Category Archives: Market Validation

How to find your first customers.

How to find your first customer.
Get out of your office, hustle, and get from 0 to 1.

An entrepreneur recently lamented to me:

I’m at the “where do I find customers step” and having heaps of trouble. Just have no idea what to do and am kinda flailing about trying things but no real success.

If you’re experiencing this problem, it means you probably haven’t narrowed down who your customer is, where they find products like your, and defined specific ways to test acquiring them.

When you first step out of your garage to test your startup hypothesis, you need to make sure you are focused in on a very specific group of people who you think will pay for your product. This razor focus allows you to hone in on the most likely places to reach your target audience. What blogs do they read? Where do they shop? Where do they hang out? Create a list of each of these places and how you think you can capture the target customers attention.

For example, let’s say you are make and sell male grooming products online through an e-commerce store. You are just starting out and need help finding your first customers. Here are some of the steps I would take to find customers.

Make sure you know who your customer is.

Write down the day in the life of your customer, where you think they shop, how much time do they spend grooming their beard, where do they learn about grooming online?

Now go to a barber shop near you, walk in and say the following:

“Hey, I’m (your name), I’m a local entrepreneur and I’m launching a new company called X that makes male grooming products. I’m not trying to sell you anything and would just like to learn more about your customers and what types of male grooming products they like. What are your thoughts on letting me speak with a few customers who walk in about this?”

(Side note, I’ve done this type of thing 100s of times, I know it can be intimidating but just practice a few times before you go into the business. After that, just go for it. The worst thing that can happen is you’ll get kicked out and then go to 5 more business until you get what you want.)

Now let’s say you get to one of these barbershops and they say “Yeah sure, take a seat right there and talk to whoever you want”. When your first beard wearing customer comes in, introduce yourself and ask for a few minutes of the time. Give them some context of why you are there, you’re researching how to provide them with the best product possible. Ask them the following questions.

  • Tell me about how you groom your beard?
  • What types of products do you use?
  • Where do you find these products?
  • What magazines/blogs do you read?
  • What do you not like about the current products?
  • How often do you use them?
  • What challenges do you face when grooming your beard?

This gives you a ton of information that will not only improve your product but also give you insights into where else you can find people just like them. You can then turn this into content marketing material! One Month is an online learning company that has a great course on content marketing if you are interested in learning more. The bottom line is, if you start pumping out engaging and valuable content in the channels where your customers read, they’ll buy your product.

Build Partnerships

Pick 10 barbershops and call them or better yet, walk into the shop and speak with them. These shops could be a beachhead for you to build awareness of your product/brand and get some repeat customers/traction.

  • Figure out what types of products they carry.
  • How did they find these products?
  • Why did they decide to buy them?
  • How do they encourage their customers to buy?
  • What are their thoughts on testing your product?

Connect with influencers

Connecting with influential bloggers can be a great way to quickly spread the word about your product. This takes time and is about building a relationship. See if there are ways for you to create value for the blogger. Here are some steps to get the ball rolling.

  1. Create a list of the top 20-30 bloggers in the Men’s hygiene space.
  2. Read one of their posts.
  3. Write an email template (See below example)
  4. Then send it to each author.

Hey (name of blog author/owner)

I recently read your article covering X, Y, And Z topics. I’m an expert in the space and have some thoughts and feedback for you.

  • Point 1 (what you liked)
  • Point 2 (Some of your own thoughts on the subject)

I’m super stoked to have found your blog and look forward to reading more.

Out of curiosity, what type of products do you like to feature? or What’s your process for choosing a product to write about?

Best,

[Your Name]

P.S. I write about X type of products too (link back to your product)

I’ve got tons of other ideas for how to acquire customers and a lot of the above focuses on the earliest stage. Going from 0 to 1 to 20. If you’ve been asking the right questions and you are solving a real problem, by the time you’ve gone through this process and reached 20 or so customers you should know how to consistently acquire more customers.

I’d love to hear some stories of others who’ve tried different methods to find early customers. If you’re interested in sharing, please reach out to me and I can bring you on to guest post.

How to build an app.

prototyping tool
We used Sharetribe to prototype NextMover

A young entrepreneur recently asked me this question:

“I have an idea for an app but I have no idea how to code or build it. What do I do? Where can I start with my idea?”

We’ve all been there at some point early on in our entrepreneurial journey. You have a great idea and you want to just build and start selling. However, this is the wrong place to start. You need to follow the process of customer development popularized by Steve Blank. I won’t spend time writing about this process because there is a ton of information out there. Rather, I’ll give you a few actionable steps you can follow to get started with your app today.

Let’s say you’re working on an app to allow gym goers to meet-up and do fitness related activities together. * I’m writing this article to help an entrepreneur working on a similar idea.

1. You don’t need to write code. (yet)

I’m a huge fan of learning to code and believe the skill is very important. I think it’ll give you a much better understanding of the development process ultimately save you time and money, and allow you to iterate on your model with speed.

That said, you can get this idea off the ground without writing a single line of code. It’s very important to have this mindset because it will help you discover what features your users will actually value before you spend tons of resources and energy writing code.

Forget all the features you think you need to build and focus on solving the problem. Think of ways that you could help people solve this problem in a manual way and by using existing networks or platforms.

Here are some ideas:

Meetup.com- start organizing a community meetup that targets your customer base. See if you can get people to pay you for the event.

Facebook groups- Think of some of the features that are built into facebook, Notifications, likes, comments ect… see if you can build and engag with an audience of potential users through this platform.

Use an existing website builder. When I launched NextMover (Uber for Moving) I tested the idea by leveraging a platform called Sharetribe. It was an out of the box marketplace much like AirBnB that we were able to white label. We then used a service called PhoneGap to get it on the app store (iOS) and then just started trying to acquire customers.

Even before we used Sharetribe, we built simple landing page with a form to assess what you needed moved, where you were located, and where you needed it delivered. When someone filled out the form, I started calling truck owners and making sure someone was available. We then took payments with Venmo. Ultimately, I decided to shut the business down because LTV and CAC numbers didn’t add up.

The point is, think about the most important problem you’re solving for your customer/users and try and build a manual test. It takes hustle but it proves that people value your product or service. This traction will be the evidence you need to get investment and more importantly, inspire others to join your team. Which leads me to my next point.

2. You need a team.

A big part of being an entrepreneur is being able to inspire others to join you. You must sell your vision to people around you who have the skills necessary to help you build the company. In order to do this, you’ll need to map out your business model (check out business model generation for more on this). This will help you be able to easily talk about your idea and it’s potential but I’ll save more tips on this for a separate post.

Finding the right people to work with takes time and is extremely important. Startups and businesses in general are very stressful so you need to make sure that the people you’re partnering with are people that you enjoy being around, have similar values, and that your goals for the business are aligned. Know that while it takes time to build these relationships it’s the most valuable investment you can make. Whether it’s this idea or 10 down the road the more relationships you build the more people you’ll be able to draw from when you hit the right idea.

How can you find these people and build these relationships?

Startup Weekend

I love this event. In 54 hours, you pitch an idea, people vote, form teams, and the top ideas get worked on. It’s a great way to meet other entrepreneurs who have the skills you need. More importantly, it puts you in a faced paced scenario where you can experience their work ethic and vet their skill level.

Network with Entrepreneurship and Computer Science programs near you.

Almost every college has some sort of entrepreneurship and CS program. Go out to your local college and network. Go to all the startup events, meet people and start sharing about your idea.

Test Potential Team Members

Once you find someone you think you’d like to work with, test them out. Do a small project on the side with them to make sure that you enjoy working with them. I’ve written a more in-depth article on how to form a startup team here.

Links to other inspiring articles and tools to get you started.

For a great overview on the process of customer development, checkout Patrick Vlaskovits book The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Customer Development.

PhoneGap: A tool for getting your web app on-to iOS and Android with little code. There are tons of how to articles out there to help you. Just start searching on google.

The Wisdom of The 20 Minute Startup is the story of how Ryan Hoover built product hunt in 20 minutes with no code.

Build Things That Don’t Scale by Paul Graham. This article will walk you through the ideas behind building a manual process to test your business before you build a scalable technology.

Checkout Steve Blank’s blog. The Startup tools section is probably the most comprehensive list of tools for startups on the web

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P.S. I’d love to hear your ideas on this topic! Comment or message me