11 Marketing Channels That Consistently Work for Founders

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.

The Criteria

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.

1. SEO (After Succeeding With Another Acquisition Channel)

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.

Learn more: Acquisition Channel of the Week: SEO (with a twist)

2. Product Launch Platforms (Product Hunt, BetaList, etc.)

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.

Learn More:

3. App Exchanges / Marketplaces

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.

Learn more:

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4. (sub)Reddit(s)

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

5. Cold Email Outreach

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

6. "Powered by" 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…

Learn more: “Powered by”: A Marketing Channel Nobody Talks About

7. Hacker News

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.

Learn more: Hacker News: The Only Acquisition Channel Where Commenting Works Better than Posting?

8. SEO (starting immediately)

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.

Learn more: Acquisition Channel of the Week: SEO (starting immediately)

9. Proactive Word of Mouth

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.

Learn more: 3 Word-of-Mouth tactics that work with founder examples

10. Software Directories

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.

Learn more: Acquisition channel of the week: software directories

11. Freelancing Marketplaces

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]".

Learn more: Acquisition Channel of the Week: Freelancing Marketplaces

As I mentioned, this post will be updated on ongoing basis (last update: 12th March, 2021) with more channels and examples.

Thanks for reading :)

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  1. 8

    I don't see social media here. Interesting...

    1. 3

      It's actually on the list, see https://zerotousers.com. This is not the complete list, the complete list has 40+ channels. I'll be adding new channels here each week, as I write more detailed articles on each platform.

    2. 1

      Maybe there’s a bias given by the kind of people that build this kind of apps. I wonder what would brand-oriented entrepreneurs would answer instead of product-oriented.

      1. 1

        I was thinking the same thing. Did you find any resources like this one but more so for brand-oriented entrepreneurs?

      2. 1

        I was wondering about bias too - it's what worked for IndieHackers founders.

  2. 7

    The freelancing marketplaces part was an interesting one. I also saw something like this on Pinterest. People there ranking for various level-2/info keywords like "how to make X" and then writing an article where their software is ultimately the solution to the problem.

    1. 1

      I just did this two nights before this post. Now I have a lot of ideas in my notebook. hahaha

  3. 6

    This is an extremely valuable post. How long did it take you to do this research?

      1. 2

        That's impressive. Thanks for sharing!

      2. 2

        Thanks for sharing with us the result of hundreds hours of your work for free ❤️

      3. 2

        So every interview took around 30 mins?

        1. 2

          Well, 15-20 mins for reading, 5 mins for separating the quotes, 5 mins for categorizing the quotes and entering them in a DB.

          1. 1

            Very valuable thank you!

    1. 2

      How about Crunchbase?

  4. 4

    As a word of caution, don't go for all at the same time. Zero in on 2 at a time, really focus on both and run tests, then do it again with the others (generally speaking this would start once the other channel has become saturated/expensive).

    Also, SEO is great but you are in an SEO sandbox for a minimum of 6 months. Google has also been on a made algo update the last 6 months to the point that the current SERPs are giving me circa 2010 vibes (spammy, old pages ranking for high volume searches). They are also not indexing new pages/sites like they used to. You are talking for some 5 days+ whereas before you could do it pretty much instantly with some blackhat tricks.

    1. 4

      +1 for this advice. Unless your conversion tracking is setup perfectly you may not even know which channel is driving you leads at the moment.

      If you are leveraging multiple acquisition channels you need to be mindful of effectiveness of each channel and CAC/LTV by channel when deciding what to drop and what to double down on.

    2. 2

      Sandboxing is a myth... and been proved to be a falsehood.

      1. 2

        I have 4 sites that I've been building up from scratch exclusively with black hat tactics. Everything that Google tells you to do is a myth.

        Sandboxing however is way to evident from my first-hand clear evidence. 8 months into focusing on KWs with 800,000+ searches per month and we have been doing the Google dance for some time, each time climbing higher and higher after dropping. This is with domains with no clout.

        There's way too much evidence from personal experience to say sandboxing isn't true.

  5. 3

    It’s an interesting article. Thanks

  6. 3

    Love the article @zerotousers! I completely agree with the Shopify channel for acquiring new users -- I recently wrote an article that shows how to Get close to 1,000 new users in a week on Shopify

  7. 3

    Upvoted. Nice work!

    @csallen - can we get favorites (like HackerNews) / saved (like Reddit). This would be something I'd like to revisit time-to-time!

  8. 2

    Thank you very much @zerotousers, the report is a phenomenal work !

  9. 2

    Read this a bit late but this post is incredible! Thanks for sharing!

  10. 2

    Do anyone have experience with getting traffic from Youtube, i.e. create instruction videos, to drive new customers to your website/app, etc.?

    1. 1

      We have a company channel on YouTube showcasing the presentations portfolio, as well as the results of our students' education. I can't say it drives a lot of traffic or brings customers, but maybe we should pay more attention to that

  11. 2

    Here in comment section I don't see people discuss cold emailing. Seems like no one likes hard staff that actually delivers.
    Looks like cold calling is an opportunity of a lifetime right now

  12. 2

    The marketing channels are changing their leaders very often. One month the SEO sphere can prevail, and the other one the Reddits, or I don't know. The most crucial thing in marketing is knowing how to promote the product so that other clients will promote them for you among their friends. I ordered a digital screen from https://www.digitalframe0.com/product-category/digital-signage-displays/, and it helps me attracting potential clients for my cousin's company. I am glad I can help her achieve her goals.

  13. 2

    Loved the idea about freelancing marketplaces - good insight!

  14. 2

    Hey, Darko. It was super helpful. I'm going to apply it. Thanks for sharing. Cheers :)

  15. 2

    I'm curious how people are utilizing reddit. Every reddit page I go to has strict rules against advertising/promoting. How are you all handling this?

    1. 1

      You need to post valuable content with only a passing reference to your product, e.g. original article link at the end, or the product has to be a part of a conversation when others are asking for product/service recommendations.

      So you need to be looking for opportunities to mention your product. Very time consuming but can work.

  16. 2

    Great article, and mostly matches my experience. Freelancing marketplaces is a big one for us. I would add to point 1 that paid backlinks can work to speed up the process, if they are from a high enough DA and not spammy (I've used accessily.com and fratlinks.com with some success).

    1. 1

      Curious how you use freelancing marketplaces (no need to share any specifics, but just in general).

      1. 2

        As a customer acquisition channel. With some effort we made it onto the front page of Fiverr for a few common queries and it's become a major source of inbound (we usually get people off the platform if we can to build long-term relationships).

  17. 2

    I think you mentioned an article a week ago that talked about uncovering your power users and finding influencers was one of the strategies.

    1. 1

      You probably mean the 'power users' part of this article?

  18. 1

    Great 👍,thank you for sharing

  19. 1

    Wow, it's an extremely valuable post. Thank you!

  20. 1

    thanks for sharing, useful information

  21. 1

    It's totally worth reading. Thanks for sharing these list with us.

    P.s. Fortunately I started my career with SEO. SEO is here to stay.

  22. 1

    I live in Ukraine, and it's popular here to make up your personal brand via social media like Facebook and Instagram. So people know whom to contact in case they need something related to your business.

    Moreover, via posting you can show your principles, values and of course results.

  23. 1

    Great post and enjoyed the content!

  24. 1

    Thank you - this has really helped me see the wood for the trees!

  25. 1

    Interesting list, thanks for sharing! Wish we could explore more deeply all these channels (so far 9ish out of 11!) But it's challenging to put equal energy into each channel in order to know which one is the most profitable, especially when the resource is limited.

  26. 1

    Incredible post! Thank you for putting the work in for us.

    I'm quite baffled with Hackernews. No matter what I've tried I've received zero return or even any interaction.

    Not sure but it looks like you need to be backed by Y combinator or something to get to the front page. Does anyone have any tips on this?

  27. 1

    Is it only PDF or is there an online version as well? @zerotousers

  28. 1

    Thanks for this comprehensive list. Subreddits and Quora have proven successful for me in the past. I'll have to try The freelance marketplace idea + the Powered By technique.



  29. 1

    What freelancing marketplaces can you recommend (except Upwork)?

  30. 1

    thanks for sharing!

  31. 1

    Wow, so much of a valuable knowledge in one place, it's very impressive! As a Growth Hacker in a Software House Railwaymen I can't adapt most of them 1:1 (as these advices are clearly more SaaS oriented) but it's definitely opening a lot of creative doors in my brain ;) Going to start with Reddit and HackerNews and see how it will go, once again - huge thanks for sharing that!

  32. 1

    Thanks for sharing! Not sure how we could use fiverr and Co. for paperless.io but I will try it!

  33. 1

    That is a unique and quality post, thanks.

  34. 1

    Awesome list! Thanks for sharing 👍

  35. 1

    Super useful article! Thanks @zerotousers

  36. 1

    This is amazing, thanks a lot for this list.

  37. 1

    Thanks for researching and posting this!

  38. 1

    Thanks for this post.

  39. 1

    Nice distinction with SEO. It's really hard to miss this if you're not reading the whole interviews.

    1. 1

      Yeah, I've started noticing this after the 50th interview actually. I was like...wait, so many of them mention SEO but they previously mentioned Product Hunt or being featured on a newsletter.

      1. 1

        All of these channels seem to follow the law of shitty clickthroughs though.

  40. 0

    This all seems to be copied from another source. (this was posted months ago already)

      1. 0

        The SaaS Growth Summit from user.com, a two day online free summit - where all theses details were discussed in detail, almost a carbon copy of what is communicated here.

        1. 1

          Haha I was part of that summit. I actually wrote a guest post on Nathan Latka's article on "powered by". He thanked me and he now has a webinar he shares across these conferences where he discusses 3 channels: 'powered by'/marketplaces/community. You are probably referring to his talk.

          But yeah he has done 3000+ founder interviews and found the same patterns. Mine are taken from Indie Hackers interviews, his are taken from his own interviews.

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