After building a revolutionary idea into a prototype, acquiring the first users for the app, product, or service is a daunting task. The myth of "build, and they will come" is far from the truth.
Since the product is not fully developed yet, it is challenging to generate interest in it. There is no track record to rely on for building momentum.
But it is possible to overcome this hurdle and build a solid foundation for growth. Always remember that the big names that you see around you, were once at ground zero and scrapping to acquire their first few users.
If you have the budget, you can run ads and get the first few users but a majority of startups don’t have this luxury. You will have to chalk up organic strategies to acquire new users. The strategy to acquire these new users depends on the app you are building.
Strategies to get the first users
Friends and Family
- Facebook: acquired users on campus; the initial users were friends of Mark Zuckerberg and friends of friends overall.
- LinkedIn: direct connections from the founding team and professional connects of the team members were invited.
- Discord: the founders connected with their gamer friends and asked them to use the app.
A common thread among the social apps is that the founders had a very clear idea of who their core/target users were, and among their immediate circle, they acquired these particular users for their app.
- Instagram: Gave the app to design influencers (people with considerable following) to try it out. Started off with a very niche audience.
- Reddit: Paul Graham (founder of Y combinator) wrote an essay referencing their demo and drove a lot of users to their app.
- Product Hunt: Cold emailed influencers to come and try out other products and launch their product.
The key here is to identify the influencer who will be excited about what you are building and would be willing to talk since they are passionate about it. Sometimes, if you are lucky, the person might write your first angel cheque.
- Sharechat: Early users were obtained by sending good morning messages and memes on whatsapp groups linked to their app. Yes, those morning messages with CTA that we troll got them their early users.
- Superhuman: The only superhuman thing about the company was its name. The founder wrote high-quality long form content which went viral and drove early signups.
This strategy works out in the long run, and when it works, it works really well.
Advice to get the first users
1. Community first: Go and participate in communities where your potential users exist. For example if you are building for gamers, go and be an active member in such communities. Build a bond with the moderators and then pitch your app. Provide value, build relationships and then only sell.
2. Alumni networks: Alumni networks are quite underrated channels to acquire the first users. Go to alumni meets and find the subsection of people who are the target audience.
3. Stripe playbook: To reduce the friction of getting the users to install, the stripe founders asked for the potential customers' laptops and install their app then and there. It may be too aggressive but can work in a coffee shop or hackathon settings.
4. Steal the disgruntled customers: Scout Twitter for the public complaints raised with the competitors and reach out offering a better solution with your offering.
5. Guest blog or sessions: Offer to write a guest blog on platforms or do value-packed sessions in communities teaching something helpful. Provide great value in other platforms and build a personal brand which will attract the users to what you are making.
Do things that don’t scale and get the initial users through pure hustle. Then, give them a great experience while taking their feedback, and keep improving.
Tool of the Day
An exhaustive resource with lots of case studies of how different founders acquired their first 1000 users. Depending on the app you are building, you can take inspiration from these case studies on how to acquire your first customers.