How To Get Your First 100 Customers

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Start Your Own Business. Starting your own business can be one of the best things you ever do. The higher up the ladder you are, the more you get paid, and the more control you have. And you can’t go any higher than owning your own business. “I’m gonna take that $100, invest it in a leaf blower and a rake, and start a side business. Getting to your first 100 customers is a dynamic process—and it’s also going to look and feel different than any other stage of your business. Use the three steps below to build a foundation for marketing that won’t just help you win over your first 100 customers, but also the next ten thousand. After all, we only get one chance to make a first impression and the first few weeks and months is the best time to make an objective assessment of a new role and make an early impact. In the US, a new president is often judged on how they perform within the first 100 days in office. Now, with that in mind, here are three ideas for finding your first 100 “beta test” customers: 1. Seek out your competitors’ press. If your startup takes an existing product concept and improves.


Getting the first 1,000 customers will not guarantee your success, but it will you give you a chance to get some real-world feedback -- and maybe even pay some bills at the same time!

As a startup, your biggest challenge is to get customers on board and getting the first 1,000 always takes the most work. You’re still learning what works while building up repeatable processes that scale. Getting the first 1,000 customers will not guarantee your success, but it will you give you a chance to get some real-world feedback -- and maybe even pay some bills at the same time!

Related: 6 Tips for Finding the Right Prospects and Getting in Front of Them

Here are a few tips on how to reach this goal:

1. Set up a waiting list


A waiting list is a great way to build early buzz as people always want to be first in line for a new product. This works extremely well for online services and mobile apps, particularly if you offer incentives for people to sign up, such as a free account for three months.

Look at the masterly work of Mailbox, which managed to build up a huge waiting list of over 800,000 people. Their secret? They used a clever user interface to tell people how many others were in front of them and how many were behind them in the line to use the app. This addictive interface gave people a hit of dopamine each time they checked the app and saw they were closer to the front.

2. Use your personal network

Traditional word of mouth is still powerful way to get new customers on board. Tell your family, friends and colleagues about your product and ask them to spread the word. Don’t be shy -- there’s nothing wrong with asking for a favor. If you have a consumer-focused product, there is no easier or quicker way to get your first 30 customers than just asking people you know!

3. Target online publications

Just like bloggers, online publications can help you reach a huge new audience. Pick one or two relevant publications that make sense for your business. Spend time selling them on your product and offer them something unique, such as exclusive coverage of your product launch.

A great tip is to follow journalists on Twitter for a while and get a sense of the type of content they write. Then you’ll find clever ways to connect your product to a theme that interests them. Attentiv did exactly this, and got a great launch story in Fast Company.

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4. Get bloggers on your side

Bloggers and other online influencers have huge audiences. Even better, their readers trust them. Reach out to bloggers on sites such as mine Tomoson and ask them to review your product. You can drive huge numbers of new prospects this way. Online reviews can often keep on driving sales for years into the future, as people track them down in search results. Even small blogs can often drive hundreds of sales over time, particularly when the review is thoughtful and well written.

Related: The Secret to Winning Customers and Growing Your Business

5. Build suspense

Suspense is an excellent way to build excitement before you launch. Create a drip feed of information about your upcoming product. This will make people curious and want to know more -- particularly if you reveal the details a little bit at a time. The more you give away, the less interesting it becomes. Try to get people excited, but without giving so much context that people are bored and move on.

How To Get Your First 100 Customers Service

6. Work with early adopters

Your first customers are the most important. They bought your product for a reason, so you can learn a huge amount from them. Create a personal relationship with them and listen to what they say. You’ll get great insights you can use, and they’ll tell other people about your product. Early adopters usually have smart opinions about products and have a good sense of the market, so always be sure to pay careful attention to them.

7. Create high-quality content

Content marketing is a great way of acquiring new customers. By creating genuinely useful content and giving it away for free, you can drive visitors to your site and also establish yourself as a thought leader. If you have the budget, hire a good writer. Buffer CEO Leo Widrich managed to get 100,000 customers just from writing guest posts on other people’s sites. Those same articles will still be delivering hundreds, maybe thousands, of new customers each month -- with no additional effort.

8. Offer a free product option

Many successful online startups use a “freemium” model to get users on board. This lets people try your product with no risk, which can encourage them to sign up for the paid service or product. However, make sure you strike a balance. Don’t cripple your free option, but keep enough back to make people want to upgrade.

Dropbox is one example of a product that gets this right, giving you enough free storage to get you invested in its ecosystem and invite your friends to join and collaborate. Before you know it, your Dropbox is full and you’re handing over your card details.

9. Incentivize customers to sell your product

Customers can be your best salespeople – they already know the value of your product. Give them a reason to get other people to sign up, and you can drive impressive growth. You can even make this work with a “freemium” model: offer a free upgrade to your paid service for three months as an incentive.

Related: How to Acquire Customers Without a Marketing Budget (Infographic)

10. Speak at conferences

How to get your first 100 customers email

It may seem a bit old school but speaking at conferences is an excellent way of getting exposure and customers for your new startup. Become an expert on your subject, and then contact event organizers and offer to speak. Just make sure to get in touch early, as conference agendas are usually locked down six to 12 months before the event.

Neil Patel spoke at 239 conferences and discovered that the best strategy is to avoid speaking to your peers and speak to potential customers instead. If you’re an SEO, for example, don’t go to an SEO conference where everyone is already an expert in what you do. Instead, go to a gambling event and show them how to get new customers. In the case of Neil, this led to a $100,000-a-month contract.

11. Online advertising

Online advertising can be an effective way of driving traffic to your startup’s website. It doesn’t have to be expensive -- $1,000 with Google AdWords can go a long way. If you don’t have experience with this, then hire a pro: keyword selection and ongoing optimization are incredibly important.

12. Test, test and test again

Once you do start to drive significant traffic to your website, then it’s time to focus on converting visitors into customers. Many different factors can affect your conversion rates -- ranging from website design to pricing. Try out different things and see which ones work best. For example, you can use Google Analytics Content Experiments to try out different landing pages.

13. Affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing is where you get other websites to promote your products in return for a commission on sales. This typically works best for information products, such as online courses, because you can offer affiliates high commissions without any product cost. There are sites that make this easy – such as Rakuten Affiliate Network, Commission Junction or ClickBank.

Related: 4 Ways to Extend Customer Service Beyond Your 1-800-Number

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We asked 8 startup founders to share how they earned their first 100 customers. This is what they said.

When people ask DC-based serial entrepreneur Michael Lastoria for advice about entering the choppy waters of entrepreneurship, he says, “Don’t do it.

It’s a tough road. The primal urge deep within the hearts and minds of entrepreneurs drives them to sacrifice savings, relationships, and sleep to create something bigger than themselves.

They’re the ones at 3:00am, with a Red Bull in one hand and a phone in the other, who work, staring at the glowing laptop screen because they must execute their unshakeable vision.

An entrepreneur consists of three parts: visionary, hustler, and connector. They have a creative vision to solve a problem, they take perspiratory action to achieve their goal, and they know they can’t do it alone: they attract and empower a team of skilled people.

One of the greatest challenges startups face is how to start selling. The business model is ironed out, the product is ready, the team is lean, and the support is in place. It’s time to start generating revenue. Where do you start?

Here are 8 ways successful startups earn their first 100 customers

1. They hustle.

Alex Nicholson, founder of Mariner Exchange, a mobile iOS app that connects boaters with marine service providers, brought in his first users through pure, manual hustle. He quit a well paying job at Morgan Stanley to pursue his vision.

He said, “I remember putting microfiber towels into little plastic bags with my flyer, zipping it up, and getting on my paddle board to go boat-to-boat tossing the fee towel bags onto boats and talking with owners.”

Getting started takes a strict diet of sacrifice. Nicholson recounts the early months of getting his startup going, “I remember getting the same thing at Sam’s Club every month: 12 lbs of pasta, 90 oz of Ragu, 24 Clif bars, 2 bulk boxes of Honey Bunches of Oats, and milk. I ate that 3 times a day for a year. I lost 20 lbs.”

While Nicholson’s example of hustle might seem extreme to you, don’t worry. Thankfully, reaching out cold to your target audience is not the only outbound sales strategy entrepreneurs use. Even the best companies start with friends and family.

How To Get Your First 100 Customers At A

2. To go big, they start small.

Fundrise, the world’s first and largest real estate investment crowdfunding platform, is a fintech startup founded by two brothers in Washington, DC. Their product allows non-accredited investors (regular joes like me) to invest money into a digital Real Estate Investment Trust (eREIT) in return for a tiny slice of equity in say, a NYC skyscraper.

Sounds advanced. Yet even the most technical startups begin with their first sales from a close network. Ben Miller, co-founder and CEO of Fundrise, said, “[We started just] like any great internet company hand. We got our first 100 investors by asking our friends, family, and community to invest with us.”

Knocking on doors, whether warm or cold, isn’t the only form of effective selling. Who said you always have to go to a customer’s door? What can you do to make your customers come to your door? IoT startup Aquicore generated its first sales by attracting customers through thought leadership.

3. They are thought leaders.

Thought leadership is the discovery of new knowledge through deep expertise. It happens when you are fully immersed — committing 10,000 hours of your time to a field, skill, or topic.

When he started Aquicore, the Internet-connected energy-saving analytics platform for real estate portfolios, founder Logan Soya knew thought leadership was critical to the initial growth of his company.

Soya said, “Thought leadership leads to a community. We continually strive to challenge the status quo and help guide our community forward. To be a thought leader, you can never stop learning, and never stop improving. We apply the principles of Kaizen to constantly learn how we can do business better.”

It’s true. You could spend decades on the Aquicore website reading resources, case studies, whitepapers and even a dictionary about how to use technology to better manage commercial real estate.

The problem with thought leadership is the same as the tree that doesn’t make a sound when it falls in the woods: no one is around to hear it. In other words, you can write the most current, interesting, and cutting-edge content in your industry but if no one knows about it, then it’s futile. If you build it, they won’t come. You need to build it and then build pathways for them to come. It’s called marketing.

4. They harness the power of community.

Anu Bhaskar, co-founder and CTO at Hurdlr, an automated bookkeeping software platform for freelancers, entrepreneurs, drivers, couriers, and hosts, knew his product would save self-starters great headaches, but only if they knew about it. He had to get the word out.

Bhaskar said, “We spent ample time engaging the moderators (or becoming the moderators) of Facebook groups, sub-Reddits, and forums that pertain to our target users. We shared content that provided immediate value to them, without asking for anything in return.”

By helping the communities in which their customers interacted, Bhaskar opened up pathways for their first 100 “early access” users to find their app beta.

He said, “Their feedback helped shape the product, and the price, and they ultimately became our brand advocates. One of those users has successfully referred over 100 people to Hurdlr!”

5. They understand word of mouth.

Referrals is the engine of business development — without it, it’s impossible to grow. Michael Lastoria, founder of &pizza, a fast-casual, futuristic DC-based pizza chain, and the former owner of an ad agency, credits word of mouth to be foundational to success.

He said, “Word of mouth can make or break your business. It can build you up and tear you down fast. Do it right and you’ll have little need of an ad budget.”

Once you get the word out, only half the battle is won. Or, to Lastoria’s point above, lost. The word of mouth engine requires fuel — something that causes a first-time user to say, “Oh, that’s what they were talking about.”

What is your fuel?

6. They fuel their business development engines.

Zach Perret, founder of Plaid, a platform that enables digital applications to connect with users’ bank accounts (used by Stripe, Robinhood, Venmo, et al.), had the marketing challenge of driving adoption in the developer community.

Yes, his team went to a few hackathons, which helped get the word out, but he really ascribes its initial success to its documentation.

Perret said, “After building a fantastic product, we then focused on creating clean and simple documentation. The developer community is inherently curious, and we found that many people built personal projects when they stumbled on our docs.”

The lesson here is to make your product accessible and easy to play with right away. The last thing you want to do is make a great product but make it hard to get started. Can prospective users “jump right in” when they come to your startup’s website?

As you read through the experiences of other companies, you may catch yourself looking for a formula to follow. Well, in the spirit of bubble bursting, there’s no one single path to success for your startup. There is no formula. That’s part of the fun— and stress — you have to figure it out as a founder.

How To Get Your First 100 Customers Account

7. They fail fast, and fix faster.

It took Clarabridge, a 10-year-old company with over $100 million in funding for its B2B customer experience management platform, years of testing and learning to find what works for them. They tried everything.

Sid Banerjee, founder and CEO of Clarabridge, said, “Getting to our first 100 customers was an iterative, dynamic, learning process. We started with cold calling, paid search, and web site optimization, and learned that our first few customers came to us after finding us on Google. With our first few successes, we invested heavily in customer marketing and trade shows, and used face to face contact to drive more lead development and conversion. Eventually, we educated analysts, followed company advocates as they moved roles and companies, and established a partner ecosystem of recommenders, implementers, and advocates, all the while continuing to hire sales people, invest in marketing content, events, and evolving our web site.”

Banerjee acknowledges there was no single technique that worked for Clarabridge. “Fail fast and fix faster, and evolve as the market evolved,” he said.

That’s why starting a business is one of the hardest things to do in life. You have to be comfortable with venturing into the unknown, failing often, and capitalizing from the experience. That’s what an entrepreneur does. A teacher teaches. An entrepreneur fails and learns.

8. They don’t wait.

Lastly, don’t wait until your product or service is ready to sell, to start selling. Start laying the foundation years in advance. Sure, it can be cumbersome to sell something that doesn’t exist yet, but look at it this way: it’s a chance to get your messaging right and build relationships so that when the product rolls off the assembly line, you’re ready to go.

David Friedman, founder of Ayla Networks, a startup that connects any product to an IoT platform, which just announced a $39 million series C, said pre-selling can be a little testy with investors, but it is beneficial in the long run.

Friedman said, “We spent about four years building a strong product and partnership infrastructure before we started selling. The attention to detail and focus helped us scale and sprint when we started selling. The hard part about that was getting patient investors who shared the vision and being smart and efficient with our use of capital.”


To sum up what these eight founders have shared, here are the eight ways to sell like an entrepreneur:

How To Get Your First 100 Customers

  1. Hustle like hades.
  2. Start a community by being a thought leader in your industry.
  3. Tap your network, including friends and family.
  4. Join, interact with, and lead the communities of your target audience.
  5. Word of mouth is your business development engine.
  6. Fuel word of mouth with easy access to your product.
  7. There is no secret sales formula. Fail fast and fix faster to find what works for you.
  8. Start pre-selling before your product launches.

What would you add to this list? How did you get your first 100 customers? What have you found that works well for your company? If you aren’t there yet, I hope this article gives you some ideas for how to get started.

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Thanks to all the founders who contributed to this post.