As anyone who’s ever launched a start-up knows: It’s really, really hard to get new users. That saying “if you build it, they will come”? Nope. There are plenty of companies out there that get great press, have 10,000 visitors on their launch day—and then get only 100 visitors each day after that, because they haven’t engaged people from the beginning.
But you don’t have to be that company. Instead, you can start acquiring users the moment you’ve got a concrete idea—even before you’ve built a prototype—and hook them to stay. The people who are on board from the start will be your greatest source for feedback on your idea. They’ll spread the word for you. And they can be your biggest fans and, eventually, your most active users.
But, of course, the key question is: How do you find these early users? Here’s a step-by-step guide to get you started.
1. Build a Splash Page
Once you’ve settled on an idea and bought a domain, the first thing you should do is put up a splash page to easily collect email addresses from potential users. Launchrock can set you up pretty quickly, or you can build your own. Your splash page should include:
Your Value Proposition
Explain what problem is your start-up is solving in 10 words or less. Tripit “drags traveling kicking and screaming into the 21st century.” Klout “measures your influence on your social networks.” This one-liner tells everyone what you’re all about in a short, memorable phrase.
Stuck on this? Start with Geoffery Moore’s framework from Crossing the Chasm and begin by eliminating all adjectives:
For (target customer) who (statement of the need or opportunity) the (product name) is a (product category) that (statement of key benefit/compelling reason to buy). Unlike (primary competition), our product (statement of primary differentiation).
An Email Sign-Up
Collect email addresses because, well, that’s the primary goal of your splash page.
A Great Auto-Respond
Remember the last time you discovered a new bar? If you were lucky, when you came back, the bartender remembered you, smiled, and said hey. You felt pretty important. Likewise, your auto-response should make people who give you their email address feel important and informed. Thank them for finding you. Give them a rough date for your launch. Tell them you’ll reach out to them for feedback or even exclusive “sneak peeks”—and make sure you do so.
What are people expecting from your company or service? What would they pay for it? What do they really need? Give users a quick, easy way to give you input by creating a short poll with Google forms or Surveymonkey.
Links to Your Blog and Twitter
Once your splash page is up, you need to be blogging. And tweeting. Your earliest users want to know your story and share it with their friends. Get up a few blog posts that explain who you are and why you’re here. What problem are you solving, and how are you solving it? Why are you passionate about your idea? Tweet your blog posts, and keep a running commentary on your prototype’s progress, launch date, and pertinent news in your start-up’s corner of the world.
Create a generic company email account where you can handle incoming mail—without it cluttering your personal inbox—and give out the address. This inbox will be 90% spam, but there’s a chance you’ll get an excited potential user, a journalist, or a partner looking to contact you.
Google Analytics (or Other Basic Tracking)
Who’s coming to your splash page? Where are they coming from? What are they clicking on, and where are they going afterward? This is important information to know—particularly any trends, patterns, or spikes—so make sure you have a way to collect and track it. The easiest way to do that is to install Google Analytics onto your page.
2. Drive People to Your Splash Page
Once your splash page is up, you can start attracting potential users and gathering their email addresses. Yes, I know, easier said than done—but there are a few good tricks in the book you can use to get people to your site:
Paid Marketing Experiments
Use Google’s keyword tool to find word combos related to your product with the highest click rate and the lowest cost. Buy specific, local keywords (“lower east side straight blade shave,” not “new york shave”). And don’t forget to include common typos in the mix! Once you’ve purchased a few combos, set them to your splash page, and wait (depending on your keywords, this can take up to two weeks). Measure the percentage of users that clicked through from your ad to your splash page (the click thru rate) and the percentage of users that entered their email addresses from your splash page (conversion rate). If either your CTR or conversion passes 5%, adjust your spend to focus on the successful words (and see if you can find other similar combos). If you’re not seeing any traction, consider tweaking your keywords, your ad copy, or your splash page copy.
Your Email Signature
Think about how many emails you typically send in a day—this is hugely valuable real estate! Add your one-line value proposition, your Twitter handle, and a link to your splash page, so everyone you correspond with has a chance of seeing it. (I’ve also seen people include links to Skillshare classes, open positions, and Kickstarter pages).
All Over Your Profiles
This goes almost without saying, but put up a link to your splash page on every social profile you have. And that leads me to my next point.
3. Build Relationships
To find a dedicated group of early users, you’ll need to build relationships—with entrepreneurs, journalists, and users themselves. Different strategies will work with different audiences, but here are a few you should try out:
The easiest way to build a relationship with potential users is to share your early successes and failures with the world. Post regularly, learn to tell a story, and blog through the lens of the problem you’re trying to solve. RJ Metrics does an excellent job of this—they’re a data analytics company, and they share their data on everything from optimizing their first trade show to Pinterest trends. This information is extremely valuable to users, and keeps them coming back for more.
Find 5-7 bloggers that cover your industry, and follow them on Twitter and Facebook. Answer their questions, comment on their articles, and offer introductions or data when it’s relevant. Tip them off to breaking news via email or Twitter. Take them out for coffee. Build a relationship with them from the very beginning, so that when the time comes to launch your product, you can give them an exclusive peek. Furthermore, they'll know who you are, and they’ll (hopefully) be excited about sharing your news with others. Won’t that be more effective than a cold email?
Organize and Attend Events
Launching an app for yoga enthusiasts? Organize a free outdoor yoga event with a headline Yogi, and talk to as many people you can. Or, head to an established yoga event, and set up a table and hand out water so that people come to you. Getting involved with in-person events will make you recognizable in your community and your industry beyond the online world.
Reward Your Evangelists
Stay in touch with your first users—if they’re excited about your product before it even launches, they’re bound to be some of your biggest fans. So ask them to sign up friends or spread the word, and give them earlier access to your product or other perks as a thank-you. You can get creative with this—for example, Launchrock enables users to enter three friends’ email addresses to qualify for special perks, which typically includes earlier access to your product.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic bullet to building your user base—and it does take time. But that’s all the more reason to get started early! Get out there, online and offline, throw up a splash page, and start building relationships from the get-go, and you’ll be on your way.
Check out more from Start-Up Week at The Daily Muse!
Photo courtesy of University of Exeter.
Lauren Gilchrist loves product like a fat kid loves cake. With over 5 years experience conceptualizing and building web entities, she is now the driving force behind MamásLatinas, the first bilingual social network for latina women. Previously, she has wrangled the interwebs at Yipit, Hoseanna, and Urgent Career. When she's not trying to read her users' minds, she can be found hosting start-up dinner parties, making a mean maple bbq chicken, or exploring the great outdoors with friends.More from this Author