The Step by Step Guide to Getting The Right Early Users For Your Startup
Most early stage consumer-focused startups fail because of lack of user growth. This reason is more lethal than not getting funded since in many ways, ease of raising funds is positively correlated to the growth of your user base.
As much as it is incredibly difficult to get those early adopters, thankfully there are proven methodologies, which followed meticulously and patiently, can create a healthy base of lighthouse customers. I say this out of experience as, for my podcasting startup Jabbercast, I successfully created a vibrant beta community of almost 200 folks — none of whom I knew before and without spending a single dollar in marketing!
What follows below is a step-by-step procedure of how I did it and is very much applicable when your company and product are in their early stages. The process hinges on the answers to the below 4 questions and at every stage I will add more context using Jabbercast as an example.
- Who is an ideal early user?
- Where on the internet should I look for such users?
- How to find these users?
- What should I write to them about?
I feel confident that if you follow the below process, you will achieve a reasonable level of success in creating an engaged base of early users who are extremely beneficial in a multitude of ways to your product and company.
1) Who is an ideal early user?
An ideal early user is one who is very passionate and is most affected by the problem that you are trying to solve.
I know I am stating the obvious but you will be surprised the countless number of times this is either misinterpreted, not clearly understood or even forgotten at some stage in the process.
Getting such an early user is important because of 3 infallible reasons:
- They will be more willing to try out new products — hence easier to convert.
- They are most vocal about feedback — their bouquets smell sweeter and their brickbats hurt more. Think of them as your early product managers helping you sort through the Important Vs. Bloat product features
- If they like what they see, they become core evangelists of your product. This is important because not only do they spread the word and boost your viral coefficient (thereby getting you more visits, installs etc) but this also significantly reduces your user acquisition cost and at an early stage you want to be as fiscally prudent as you can.
Having early users who are ardent, dramatically increase your chances of success, hence it makes a lot of sense to focus all your energies on this target demographic. You will have to fight the desire to go all out and get whoever crosses your line of sight. Rather than spreading your resources thin, I suggest you put more wood behind fewer arrows.
And yes, absolutely no family members or close friends in the early user set — all of them are LIARS and biased :-) They don’t want to or are unable see your long face when the feedback is not what you expect!
2) Where should I hunt for these early users?
I used the below 5 destinations to find early users for Jabbercast:
- Medium.com and
- Apple App Store (You can include Google Play Store as well — I did not do so because Jabbercast is iOS only for now)
The single biggest reason why I chose these platforms is because I was looking specifically for content creators — folks who tweet useful stuff on Twitter, write meaningful answers on Quora, participate in a healthy debate on Reddit forums, hammer out detailed blogs on Medium and finally, those who give ratings and reviews for apps on the App Store
In case you are wondering — “Why is this important?”, the answer is simple: the creator to consumer ratio on the internet is disproportionately skewed in favor of consumers — as in, for every 1,000 or 10,000 people who watch a video, maybe 1 creates a video (ratio could be in-accurate but you get my drift) and it is these content creators who are most passionate about what they do. It’s a lot of work to create, edit and distribute good quality content on the web; this entails skill, focus and a lot of discipline — and only those who are really committed to what they do, will see it all the way to end. If still in doubt, ask yourself how many Quora answers you have read and how many you have written — that should clarify my point.
If you are creating and publishing quality content online, you are giving a signal that you care about a specific cause and have no qualms about sharing your opinion on a topic, exactly the type of users we want early on.
I am going to explain the remaining points using Twitter as an example and except for the App Store, you can rinse and repeat the same process on the other 3 platforms. I will call out the App Store mechanics separately.
3) How to find these users and get their contact details?
For Jabbercast, the way I started off is by going to the Twitter pages of 8–10 popular podcasts/podcast hosts and then looked at the list of their followers.
I was trying to get a sense of who these followers were, how active they were and what kind of discussions they engaged in. After a thorough investigation of their profile descriptions and also of those whom they followed and who followed them and studying everyone’s activity, I started noticing a common pattern of words (below) being used by a relatively small set of these folks in their profile descriptions, tweets/re-tweets, hashtags, etc.
- podcast junkie
- podcast addict
- podcast lover
- podcast fan
- podcast aficionado
- radio lover
- audiobook fan
- audio storytelling
- internet radio
- podern family
These keywords were the hallmark of my target user and were going to help me get to them.
I started searching for these keywords on Twitter. Above the search results page, Twitter offers a search filter bar with values like “Top”, “Live”, “Accounts” and so on. I used these and started following people whose names showed up in the search results. Even in this case, I did not follow everyone blindly — I ensured that I had a healthy mix of podcast listeners, podcasters, audiobook listeners and those who provide podcast-related value added services (podcast newsletters, podcast clubs/groups, podcast hosting and editing services etc) in the list of folks I was going after.
We got nice reciprocity and a little over 50% of the folks I followed via this method followed me back. This is important because you cannot Direct Message the Twitterati until they follow you. Some users have the Messaging option enabled by default and some also mention their email on their profiles. But for most accounts, messaging is barred till they follow you.
Now that we know how to reach these users, the last and the final step covers the message — as in what you should write to them.
Before that, 2 quick things:
- Quora has a public list of Top Writers in specific Topics (in my case these topics were Podcasts, Podcasting and Podcast Recommendations). From within the Top Writers, I followed and reached out to folks who had a higher number of good quality answers and also more followers than others (as I said, always look for the most engaged and passionate target). A recent change in Quora policy prevents you from Messaging anyone until they follow you. However, a lot of Quora users give a link to their LinkedIn profile, which makes it easier to find out their email. Even if the LI profile does not expose an email, some hustling on Google will get you what you want.
- The App Store dynamics are a little different. On the App store, go to your competitor’s page, click on the Ratings and Reviews section and scan for folks who have given low ratings and bad reviews. You want these users the most because they feel the pain point the most and are ready to switch. Now, some usernames are esoteric making it hard to get their contact but there are some easy to track users who are unhappy with your competitor’s offering. Eg: If someone with username “khararohan” has written a negative app store review about your competitor, there is a chance, albeit small, that when I google “khararohan email” or variations of that, I will end up with the email id from somewhere — the google search could take me to Twitter which could point to their LinkedIn/about.me/medium.com profile, which would ultimately give away the email. Again, chances are slim but it’s definitely worth spending some time because this kind of a disgruntled user of your competitor’s products is perfect for beta testing and evangelism.
4) What should I write to these users?
This is a sensitive one because this will be your first official communication with them and it also sets the tone and impression for future discussions.
I had drafted 3–4 different versions of messaging (one version each for podcast listener, podcast Value Added Service provider, podcaster and patrons of audio storytelling/internet radio/radio on-demand). There was a 60% — 70% overlap in the different messages. My outreach had a friendly tone and was based on the below structure. Every message was written sincerely and I did not write a single line which I did not mean.
- If I was reaching out via email, I would personalize the subject line with the name of the recipient.
- My opening line would be: “Hi XYZ — I’m Rohan and I love podcasts”. This is important because this part is tiny enough to be shown in a notification’s preview.
- On Twitter, I would explicitly call out at the outset of the message that this is not an automated message (Yes, it makes a difference)
- If I was reaching out to a podcaster, I would thank them for doing what they did. I did that very earnestly because Podcasting is not an easy profession to be in. If I had enjoyed some of their past episodes, I would call it out and appreciate the effort they put in to make that content. A likewise treatment was doled out to folks who ran a blog/newsletter on podcasting. To Quora users, I would pass on my gratitude to those who wrote really meaningful answers and helped other patrons of podcasting with their queries. Likewise for folks who had written blog posts (on Medium, Columbia Journalism Review etc)
- I would tell them the pain points that Jabbercast is solving in about 3–4 sentences
- Finally, I would tell them that I would be “psyched/thrilled if they helped me build my product” — This is much more impactful than just saying the clichéd “we need your feedback”. People want to feel good about themselves and also want to push forward the envelope
A lot of people replied asking for details and I started drafting templates of those as well (to attain efficiency). Once folks agreed to become users, I also got references of other podcast lovers — all I had to do was ask nicely.
There were some pleasant surprises as well: A few tweeted using Jabbercast’s Twitter handle asking people to join the beta and some started sending in feedback right away. I profusely thanked each and everyone who agreed to be a part of the beta program.
To a subset of who did not revert, I followed-up with a non-annoying, gentle reminder and was successful in converting a few of those as well.
In all, I reached out to ~1,100 folks across all platforms and about 200 of them agreed to be beta users. I interacted personally with all of these 200 and each and every one in this community is crazy about listening to or producing podcasts and deeply in love with the audio storytelling medium.
Other than the above process, there are paid services which provide beta testers and also a host of startup directories that have launched recently. You can easily find them via Google and submit your product there. I prefer the above method because not only does it allow you to pick and choose your early adopters but you also forge a personal relationship with them. This pays off in the long term. While these directories can get you an initial bump in downloads, they provide less of a long-term benefit in terms of engagement.
Once you try this methodology, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to know how it worked out for you and also help out if you need.
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