SEO success was often by accident. Take Snipcart ($100K/mo), for example:
In time, we realized our shaky, well-intentioned blogging was driving more and more organic traffic and even a few direct conversions. Especially our platform-specific e-commerce tutorials. So we decided to really own that channel.
These are websites with millions of users that feature new products on a daily basis.
Product Hunt/Beta List are the top 2 platforms (in terms of traffic) for tech founders. Product Hunt worked very well for many bootstrapped companies, and one of them was Standuply ($20k/mo):
We launched Standuply and related Slack bot products 8 times on Product Hunt in the latest 18 months. At first, it was our initial launch that brought in our very first users. It wasn’t that successful as we ended up in 7th place. However, it brought us 150 teams.
Many huge platforms like Shopify, Slack and Salesforce have their own respective app stores. A surprising amount of founders had success being listed on them, like Finbarr from Shogun ($4.5k/mo), a drag-and-drop page builder:
When we launched on Shopify, sales began to trickle in and have been growing ever since. We've been attracting users in the Shopify app store from the beginning with very little marketing.
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There are 100k+ active communities on Reddit. Chances are one - if not more than one - is related to your niche. Creative Tim ($118k/mo) sells UI kits/templates, and they've used these communities to successfully acquire users:
Most of our marketing strategies have been submitting our content to different communities like Reddit.. (Some important subreddits that work well in our area include /r/web_design, /r/html5, /r/frontend, and /r/webdev.)
Learn more: Acquisition Channel of the Week: Reddit
This is simply reaching out to people you don't know yet via email and making them aware of your product or service.
Cold email is a channel which is easy to get started with, but hard to master.
What really helps is if your target prospects make their email addresses public. Take Web4Realty ($100K/mo), a tool to easily create real estate websites, and how they got their first customers):
We’re very lucky to be in an industry where gathering lead information is very easy. Fortunately for us, real estate agents plaster their emails and phone numbers all over the place, which is very convenient.
Raza and I spent the first several months cold-calling leads, continuously collecting more email addresses and numbers, and sending individual marketing emails, one by one. Sometimes the client wanted a demo in real-life so we went and did it.
We operated this way for a good 5–6 months, and grinded our way to about 200–300 paying users.
Learn more: Cold Email is Not Email Marketing
You've probably visited a website, seen a live chat widget and a small "powered by Intercom/Drip/[insert live chat provider here]" link at the bottom of the widget.
It turns out this is an amazing channel for getting new users from your existing users who publicly use your product.
How does it work? A customer visits website A, sees a widget, sees that you're the provider of that widgets, checks you out, and starts using you.
A good % of your users' users are also your users. Take LiveAgent ($250k/m), a help desk & live chat software, and how they got their users:
One of the friends was a local web hosting company. After they started using LiveAgent, we noticed that three out of four other leading local web hosting companies started using it as well, and they all continue to use it now.
Word of mouth and branding displayed on our widgets such as "Live Chat Software by LiveAgent" were bringing in 50% of new leads…
A good % of founders who were interviewed in Indie Hackers targeted other devs and/or technical people on Hacker News. Take Qbserve ($2K/mo), a time tracking app for Mac, and how they got their first users:
I created a "Show HN" on Hacker News, and Qbserve became one of the top submissions that week, bringing a huge stream of sales and feedback.
The difference between 1) and this one is timing. SEO/search is probably the most competitive marketing channel out there. 12 years ago, you could take a website and rank in for a decent keyword in a matter of weeks.
Not anymore. Nowadays, you usually have to wait for months before you even start appearing in the top 100 months.
There are certain exceptions, though. One of them is when there's a new category of searches appearing. Let me explain.
Kapwing, is a very popular meme making tool, and they've been able to get their first 10 customers by ranking for 'meme maker':
Organic discovery on Google was definitely our most powerful acquisition channel, and all ten of our first customers found us after searching for "meme maker" or the like.
"Meme maker" is a relatively new keyword (compared to something like "life insurance") and was probably not that competitive when Kapwig came out. If Kapwig was a life insurance company and they were trying to get their first customers ranking on it, I highly doubt that would happen.
If you want to learn more on this, check out the article below.
Every product has a certain degree of word of mouth built-in. However, there are a few things you can proactively do to increase word-of-mouth.
One thing is to find a segment of users with an audience that's also your audience. Take Blender Market ($232k/mo), a marketplace for artists to sell 3D models, and how they got their early adopters:
Most of these early sellers were freelancers and prominent artists in the community.
Our pitch was help them generate some passive side income and let us handle the infrastructure.
This approach paid off because those artists themselves had an audience that wanted to learn and buy from them:
The advantage of attracting sellers that already had an audience was that they multiplied our initial customer reach dramatically by sharing their products.
Capterra, G2, GetApp. These are the top 3 most popular software directories in terms of traffic.
These sites are like traffic brokers. They buy traffic from Google AdWords, drive it to their pages, and then charge you per click/impression/lead.
If you're a founder in a B2B niche, this is a channel worth considering. Martial Arts on Rails ($5k/month) sells management software for martial arts facilities and gyms and they've seen success with Capterra:
After a couple of months I started running ads on Capterra, a search engine for business software, where I am now ranked first in searches for "martial arts gym software". This has become my strongest source for conversions. I was initially spending around $180 a month on Capterra, and it's now closer to $400 a month. Currently, Capterra and organic search results are the main acquisitions sources for my business.
UpWork, Freelancers, Fiverr. You might think these are marketplaces that only serve service providers. Think again.
I've seen SaaS founders who were quite creative leverage these marketplaces to acquire customers. Take StoreMapper ($21k/mo), a SaaS that enables you to put a store location map on your e-commerce website. They used UpWork to successfully acquire customers: his SaaS:
I searched job sites like Upwork for people looking to hire a freelancer to do a custom build, and would swoop in and pitch them on Storemapper instead.
You want to be careful with this; just sending a message saying "Hey you don't need a dev, get X instead" is likely to get you banned from many platforms (after all, you're taking money away from them by saying their clients don't need to hire a dev and could use your software instead).
In many cases, also, you can produce a win-win scenario by using a combination of your software + custom coding. For example, if I'm looking for a referral marketing platform, I'm more likely to pay attention by someone who says: "Hey, I can help you do this for $500 instead of $7000 by using a combination of [my software] + [the custom thing you'll be doing]".
As I mentioned, this post will be updated on ongoing basis (last update: 12th March, 2021) with more channels and examples.
Thanks for reading :)