Your first 1,000 fans

At TheFamily, I’m lucky enough to meet with a lot of Entrepreneurs chasing many different opportunities. And even though each one is different, I think startups can fall into two categories: those who are just getting started and still figuring what they’re doing and those who already have a business, clients or users and who are trying to grow fast.

Being a growth hacker, the latter category is the most fun because you know where you’re heading and you have some material to work with. Yet, rather unintuitively, it’s where growth hacks are harder to find. The tipping point is probably your 1,000th fan (check out this article — 1,000 True Fans — if you haven’t already read it).

But what about those just getting started then? How can they growth hack their way to their 1,000 fans? The first thing that I’d start with is deciding whether I’m a community-driven business or a one-off business.

Community-driven businesses

Community-driven businesses are companies benefitting from a recurring usage of their community by building a habit. As an example, we have a company at TheFamily called Menu Next Door that lets anyone cook for their neighbors. They are a community-based business because their users love to discover new amateur chefs and try new food.

In their case, what’s crucial is to have people coming back over and over again. If you’re launching this kind of business, your one and only goal should be… gathering a community (obviously)! Thankfully, we’re in 2016 and Facebook Groups exist.

I love Facebook Groups because you can first invite your friends who might be interested in it and then let them invite their own friends who will themselves invite their own friends, etc. Facebook Groups are very easy to grow organically and many businesses have started this way.

But don’t be mistaken! This actually is a LOT of work. You have to manage your community, feed content to people, ban bots, etc. Yet it is still an efficient way to measure the interest in what you’re doing (people inviting their friends is a good indicator) and to jump start an habit.

What’s more, you should recruit your first users manually. Be bullish: go as far as taking someone’s phone and putting them manually into your group! You should also try to get some influencers that can create the wow effect. That way, chances are they will invite their own community.

One-off businesses

What I call “one-off businesses” are ones that customers use only one time or very rarely. For instance, we have a company at TheFamily called Trusk. Their business is to move things that you couldn’t move yourself. Of course, you don’t have to move your sofa from one place to another every week. That means their retention rate is hard to measure and they must constantly find new leads.

The idea here is to find one constant stream of leads where you can then sell your service or your product. To find this stream you have to understand a) where are your users (target) and b) when it’s the right time to talk to them (moment). The combination of the two will give you a place, a.k.a., a network of people from which you can grow.

At that point, you have to automate your lead generation. You can build a simple bot to visit a targeted pool of LinkedIn profiles with iMacros. You can post fake listings on Craigslist and put the emails you receive automatically in Mailchimp with Zapier:

Of course, these techniques are small “hacks”. They’re a) short-lived, b) not scalable and c) borderline. But they are a great way to hack your way to your first 1,000 clients and deliver them such an amazing experience that they will refer their friends and then you’ll start growing organically.

As my friend Julien often says, don’t try to build complicated growth engines / viral loops machines until you have these 1,000 fans. Test, iterate and do things manually (like going to events or even talking to people in the street) and double down on what works. You’ll have plenty of time to automate your most profitable channels later.

And no matter what you sell, keep in mind that this can only work if your product or your service is AMAZING. That doesn’t mean it has to do everything, but it should do one simple thing very well. In short, go build one hell of an MVP.