Every entrepreneur at some point asks the burning question, “How do I grow my startup?” When you’re just launching your company, the idea of growing a customer base out of thin air seems quite daunting—and it certainly can be. How do you identify your target market? Where can you find them? How do you get them to sign up to learn more about your product—let alone pay for it?
Below, you’ll find sage advice from seasoned entrepreneurs on tactics they’ve used to grow their businesses. One important note: While hockey stick growth is every founder’s dream, it’s not the only (or most common) way startups grow. Figure out what sustainable growth looks like for your business as you pluck inspiration from the strategies below. Happy growing!
Do you think promoting products organically by creating value propositions is a better alternative to automated ads such as AdWords , social networks, etc. ? — Soham
You don’t have a great product if you can’t pick up traction without spending money and getting word of mouth. I do think it’s a better alternative. Sean Ellis [of GrowthHackers] gave me the challenge of growing the product without any marketing spend. I did not spend one dollar on marketing to grow GrowthHackers. It was tough, but we made it happen. — Everette Taylor, VP of Marketing @ Skurt
Best advice to early stage startups on getting those first 10-100 paying customers? — Alex Rodriguez
The first ten should be easy. If you talk to ten people that are right in your target market, four of them should want to sign up right then. (And that’s the trick: knowing exactly who your target audience is. Don’t waste your time casting a wide net. Go where you’re loved.) A sustainable 40% conversion rate is amazing. Give everything for free at first. Don’t let them worry about anything except getting their hands on your product. Then talk to them. I was a solo founder and employee for two years. I talked to everyone, whether they loved or hated the site, but I learned a lot. Do not be afraid of criticism, it is your best form of guidance. Get tough, then get going.
On getting to 100, make sure you have time to reflect at each milestone—and then, on starting to charge them. At each place, learn who your customers are, why they signed up, what’s keeping them there, and if/why they left. Basically, learn what the real value is—then lean heavy on that. Your operations structure will change at each milestone. Don’t be a runaway train. Evaluate and have a plan. — Bea Arthur, Founder & CEO @ In Your Corner
Right now it seems like most investors just focus on growth and metrics, but not all great things grow quickly. What do you say to entrepreneurs building products that take more technology to build up front? — Josh Elman
Mostly, I think “overnight successes” generally [happen] in about the thousandth day or more of existence. Everything interesting takes time. So have a view of the world you want to build, and start to figure out how to make it. Find people who believe in your vision, get them to come along with you. Raise enough money to go. Don’t grow burn too fast. But mostly: make sure you know what your north star is; why you’re doing it; what you want to build eventually. — John Lilly, Partner at Greylock & former CEO at Mozilla
What are some growth tactics early stage startup founders can implement without a large budget? — Emily Hodgins
If you are in the B2B space and need to get results, there are two tactics that yield results pretty quickly. The first is to try paid search ads. The second is to create an event where you bring together the experts in your particular product area, and get them to debate where the market is going. Use this event as a hook to talk to prospects and invite them to the event to start building a relationship with them.
I also often tell B2B startups to do outbound cold calling, the way that a sales development rep would do it. You’re probably surprised with this answer given that I am all about inbound marketing, and this is very much outbound. The reason why I don’t put inbound content marketing first is because it typically takes time to ramp up, and as an early stage startup, you need results fast. Using the event I described above gives you a great reason to call them where you are offering them value, as opposed to selling (which they hate). You might have seen somewhere that I like to treat customers like a bank account: you have to deposit money before you can expect to be able to draw it out. — David Skok, General Partner @ Matrix Partners
When building something, how do we balance between what we feel strongly about and getting users to validate it? — Rajesh Agarwal
I have no fucking idea, but if you ignore users/customers and focus on your own gut instinct, you better goddamn be right. Most people are not Steve Jobs…and even Steve Jobs wasn’t Steve Jobs all the time. Watch customer behavior. Test all the fucking time. Keep iterating based on real-world data, not in your own fucking head. Your intuition will be 1000x better if you test it against the real world and users/customers. — Dave McClure, Founder of 500 Startups
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