Selling before you build. From a sales professional.

Everyone says to pre-sell before you build. Most fail to do so because they've never had a plan to help them. Treat it like a science experiment by following the Rule of 100 to determine if your project is worth building.

The Rule of 100

  • Decide your ideal customer

  • Compile 100 of those contacts

  • Set a goal for success. If 10 buy, will I build the thing? If I can't find 10, will I move on from this idea?

"More bootstrappers would succeed if they focussed on sales rather than marketing." - Courtland Allen, Indiehackers

Your ideal customer

  1. Who could my product help?
  2. Where do those people hang out?
  3. How does my work translate into their success? (more on this later!)

These questions are necessary to determine if your target market exists. If so, how can we repeatedly find them? And how do we message them about the benefits they could experience by working with us?

Example: It's a tried and true method of aligning your capabilities with your customer's needs. Let's give it a try for Eamon Keane's Project Rina, a Twitter Publishing Tool.

  1. Who does this product help? Twitter users who are trying to grow an audience, schedule their content, and handle multiple accounts.
  2. Where do those people hang out? Definitely on Twitter, but maybe there are some communities or conferences we can search for and see what we come up with.
  3. How does my work translate into their success? If they used this tool, they could spend less time on the logistics of Twitter and just focus on the content, their secret sauce.

How to find 100 of those contacts - copy my Google Sheet [link] to organize them

If your problem truly exists, there is some group of people out in the wild who are trying to solve it. We can find them by following through on the last step with a simple Google search. We know the tool is to help power-Tweeters. So let's try searching for where they may congregate on Linkedin or Facebook.

Searching "Twitter" on Linkedin Groups returns Twitter Strategies, a 14k person group

The great thing about Linkedin or Facebook is we can now directly message our prospects. The teardown of how to actually message is at the end of this post!

A tool to help

Sending personalized emails to 50 people at once from a Google Sheet.

The best results come from the basics. I use Yet Another Mail Merge (YAMM), a free Google Sheets add-on that lets you send 50 emails a day. Though, I like to think I can be more personalized than most. Here's a 2min vid on how to set up YAMM and a personalized email. 👇

Loom vid

A cold-email teardown

You've got your customer list and now you want to sell to them. What do you actually say? Let's start off with what not to say.

What not to say

Here's an email I got from a recruiter yesterday. Do you think they wonder why no one responds?


Hannah, I'm sorry to put you on blast, but this breaks so many rules of good cold email:

  • Very long subject line
  • Dabbling around the point
  • Not getting into the pitch until 50% down the page
  • Very dense
  • Weak closing in "Let me know if you're open to speaking?"

What to say instead

This is a cold email I sent this week while looking for beta users of a SaaS project.


Do you think it got a response? Because it did! Why?

  • Short subject line with their name invites the open
  • Starting with your connection (however fickle), shows you're a real person
  • Get to the point fast. We often want to send pleasantries, but the best pleasantry of all is not wasting someone's time.
  • Personalize your pitch. I wanted her to use a sales tool of mine. So I sent her a link of how it would look on her website.
  • Close with confidence. Share any initial results. Give a couple of options for how this conversation could go and let them choose.


This 1 tip, 1 tool, and 1 teardown is focused on helping you get your first customers for a new or non-existent product.

If you would like (and would pay for) weekly sales advice posts like these, drop me a note! [email protected].

  1. 4

    This is awesome and very detailed. Thanks, Ryan!

    1. 1

      my pleasure vd! I’m considering doing a newsletter on sales for bootstrappers. Trying to talk to interested people at [email protected] to see if it’s worth doing!

      Would love to chat if you have the time

      1. 1

        Dropping you a note. Your linkedin group example is spot on to what I do with linkdra (https://linkdra.com). Instead of cold email, do a warm intro on LinkedIn and then switch to emails for scale and continued to connect.

        Would welcome your thoughts on a LinkedIn (300 chars) message templates. Would be very useful to reach those 100 early birds.

  2. 4

    Thanks Ryan. Its really awesome.

    I was looking exactly for this. "How to talk to early user"

    Thanks again.

    1. 1

      glad to hear it vivek! I'm interested in following anyone who takes and acts on these guides. my email is [email protected] and I'd love to hear how it works for you.

  3. 3

    Nicely presented tip! Thankyou

    1. 1

      Sure thing! Hope it helps one of your many businesses :)

    1. 1

      ofc! just posted another one on generating free press, in the Growth section. hope it helps!

  4. 2

    I needed this very very much. Thank you!

    1. 1

      glad it's helpful Petar! I'm building a weekly newsletter of these. If you're interested, drop me a note! [email protected] or https://twitter.com/Ryan___Doyle

  5. 2

    I'm sure this works and I'm probably in the minority here but I couldn't bring myself to do it. I find everything about cold emails awful - although that's maybe why I'm not in sales. I tend to just hit spam if I get them.

    1. 3

      I agreed with this when I was initially doing cold outreach. Most cold emails suck and are super salesy. But imagine getting a cold email that's so helpful + insightful, JUST when you need it, that you'd reply, "Holy cow, I usually never respond to this BS but this is exactly what I needed!"

      That's the goal, at least. I've seen it happen on occasion with my company's outbound team (calls + emails). But you're right, in general, cold outreach is awful.

    2. 2

      Unfortunately so many are burned by - frankly - shitty sales practices. It's rare that someone encounters a cold email that comes from someone who's truly trying to help.

  6. 2

    Thanks Ryan, this was a great post and something that I learned the hard way working with many marketing based projects before going into B2B SaaS. Wish I had read it, and understood it 4 years ago :).

    1. 1

      Thanks Fredrik! Agreed it's hard to know, harder to understand, and harder to practice!

  7. 2

    Last week I met a 13 year old boy from Singapore who is stuck here in Germany because of Corona and cannot fly home.

    He has developed a game in Unity that we want to launch next week on Product Hunt. His goal is to flip a dollar on the internet.

    What would you recommend, how can he build an pre-audience in that short time?

    1. 4

      This story is perfect for reddit.

    2. 2

      I'd be tweeting / emailing what you just wrote to every techcrunch / mashable / quartz etc journalist who's ever written about a game launch. If he's going for a lot, fast, it's worth taking the unique story to someone who can amplify it. The message you wrote is all you need to share.

      Change the final sentence to "He launches X day, let me know if you want more info."

      Drop the scoop and let those interested act on it. Be responsive if they reach back. They won't read a hefty initial email, but if they bite on this note, give em all you got.

  8. 2

    Thanks for sharing these great tips.

    1. 2

      Ofc musado! Please let me know if you use any of them and how they work for you

  9. 2

    It's scary to write a comment, you may empty my pockets before I notice.

    Keep it short and get to the point, rule of thumb. I enjoy reading that cold e-mail, I shall start at some point to send out those mails.

    1. 1

      haha a good salesperson hopes to empty 1/10th of your pocket, in order toto double what's in your pocket :)

      please let me know how cold emailing works for you!

  10. 1

    Awesome post! I also read Russel Brunson.
    Great to see you're making a product with GPT-3 btw. Curious about it! I also have GPT-3 access.

  11. 1

    Amazing and I have been trying to follow this script.

    I faced another problem where I don't have the customer list to start email campaign. Did some manual searching around and figure LinkedIn is a good source if you are in the B2B space.

    But LinkedIn takes time and so save the pain, created LINKDRA (linkdra.com) . This is our way to reach you first 100 when you are just starting out and do not know people in the industry. My experience 3-5 do respond and accept to connect if you have a good sincere note. No sales yet, but content value at least for the first 2 messages and then ask for a meeting perhaps.

  12. 1

    Some quality advice Ryan! I've been so focused the last years on improving my technical skills and now I've come to the realisation that I can create stuff, yet still nobody cares!

    Will definitely remember these tips here.

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