Here is an idea. How about instead of pouring early money into Google or Facebook Ads start with something less scalable but far more effective — tweeting to people.
Let’s be honest. Finding people that will be interested in buying your (unknown) product is the hardest thing to do in a startup. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a bad product — nowadays it is just not enough to build it and expect people to come.
The key is to engage in genuine conversations with everyone that could be interested in your solution. How to start this process? Hmmm… If only there was a place to talk to them 1 on 1, present your offering and answer their questions. A place where it is welcomed to talk to strangers and brands. Where people are eager to discover new things and give feedback. I hope you follow…
A little bird told me
Joel Gascoigne was an avid Twitter user. He knew many tools that are useful in maintaining your Twitter presence. Yet he still needed a simple way to just schedule tweets ‘x times a day’ without choosing the exact date and time, and have the tweets spread out automatically. “What if scheduling a Tweet, could be as easy as sending it now?”. That is how Buffer was born.
There were many substitutes for their product and a lot of people already knew other solutions. Those people had to be convinced that Buffer was a superior product. They decided to leverage their favorite social network — Twitter. And they did it in two ways.
First step: influencers. Hardcore Twitter users that will spread the news about great new tools they’ve discovered. How to reach them? Well, Buffer didn’t do anything radical or super creative. They wrote a blog post titled “7 Twitter users worth following and why” and messaged people they mentioned in the article.
They’ve always added a personal touch, their signatures and were honest in their opinion. Thanks to open nature of Twitter, a lot of followers saw the conversation and Buffer secured a lot of exposure (and first clients). Too sugar-sweet? Maybe. But it worked. Some of them even directly recommended Buffer:
The second way involved contacting regular Twitter users. This time the campaign was a miss. Buffer wasn’t that precise in reaching people that might be interested in their product.
The tweets weren’t exactly showing the value of Buffer and were somewhat random. Even though they secured some exposure Buffer admits that they could do it better. A different approach could yield better results.
Be more… human. From 0 to $1 600 000 in five months
October 2015. Smartwatches are a common gadget that many people buy. After Pebble (April 2012), Sony SmartWatch (July 2012), Samsung Gear (September 2013), LG G Watch (June 2014) or even iWatch (April 2015) it has become a really crowded market. Most people thought that the choice was diversified enough to fit all needs. But in October 2015, few months after iWatch was presented (and the iHype has started) an unknown team launched their Kickstarter campaign with a new kind of smartwatch. Could there be worst time ever to launch this kind of product? And yet Blocks turned out to be a big success raising over 1,600,000 dollars. How did they do it?
From July to November 2015 thousands of people got tweets from Adam, Tony, Addy and Tom. “Technology should be personal” they wrote. “Is this Kickstarter worth backing?” they asked. And people were responding: “I’d love to see more” or “thanks so much for sharing this ! Awesome concept and a great step towards the world of Wearable tech ! Kudos to you guys !”.
The product itself was, of course, important — it enabled each user to assemble their own watch from a variety of parts. But it wasn’t the only difference that set apart Blocks from other similar projects. They presented a unique approach to their customers. While promoting their product the Blocks crew tried to maintain personal and honest attitude. At first glance, you couldn’t tell that it was, in fact, a product advertisement. Real people were sending the tweets, they responded to feedback and personalized the message (they even sometimes made typing errors). They were friendly and genuine and that earned trust.
Despite the fact that they sent thousands of tweets, the team tried to focues on precisely the people that were interested in technology and might need a new smartwatch. People received personalized tweets, went to the Kickstarter campaign, responded or retweeted. This approach made them exceed their initial goal 6 times over.
Product Hunt goes hunting for first users
Building a dedicated community may be even harder than “just” selling your product. In 2014, Nathan Bashaw who coded Product Hunt summed up the beginnings of this platform. In his Medium article, he wrote, “we started out with a network that was big enough to be interesting, but small enough to be comfortable”. It is the most important thing to remember while building a community. You have to aim to find people that will be genuinely excited about your product and willing to build it with you. How do you that? Well, you have to hand-pick your first users like Ryan Hoover did.
Ryan personally emailed and tweeted at hundreds (possibly thousands) of people to make this work, and it would have been a lot harder if he didn’t put in a lot of work over the previous year building his online network through his blog.
This tactic turned out to be really effective. First 20 Product Hunt users were prominent startup founders and tech people. The group grew thanks to Ryan’s constant actions and attention.
The most amazing thing may be the way Product Hunt accelerated their growth. While building a community you can’t neglect your very first members. That is why Ryan did a simple yet insightful thing. He reached out to existing members asking if they knew someone that might like PH. He then approached those people relying on personal touch and active conversation. He managed to build a group of people that were actively using the platform, felt a sense of bond and had a common goal — finding the best and coolest products for others to use. Maybe your happy customers could share their experience and bring other people :)
Get out of the building
So I think that’s an important thing to do, and then also to really pay attention to negative feedback, and solicit it, particularly from friends. This may sound like simple advice, but hardly anyone does that, and it’s incredibly helpful.
Initial feedback is a crucial thing for every startup. Your customers can tell you whether you are onto something or completely missed the point. In the beginning, you don’t have to spend large amounts of marketing money to reach them. A better approach is to actually talk/write to them. You get a chance to receive feedback or reach potential early adopters. You might even find people who will love the solution so much they become your evangelists.
People on Twitter (if chosen wisely — spray and pray doesn’t work here!) are really eager to help you or even buy your product. From our experience (and other startup founders) they are intrigued that someone reached them personally. This is a huge advantage for startups — to show that there is a real person behind the Twitter account, that the relationship is human to human.
In our startup Rarog, we have a similar goal. We want to help other companies reach exactly the people that are most likely to become their customers. Start a conversation and show your startup’s human side. Rarog uses the information about your target customer, creates a lead list and sends personalized messages to everyone of them. Our campaigns give you an opportunity to talk with real people, create an interest in your product and have proven to target potential customers really well. Our average CTR on all campaigns is around 46,4% and we are working to improve it even further.
Try out Rarog’s hypertargeted Twitter campaigns and see for yourself :)