AeroLeads is my 2nd Product startup (first one was InBoundio) and from my experience of 2 SaaS product startups, I can safely say – It is not easy to get your first 20 paying customers. Most of the first time founders assume if you have built the product, you have done the difficult part and people will be lining up to pay when in reality, most often the software is buggy and it has features for which people are not willing to pay.
You can get plenty of feedback from your friends, other startup founders, various startup communities etc but they will only give advice and feedback and will not convert into paid users especially if they are not your target market.
If you are a SaaS product startup , this is what you can do to get your first 20 paying customers
1. Find targeted prospects
You are better off talking to 200 people and convert 10% of them then just randomly spending all your energy and resources into doing everything and going everywhere. Way too many startups do this mistake of spreading themselves too thin.
For us, we also learned this the hard way with some trial and error that if you are a small team with the niche product, don’t do everything and just focus on 2-3 ways of marketing and sales.
We mainly focussed on LinkedIn and since we have a B2B prospect and lead generation product, it makes no sense to talk to people who don’t need it. Initially we targeted the lot of “lead generators” and “Sales” people on LinkedIn and though we got a good number of signups, I think a majority of them didn’t become paid users but still, we were able to create some visibility and I know few paying users did came from LinkedIn for us.
Do you need to find what can be your source of such prospects? It can be forums, mailing lists, linkedIn, marketplaces etc.
2. Add them on skype or messenger
One of the biggest customers of AeroLeads is on my skype contacts and we often discuss the product, how are his experience and his feedback. In fact, many of new features are suggested by him only.
I have seen this with other product startups as well who have got good traction that they are extremely personal with their first users even if they are paid users. If you add your initial users on skype/messenger, you should be able to convert few of them to paying customers or at least will get feedback on what can be improved.
3. Call them
For us, we had mixed experience with calling our users and giving demos. I have seen some startups doing very well with calling, following up and doing demos so you can do this. Don’t just send emails after emails, pick up your phone and call your users, prospects, and leads.
Many of our users have come from people who are using various email marketing software or lead generation software and AeroLeads was recommended to them by someone. If you have to pay customers or even users, ask them if they can refer others to use your software.
Do note that referral only works when you are personally connected to the user as giving them a “link” and telling them that they will get “20%” more X rarely works.
5. Get connected to other startup founders
You will be surprised how well this can work. Now blindly sending them a message on twitter/linkedIn and asking them a favor don’t work so you want to be patient. You first give before taking it. Spread the word about other good products and their content and then you can get connected to other startup founders through linkedIn, twitter, email, skype etc as now they know who you are.
I am connected to many startup founders through LinkedIn and skype and though I haven’t leveraged it as well as I should be, I know few startups who are doing this really well.
Startups often become “poor” paid users and ask for discount and barter but they make up much more for it by talking about you and giving credibility.
6. Media mention
We haven’t tried this as we had a soft launch but if you can get some media mention which can result in targeted users, you should get your 20 paying customers on that day itself. Targeted users are the key here as I have seen startups getting covered by Techcrunch which didn’t result in any paying customer, only curiosity clicks, and signups.
7. Launch private beta which is free
This is nowadays a very common strategy for SaaS startups. You want to launch your product in private beta and only offer the product to select few who you think are targeted users, let them use the software and once you are ready to go public, remove the free beta plan and ask them to upgrade to paid plans.
Another way to do is to stay in beta and ask users to fill the form to get informed when the product gets launched. This, of course, won’t work for all the products. It works when you already have a successful product X and you are launching Y.
Though it often depends on the product type and pricing, it can easily take you 2-3 months to get your first 20 paying customers and sometimes even more as your first product is often not what people want.
If you know more such growth hacking ways to get first 20 paying customers, please put it comments and I will add them here.