Creating value for your early users

I got contacted earlier this week by a startup that want me to join a new tool they are working on as an early adopter. I got excited and replied with several questions that will help decide to join or not, they scheduled a call to go over my questions.

During the call earlier today, and as we went through an intro then my questions, I was quickly surprised by the weak value proposition of the whole ordeal. Tried to explain to the person calling me that I kindda do that for a living, she welcomed my comments one by one and then promised to get back to me later with a reply on each.

Reflecting on that call, I found several issues that span many aspects, from the basic to the usually more complex ones.

Know your potential user, very well

Common wisdom says, when trying to introduce a new tool or a product to a potential user you need to put yourself in their shoes first, then second, talk to them before you even begin to build it. These questions will help you create a killer value proposition and it really doesn’t take a long time or too much effort in comparison to investing & building a product few want to use!

Study the competition, in great detail

When you are trying to emulate another product or in this case several others, your value proposition is not a cute simple sum of all of theirs. It really isn’t. You can’t emulate a value proposition just like that. You need to study each of those originals, understand their praise and criticism, what’s working and what’s not, how is it relevant locally to your pilot market, then start designing your user experience around your own derived value proposition and business model.

Sounds complicated? Maybe a little. But remember that wishful thinking doesn’t create successful product launches, empathy alone doesn't, copy-paste, mix-and-match doesn’t either, neither does free or price competitiveness alone.

Make your first/early customers feel super super special

As I was telling someone else the other day, when you start, your startup is nobody to your customers. You need to put the effort needed to be somebody then maybe an acquaintance then a friend then their best buddy.

Here are some stuff to consider:

If you want a potential user to spend their own time helping you seed your platform with content, then you have to communicate a clear case of making it worth their while now or soon in the future.
If you want them to use it heavily at first and give you focused feedback, then you have to promise something valuable soon enough…
If you want them to include you in their own marketing effort, then you must offer exclusivity for some time.
If you want them to stop using whatever they were using before, then you must make it so enticing for them to jump in and free doesn’t always cut it.
If you want them to try your product for a while, make it stick, help them to want to invest the time needed, show them quick wins.

When they start using your product, make them feel heard, support them, make them want to tell everyone they know how lucky they were to get the gig of using your product first. You need to think of a much better way to delight them before your product gets the healthy user-ship you’re aiming for.