Growth June 29, 2020

How to Get Your First 25 SaaS Customers

Jon Yongfook @yongfook
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    I wrote this post partly with IH in mind.

    Often when I post milestones here, or view other people's milestones, the comments section is full of replies along the lines of "how did you reach X customers" or "how did you get to X revenue".

    I've personally held back from replying to comments like this here and on twitter, because I don't really know how to do justice to the question. It's really hard to give a neat, useful reply to this question when in reality the "how" is a combination of tons of small, medium and large actions - some that were successful, others that failed outright, others that maybe moved the needle a small amount.

    So I thought I would write a post about it, to reference in the future. This is what it has looked like for me, to reach my currently level of revenue (and I'm not even ramen profitable yet):

    • I re-invented the product multiple times to find the right positioning
    • I launched big new features on ProductHunt 3 times - until people grew sick of me
    • I posted in online startup communities giving advice in a non-promotional way
    • I wrote about bootstrapping on my blog and built 8 other products before this one
    • I tweeted about my startup constantly and sometimes those tweets went viral
    • I shared all my revenue data hoping that it will inspire others
    • I started a newsletter from scratch which now has 1500 subscribers
    • I implemented a referral credit system that had zero effect
    • I started an affiliate programme that has had some small effect
    • I built a shopify version of my product which was a failure, and shut it down
    • I have written dozens of "how to" articles describing the features of my product
    • I reached out personally to all my early users to gather feedback
    • I set up a Twitter account for my product and regularly post (500+ followers)
    • I sometimes share startup milestones to Facebook and Instagram
    • I have slowly increased the amount of content on my marketing site
    • I have responded quickly to users who needed a feature by building that feature
    • I have relentlessly improved the product itself

    And that's just the stuff I can currently remember! There's probably more.... a lot more than this that I've just forgotten.

    The point of this is, early stage SaaS is a primordial cocktail - the only "right thing to do" is to try many things. You won't find any advice that will translate 1-to-1 to your own startup and you won't find anything that you can just "implement" and watch those customer numbers rise forever. It is a constant, exhausting hustle and it rewards the passionate and the persistent 👍🏻

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      I re-invented the product multiple times to find the right positioning

      I'm deeply curious about this process. How did you go about this repositioning? How did you explore that shift, and do you have any insights from doing it multiple times?

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      That's a comprehensive list, and while I agree that those things probably helped immensely in growing BannerBear, the direct causality is harder to establish.

      This isn't to say you're wrong, but to say that to pinpoint the cause(s) of success is a lot harder than simply recounting what you did and then attributing success to those things.

      What I think entrepreneurs would find more helpful is what got you from a certain slump to a new threshold/inflection point. That's a lot easier to isolate, though of course sometimes inflections happen regardless of any specific change you made in your modus operandi.

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        I agree with you completely, which is why I find it so difficult to answer the question when asked. There are so many overlapping direct and indirect causes such that it's impossible to give a succinct answer - the "best" I can do is to simply list out in non-specific order the things I did. But then, as you point out, even that is not a perfect answer.

        The whole point of my post was not "these were the things I did" - if you're out there reading the list and priming yourself to replicate the actions that I took, you've missed the main takeaway from the post which is; I simply don't know - I just did everything I thought of.

        Some of it worked and some of it didn't. Even if I was cognisant of the things that worked "best" and told you those in a neat Top 5 order (as some people have also asked me), what makes you so sure they would work for you? So in the end, the best strategy is to think about your product and your market, and simply try.

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          Still, I ask that you do tell us what worked best for you. And which of these you found out that didn't work at all.

          Everyone here should then think about the applicability of your answer to their own startups.

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      That's quite a list!

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    I built a shopify version of my product which was a failure, and shut it down
    What happened here ^ @yongfook

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    thoughtful post, thanks @yongfook. follow you on Twitter and greatly appreciate your openness and transparency.

    did you use any tools to track that customer development work? did you use a CRM, spreadsheets, or something else?