Simon Sewart

You’ve built a fantastic product or service. It’s well validated with customer-focused research and you’re ready to launch.

You’re excited, your market is huge; the possibilities are endless.

OK, stop right there!

You’ve got no funding. You’ve got no customers. One thing you have got though is competitors. Some big ones at that.

So, how to do you get your first ten customers?

Read on!

Lesson One  - Identify Small Vertical Markets

Let’s wind back a few months. I was attending a regional founders meetup and was discussing EvantoDesk with a very successful investor who, only the day before, had sold his latest business to Dell. I suggested that, as the market for EvantoDesk is so huge, this put us at a great advantage. He said in fact no, the opposite was true;

“a large market was challenging for small businesses”

He said that big markets attract big players, with huge investment and resources; because of this, small businesses can easily get lost and can find it hard to differentiate their product from the rest.  But that is the key:

in a large market, small businesses must differentiate their product or service.

In practical terms this means they must focus their efforts on a small part of the market. This can be thought of as small vertical markets that rise up from the large horizontal market. For example, if you can identify a problem for an industry, or a small part of an industry, you can adapt your product or service to address this problem. But as part of this process, remember to

fail fast and fail cheap!

In other words, before spending lots of time and money, validate that the problem, and your solution for it, is something that customers will pay for (this may involve developing a minimum viable product (MVP)).

Assuming that it is, you can then adapt your product/service and target that vertical market.

Lesson Two  - Look To Your Friends and Network

This is where many of your first ten customers may come from.  If you follow lesson one, then you should be able to find a business through your friend, family or network that will want to pay for your service.

You may have customers from previous businesses that your new product would suit. One of our first customers for EvantoDesk was a customer of Clinic Appointments, my previous startup. The good relationship I’d built personally with that customer allowed me to approach them at our private beta stage.

Lesson Three – Perform Un-scalable Actions

At the beginning, every customer must be fought for and the only way to do this is to perform actions that you just simply won’t be able to do as you scale. At EvantoDesk specifically, we offer to visit potential customers in person to discuss their requirements and to demo the system. We also offer to configure customers accounts in person or remotely.

Lesson Four – Offer Enticements

As in Lesson Three, some of the ways to entice customers will not be scalable but should be used anyway in order to obtain your first ten customers. Discounts or rewards are an obvious way but there are others.

For example, at EvantoDesk, we have 3 price plans. We have seen a 56% increase in signups since we launched these price plans! We have a freemium plan, a 12 month package to help startups (a really low price for 12 months) and our ‘Everything’ plan. The freemium plan gives just enough functionality to ensure that the customer gets value and therefore loves EvantoDesk. And, of course, the hope is that one day they’ll be in a position to get the full power of EvantoDesk and take out the ‘Everything’ Plan. Either way, they’ll still get exceptional customer service and support from us.

Another thing we do, as part of signing up to our ‘Free Forever’ and ‘Startup Accelerator’ plans, is request that the customer emails at least 5 contacts asking them to take a look at EvantoDesk. It’s early days in terms of getting stats on whether this works but so far we have had a few signups from these referral emails.

And, for good measure, measure!

Measure every campaign, discount or offer. Google analytics is a good starting point and free. If you have a larger budget, then Kiss Metrics or a similar service is worth considering.

Lesson Five – Publicity

There are a lot of articles written about this, but I’ll give my five cents worth based on my experience:

Unless you have contacts who can make introductions to influential bloggers or journalists, even just getting a response from them is near impossible.

Even if your product is so innovative in it’s solution to a common problem, it’s still nearly impossible. The reason is that these people are so inundated and swamped by review requests, I’m not sure they even read emails or speak to people that aren’t introduced by someone they know personally.

So what can you do?

Well, I was lucky enough to meet a local influential tech editor and he suggested that an interview about EvantoDesk would fit well with their website. The result is here.

The take-away? If you have no contacts, then attending local networking events might be a good way to make some great contacts. And you know, even if you don’t, that’s not really the point – just meeting others that are doing the same as you is inspiring and can reenergise you and help you focus.

Lesson Six – Invest In Yourself

Sometimes we just need to take a step outside of the business. We can get so engrossed in our startup and acquiring our customers that we forget why we chose to start our business in the first place. It’s so easy to become stressed and overwhelmed.

We’ve all been stressed and felt overwhelmed – you’re not alone.

In an overwhelmed state, you are sub-consciously making it harder to get customers. Your energy, your behaviours, your body language and choice of words will turn potential customers off.

The ability to know when it’s time to invest in oneself is an essential trait for a entrepreneur.

Without it, we can lose our health, damage our relationships, and damage our business too. So, remember to take a break when the time is right.

Investing a few minutes, hours or days in yourself will pay dividends. So take time to enjoy spending time with your family and friends, to enjoy your hobbies (I love to run in the hills where I live) and to nurture your own mental and physical health in a way that works for you. You’ll come back refreshed, more productive and more positive, with the right mind-set to grow your business.

Of all the lessons in this post, this is arguably the most important but perhaps the least discussed as it’s not the done thing to pretend that things are anything but great, all of the time.

A couple of paragraphs back I stated that we can become so engrossed in our business that

we forget why we chose to start our business in the first place.

This will be different things for different people depending on your life goals, how much money you want and need and what your focus is.

For me, it’s a deep desire to help build a market-leading product and to give more benefit back to customers than they give me in cost. In particular I want to be able to help startups grow into well performing businesses.

It’s about being able to provide for my young family, now and in the future, but also to have the freedom to be able to spend time with them. I’ll often be found spending some daytime hours with them to attend sports day, or to take our bikes and scooters to the local lake, and then to work in the evening.

And, from my own perspective, I know that I must

prioritise exercise, and only then will I be at my best for my family, my business and my team.

After exercise, my patience levels increase and I can take a calm and measured approach to almost anything.

Take Away Summary:

  1. Identify small vertical markets from the large horizontal market and solve problems for those markets that customers are willing to pay for.

  2. Speak to friends, family, old customers and your network should be able to provide at least some of your first ten customers.

  3. Go the extra mile for new leads and customers; offer things that you’d be unlikely to be able to do as you scale.

  4. Offer discounts or rewards and/or a freemium plan or specific plans to help certain business types, such as startups, as we have done with EvantoDesk. And measure the success of each and every campaign.

  5. Local networking might prove useful in making contacts with influential journalists (and the coffee or wine is usually pretty good).

  6. Vital - Invest in your self and maintain a good work/life balance – it’s essential for your business growth and your own health and family life.  Design your employment structure so that your team can also maintain a good work/life balance.

Thanks for reading, I hope you’ve been able to take something from this post and good luck acquiring your first 10 customers! Once you gain traction, things get easier, I promise, but that’s for another post.

About the author: Simon Sewart is the CEO of his 2nd startup (simple help desk software for small and medium sized businesses).