How we got from $0 to $75,000 MRR with zero marketing budget

Sergei Gusev
Apr 18, 2016 · 8 min read

A lot of people ask me “How did you manage to grow so fast without any investment dollars?” Instead of telling the same story, again and again, I decided to write this post.

When we started Scentbird in September 2014, we were looking for a fast and cheap way to grow our subscriber base. Fortunately, I stumbled upon a video on YouTube where a girl with 150,000 followers was talking about her favorite products that she had been using that month. I realized that this is exactly what we need. We have a product; now I just need to reach out to her and offer her our product for free. If she likes it, she could review it in her next video. The resulting review from this girl brought us almost 100 sales in 2 days. The economics were incredible. One month of our subscription costs $14.95, and I got 100 sales. My resulting CPA was $0.14 per customer. It was a game changer for us.

I think that every company can benefit from Influencer Marketing, but you can get the most out of it if you have a tangible product that you can send to the influencers in your market. DollarShaveClub, Harry’s, Warby Parker, Scentbird, Birchbox, and LoveWithFood are all great examples.

Cheap but slow way to grow your sales with Influencer Marketing

I will guide you through the steps I took to make $75,000 MRR or our first 5,000 monthly paying customers. This method is great for teams with a small budget, those at the MVP stage, or those who are about to raise their first seed round.

YouTube is the second largest search engine after Google. If you are familiar with Context Advertising, it will be very easy for you. It’s just like searching for relevant keywords. In my case, I started searching for “perfume reviews.” You will find hundreds and thousands of videos related to your keyword.

Next step is to start searching for your competitors or substitutes. In my case, it was “Birchbox reviews”, “Ipsy reviews”, “LoveWithFood reviews” and so on.

You will find tons of influencers who are potentially ready to tell their audience all about your product. You know this because they have already reviewed a similar product, or they are obsessed with your industry.

Now it’s time to create a list of the influencers that you like and want to reach out to. There are two ways to build this list.

  1. Do it manually. Go from one influencer to the next and add them to your spreadsheet. You will need their real name, a link to their channel, their number of followers, links to other social networks and most importantly their email address. Here is an example of the spreadsheet that I’m using right now.

If you can’t find their email on their ‘About Page’ there is an 80% possibility that you will find it on their other social networks.

From my experience around 70% of the bloggers have their email address in the about section. If they don’t, around 50% of the 30% will have their email address mentioned on other social networks like Instagram and Twitter. Btw don’t forget to look at the other networks, because you can always ask them to post a photo of your product on Instagram, Twitter, or even on their blog.

2. Do it automatically. Alternatively, you can scrape all of this information. Ask your developer to write a script, or you can hire a freelancer on The quality of this list will be much lower. You will get a lot of irrelevant people in the list.

There are a couple of ways to can build you list pretty fast:

  1. Interns. Hire interns. Give them a task to find these relevant bloggers for you. At one point we had five interns who were searching for influencers. In total, we had around ten interns whose sole job was to find and reach out to the bloggers.
  2. Upwork. Build the list manually or scrape. After that hire a couple of people on Upwork to add influencers names, emails and so on. I used this method to get the data for about 5,000 influencers. It can take a long time because one or two people will search for this data manually.
  3. Mturk. This method is very fast. Mturk can process 5,000 influencers in a couple of days. It will be very cheap and fast. I didn’t personally use this method because the chances of fraud were too high, but you can try. Here you can find a guide on how to setup Mturk if you are not techy. → Link

Once you have your first few people on the list, you can start reaching out to them. Don’t wait until you have a full list. I have to warn you, most of the influencers won’t reply to your emails. This can be for a wide number of reasons such as they don’t like your product, they haven’t seen your email, your email got to their spam folder, etc. In our case, around 30% of the influencers reply to the first email. Approximately 20%-30% will reply to my second or third email. We still have thousands of bloggers who have never written us back.

I got our first 3,000 subscribers just by offering a free product. I had to do this because we didn’t have a budget, we hadn’t raised any money, and we only had product in stock.

The best way to get a response from the influencer is to write a personal message describing your product. Here is an example of the first version of our email.

I would highly recommend using an email management tool like to build email sequences. Also, it’s very helpful to know if the influencers opened your email. This way you can try to change the subject line if she/he didn’t open it or the whole email if she/he opened it but didn’t reply.

If you don’t follow up with these further steps, you will be surprised once you get your first video. You won’t see sales from YouTube in your Google Analytics, or at least you will find that most of your sales came from Direct or Organic (Google, Bing, Yahoo), and just a small percentage from YouTube.

Just 28% came from YouTube. The rest came from Direct and Orgenic.

Even now tracking sales from YouTube is very hard. Most of the traffic I see as Direct or Organic, but there are still a few things you can do:

  1. Create a unique coupon code with a small discount. It will encourage people to try your product, and you will be able to track the number of sales you get from a particular influencer. Our CTO built a system where we can easily create a coupon code, add a name of the influencer, set a % discount and track the number of sales. You can build the same system or create your own.

2. Create a unique link. Add a UTM with the source and influencer’s name. Here is an example of one of our links. This way you will see the sales in your analytics.

3. Ask the influencer if it’s possible to put your link above the fold. This will help you to get as many link clicks as possible. If your link is below the fold, most of the traffic to your site will come from Direct or Organic, and you won’t be able to track the performance of your campaign accurately.

Btw these links are a huge driver of SEO for your site. Try to ask the influencer to put the link to your main page and a product page in order to get the most out of it.

This is the method I used to get our first 5,000 monthly paying customers and about $75,000 in MRR. Not all of the reviews were completely free. Occasionally, the influencer really liked our product, and she was a perfect fit, but she would ask for a small compensation of $50-$150. Back then it was the maximum budget we could afford, and we paid.

A list of tools you will need to build your Influencer Marketing faster:

  • Youtube — Find your influencers here. This guide is also applicable to Instagram or Twitter.
  • Mturk — The fastest way to find info about the influencers.
  • Upwork — Much slower than Mturk but the quality is much higher.
  • PersistIQ — Manage your emails, see if your email was opened and build email sequences.
  • Bananatag — See what happens to your emails after you press send.
  • Base — The best way to manage your email list. Once you have more than 5,000 contacts in your list, you will need a system, especially if you have a couple of people reaching out to the bloggers. You can also use any other CRM service.

As you might have noticed this method is pretty slow. This is because there is a lot of manual work and once you have a big list it becomes pretty hard to manage it. However, this method is perfect to get your initial sales, get a proof of concept and show proof of traction to your investors.

Please like this post and share with your friends if you want me to write a second post about a faster way to build your Influencer Marketing. I will also share the details of how our team managed to grow from 5,000 to 35,000 subscribers with the help of influencers.

Sergei Gusev

Written by

Co-founder @Scentbird and @DeckofScarlet, Entrepreneur & Marketer & Designer, wearing many hats. YC S15, #500STRONG