As a startup founder, there’s no better feeling than getting your first customer and seeing money hit your bank account.
But a paying customer is more than just money in the bank. Customers validate your product or service, provide valuable feedback, and serve as social proof, all of which are critical in the early stages of your business.
But where do you find your first customer?
To answer that question, today we’re highlighting two interviews and two courses about how proven founders did just that.
Go Door to Door
When you’re creating a physical product, landing a customer like Whole Foods can put you on the map.
But how do you get your foot in the door when you have zero connections?
It’s not as impossible as you might think. Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez did it by just walking through the front door.
Nikhil and Alejandro, the founders of Back To The Roots, grew a bucket of gourmet mushrooms using recycled coffee grounds. And they wanted to find out if there was a market for them.
“So [we were] driving around trying to see if anyone was interested in actually buying them,” says Nikhil. “Eventually we came to Berkeley Whole Foods, and…one of the first guys we saw was in the produce department packing the vegetables, and we were just like ‘Hey! We’re trying to grow mushrooms out of coffee grounds. What do you think?’”
Soon the entire produce team was huddled around their bucket of mushrooms, and they offered to introduce Nikhil and Alejandro to the regional buyer. Whole Foods became their first customer.
Learn more about how Nikhil and Alejandro got their first sale in Nikhil’s Mixergy interview.
Cast a Line in Fishing Holes
Pay-per-click ads might seem like a good way to get your first customers. But as Eddie Yoon found out, those costly “clicks” might not convert into customers.
“I tried to do Google AdWords for maybe about a week and wasted a lot of money,” says Eddie, founder of Amber Maids. “One thing I found out was that the top maid companies are paying a ridiculous amount per click…and even if I got a click, I probably wouldn’t get the customer.”
So instead, Eddie placed ads in fishing holes, or sites where his target customers hung out.
Since most of his customers were women, Eddie thought, “Hey, why don’t I target the most popular female bloggers…in L.A.?” So he contacted 10 sites, offering a flat fee to run his ad and a discount for their readers.
“Eight out of 10 bloggers responded back,” he says, “and I did deals with about three of them. And that’s how I generated a large majority of my first customers.”
Learn more about how Eddie got his first customer in his Mixergy interview.
Don’t Try to Sell a Bicycle to a Fish
Josh Ledgard was talking to the wrong kind of prospects.
Josh, cofounder of KickoffLabs, was pitching his quick-start landing pages to businesses that advertised on Craigslist. “We called them and said, ‘Hey, you know your ad would look a lot more credible if you had a webpage,’” says Josh.
But prospects didn’t see the value in his product. They either were uninterested, or they wanted a five-page site, a customized theme, and a blog, something Josh wasn’t interested in providing.
So how do you find prospects who are excited to buy your product?
As Josh explains in tactic #2 in his Mixergy course, you can find sites where people are already talking about your niche, and then become the resident expert.
For instance, Josh’s target customers were asking a lot of questions on Quora. “You can drill down [on Quora] into…the specific subtopic of landing pages and…there are 18 open questions about landing pages,” he says. “So we just started helping out these people without selling our services…and those answers started driving traffic.”
And Josh is still one of the top authorities in that space. “About 15 to 20% of our [landing page] upgrades come from the hour or two a week we spend in these niche communities,” he says.
Learn more about how Josh got his first 927 customers in his Mixergy course, including how he used TechCrunch to get customers and how he got experts to tweet about him.
Forget Rankings and SEO
If you’re ranked high on Google, you’ll get tons of leads that you can convert into paying customers.
But rising in the ranks can be a slow and difficult process, as Neil Patel found out with his very first startup. “We tried to get [our site] ranked on Google,” says Neil, the co-founder Crazy Egg and KISSmetrics and the founder of Quick Sprout. “And we were eventually able to figure out how…but it took us a while really to kick it off and start generating revenue.”
So how do can you get more leads more quickly?
As Neil explains in tactic #8 in his Mixergy course, “Even if you don’t have time to create content for yourself, create content on other sites or for people within the industry…I used to do five guest posts a week.”
And Neil says it’s not about rankings or SEO juice, it’s about raising your profile with your audience and getting traffic. “Don’t do it to manipulate Google,” he says. “Do it because it will actually guide sales to your business.”
Learn how Neil figured out where to guest post and see the pitch he sent to bloggers in his Mixergy course.