April 21, 2019

Who's gotten to 10 paying customers? Share what you learned!

Courtland Allen @csallen

The title says it all. How'd you find your first 10 customers, and what are some lessons you learned in doing so?

  1. 15

    The very first enterprise customer I ever got (2007?) wasn't even a sales conversation. I was just trying to learn, and they were saying nice things, but I didn't believe them, so I asked them to put down a deposit to prove it. It was only a couple grand, but that was a pretty huge milestone and changed my views on sales needing to be about 'convincing' or 'tricking' people. I guess what I learned is that sales is hard when you're selling something they don't want, and easy if you're selling something that they do, so there's no point spending a bunch of time or effort pushing the wrong product to the wrong people (even if you might occasionally get a little bit of revenue from it).

    On the consumer side, when I wanted to write my first book (2012), I made a blog post saying that I was doing it and that people could pay me today to get a book eventually (no release date), and for the full price of $30 with zero discount or bonuses of any sort. The pitch was basically, "If you want it, you can pay me early for no reason." And they did! Not a ton of people, but more than a hundred, which put a few grand in my pocket and gave me the confidence that it wasn't something which zero people wanted. I'm reminded of this because I ran into one of those first customers a few days ago (in Moscow, of all places), and I asked him why he had bothered when he could have just waited for launch. And he said, "I wanted to make sure you wrote it." So I guess my lesson is again similar: it's not a crime to ask people for money, and if you're doing something they actually want, they'll happily support you.

    I'm still a techie at heart and will never feel comfortable "tricking" or "convincing" people to pay me, but I've completely stopped feeling guilty about giving them the opportunity to pay me if they want to. And if they don't, I'll keep making my product better (or change what my product is) until they want to.

  2. 8

    This is ancient history at this point, but IH used to be an ad-supported site, so my first 10 customers were all advertisers. The first few came from random inbound requests. After that I set a goal of talking to 10 advertisers in a month, so I did more to tell people that I was selling ads: I put up a page in my nav bar with pricing, blogged about it, wrote about it in my newsletter, etc. I ended up talking to 18 people that month, all over email, and 7 of them paid me for ad slots.

    Lessons learned:

    • content marketing obviously worked very well; wouldn't have had any of this inbound interest if people weren't consistently coming back to IH to read the interviews and subscribing to the newsletter
    • early-stage founders were not great customers for me… they didn't have much money, so I couldn't charge much, and there was lots of stress and hand-wringing about how their ads would perform
    • sales were a lot more ad hoc than I would've predicted; even for something as straightforward as advertising, everyone wanted different things, and all my attempts to make things streamlined pretty much failed
  3. 4

    Overwhelmingly, my customers found me on YouTube. Google search is a distant second and Reddit, Medium and Twitter combined are a very distant third. My product is premium tutorials and my marketing is free tutorials.

    The biggest things I've learned are:

    • A single super-targeted Reddit post was a big help at the beginning, but further time spent on Reddit was nearly all wasted.
    • It's much harder to syndicate and share videos than written content.
    • Educational content compounds. It was hard to start but now I regularly benefit from work done last year.
    • In contrast, Reddit submissions and comments from last year aren't doing much for me at all.
  4. 4

    We are into hair extensions business for the last 5 year. What we have understood:

    1. Marketing matters
    2. Having quality product is not enough
    3. Selling real product is easier than selling digital product or information
    4. Selling cheaper than your competitor does not solve your problem
    5. Don't show your desperation to make sales
    6. Be honest with your customer. take losses if customer has genuine reason to return or ask for refund.
    7. Brand is as good as your customer experience
  5. 2

    I used my professional network, since my company solves a problem for a lot of them. I had what they wanted, so I just emailed them and worked out the deals.

    I further scaled by launching a version where anyone could apply. It was (and is) still a lot of my community, but it’s picked up steam broader as I’ve done a lot more marketing, especially podcasts and speaking.

  6. 2

    Product market fit = solve a problem for your ideal customer. That's how I got our first 10 paying customers!

  7. 2

    I'm currently halfway to 10 paying customers. But I'll share what I've learned anyway.

    I think the biggest thing I've learned is that, if your customers love your product, they will refer people to you. A majority of my customers are referrals from my first customer.

    I've done almost no marketing yet. Mostly because I wanted to get the product to a more scalable point before doing so. But I am going to shift my focus to getting customers by the end of the quarter.

  8. 1

    I sold 45+ copies of my ebook (about designing responsive app for iOS devices) after openly blogging about iOS development for 1 year+.

    I learned that I need to build trust / reputation first and build a product based on real pain. The pain (unable to get UI looks good across all screen sizes) is gathered from internet forums and my blog posts related to this pain get a lot of traffic, and I got 10 people in the opt-in waiting list stating they are interested on the book before I even wrote it!

  9. 0

    We're many times 10 customers. But then, we're at it with RiteKit for 7.5 years.

    Feedback is a grand lie. No one wants to talk with you, the expects things to work, expect you to figure out what to make.

    You will be overlooked in every possible way, if you're bootstrapped. No one will push you down; they'll just put everyone but you on a pedestal. You'll get asked to comment on "10 of the best browser extensions for social media marketing" and will wonder, where the fuck is RiteTag? I'll get offered a ten percent discount on Hashtagpalooza, etc. event where the keynote squeeker quotes no one but me but, you know, doesn't actually want to hear from me...?

    People are blind. Less words, bigger font sizes, you need to thrust information at users harder and bigger. BIGGER. They're blind and they're distracted.

    You're hooked and probably for life, because you will never again trade your time for money. Then again, about ten people per week get added to your shit-list. People who could have given you a fair shot but they either:

    1. Are in the Bay Area, and those in CA take care of those in CA (or those with a vagina, etc.)
    2. Prostrate themselves before the gods of VC and put the externally-funded on each and every pedestal, leaving your team and project twisting in the wind.
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