What advice would you give for initial growth?

I feel like there's a lot of other founders who are stuck in this stage, so I thought it'd be helpful for the people who have taken the first step and are now trying to build a foundation.

From initial brand building, SEO, partnerships, etc. with no budget, what are some ways to put together your initial runway?

“Starting a company is like jumping off a cliff and assembling a plane on the way down... The reason I like using this metaphor is because it makes it very clear that the default outcome for almost any startup is failure. The challenge for an entrepreneur is to get the company from default dead (falling) to default alive, with revenues that more than cover operating costs (flying). In this metaphor, raising money is like catching a thermal draft; it lifts you further above the surface, but you’re still going to end up crashing if you don’t get your plane running." - Reid Hoffman, Greylock

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    I'd say creating content focusing on the problem you are solving for your target audience. Then, like @Visiwig said, joing communities made up of your target audience and be helpful. Your content should be helpful so share it when it makes sense. You'll position yourself as the expert within those communities and make some good contacts. Pain point content can be great at converting as well.

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      It sounds like communities is a resounding response. Perhaps we could list a few examples for other IH's who may not be as familiar?

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    Hey Jonathan, I’m going to plug my own newsletter here. Basically I pick random startups recently launched and write how I’d grow them. You might find some ideas (at least that’s the goal 🙂)

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      Plug away, hopefully others find it useful!

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    Join communities of your target audience, talk with people without even mentioning your products, as there will be authentic moments to share, instead of spamming the second you join.

    Social media is the obvious choice for a lot of startups, you can sometimes find a great subreddit on reddit that allows mild self-promotion.

    Freebies. I'm building my whole model around offering free graphics to sell premium graphics... as people share the freebies, the audience grows. DropBox took this one step further by not only offering free storage, but offering more storage for social shares and referrals.

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      I can wholeheartedly agree about joining communities of your target audience. That is how I ended up building what I'm now building. And the great thing is that I now have the support of that entire community - because they all want to see the product succeed :)

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        Fantastisk Sune, håber dig det bedste. Danish aside... I think you really get a lot out of being part of a community, but it requires hard and dedicated work for the community and you have to be prepared to give before you take.

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          That's a very good point, and I do agree. I spent two almost two years in the community before I started building what I'm now building. During that time, I actively posted and interacted on a weekly basis.

          (tak, i lige måde)

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        Exactly, this can't be emphasized enough. It's is manual work to become known in a community, but it pays dividends.

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          I fully agree, and it shows the altruism of being a contributor, not just reaching people when you have something personal to gain. As they say.. it takes a village :)

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      These are really good tips, Matt. I think especially if you are alone, then it makes good sense to focus on as few channels as possible and use all the time you have available for growth and put all the value you can into these few channels. From my point of view, it makes better sense to have one or two focus channels and create something valuable that can elevate your authority on those channels.

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        Yes, and @jaythecreator I think you're saying once you find the right communities, invest your time in going deeper rather than just going for quantity right? I know one trouble we had (and still have) for Airtape is not getting traction in some channels. Really great input, appreciate it.

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          100% And if it's in a community that's really active, then it's actually just fun and educational to be a part of it. The bonus is that you can get to understand your target group at a level that will be difficult to get to without because they tend to express their frustrations, victories, and other things that motivate them.

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        Thank you and you have a great point to focus on a few channels. Whether you start with a few or you try a bunch, you want to assess and refocus your time on what is working best.

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    I call this the zero start problem. It's hard! What you need to find is initial signal in one or more channels. This goes beyond just your group of friends or a community of folks simply sharing products for the sake of sharing products (which is the trap a lot of founders make when launching on ProductHunt - great resource, but highly unlikely it drives significant retained customer type traffic). For my latest venture, I plugged myself in as a growth mentor and had over 100 conversations (all free) with founders where I shared my experiences as a founder, with all the failures and some wins I had. This build trust, which in turn turned these conversations into lightweight lead generation for my free programs, which then begin to lightly sell my paid programs. At the same time I posted deeper growth and product relevant content on my blog (including downloads and worksheets) to slack communities (growth mentor & product school to name two).

    Mostly you need to understand quickly what channels are potentially viable. You'll measure that on top of funnel metrics like reach down to clicks, maybe into signups. But if you can't find any reach in a channel, then you may not be in the right place.

    Trial and error early on, lots of losses, and then you'll eventually find channels and strategies that work - double down on those.

    Also, often the fastest way to acquire initial growth traction is to spend some money - highly targeted keywords on google if you have a product at or under $30 could get you quick wins. Above that, it's harder.

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    Start with your 1st degree network. That's what we did. Then experiment with different growth tactics - a lot of this is already documented for most industry segments. Lenny's newsletter offers really good advice - https://www.lennysnewsletter.com/p/how-the-biggest-consumer-apps-got.

    We're now combining outbound sales + product-led growth + community marketing for coaches. We're a social engagement app for sports teams - https://wildkard.io

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      I love Lenny's stuff and am a paid subscriber. However, the challenge with these "how X got their first 1000 customers" type of posts is that they often overlook the dozens and dozens of experiments and failed attempts to acquire customers before they hit the channels that worked to hit 1000. In many cases, the product itself wasn't even ready for the intended market, or the pain point/solution value points were off.

      I'm more interested early on how companies got their first 10, 20, 50, or 100 customers. From there you double down. I'd take the approach of finding initial traction in a couple channels, then place bigger bets, then 10x what works.

      Think of it in steps of 1, 10, 50, 100, 500, 1000 and beyond. To Lenny's point - getting from 1000 to 10,000 is probably a wildly different strategy.

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        I get it. Here is what we did (our users are sports teams, so pretty complicated since everyone has veto power):

        • 1st team - My own recreational team. I treated them to drinks.
        • 1st 10 teams - 1st degree connections + found interns on a webinar who turned out to be coaches and referred a local coach, who then brought on some teams.
        • 1st 100 teams - Direct email + demo (hired a list builder via Upwork to build a list of 11k coaches), used existing team networks to grow into more teams.
        • 1st 500 teams (we're here now) - Focusing on building regional playbook. Using a combo of coach influencers, direct email + demo, community marketing using our existing coaches and their local influence.

        Along the way, I did experiments with:

        • Paid social ads - Failed
        • Paid YouTube ads - Failed
        • Landing page optimization - Failed
        • Influencer podcast drops - Failed
        • Purchased a cheap digital booth at a coach conference - Failed
        • Hired an IG marketer to manage our channel - Promising, no results for now.
        • Earn reputation in coach FB groups - I use this for research, not acquisition.

        Hope this helps.

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          @rainbowdash thank you for sharing. This is really, really cool to see.

          What was the hardest iteration you went through?

          I've often found that 0-1 is easy, 1-10 isn't too bad, but that 10-100 is really, really hard. It's usually there where you get a sense of product market fit but before you really truly understand where you'll scale.

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            Paid ads. I had high hopes and it was a complete flop. 10-100 will take more time than you imagine. Tons of experimentation, keeping spirits up, and having patience.

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