• imissbalance

How To Get Your First '1000' customers with Zero Marketing Budget


When I started my journey with startups, I spoke to a great deal of marketers. Most of them gave me great ideas on how to scale or how to test the hypothesis with customers or how to run A/B tests to get customer insights. I, on the other hand was struggling with something pretty vanilla i.e. how to get these initial customers. From all my conversations & reading, I found a lot of ways to scale but I was surprised that not much was written about acquiring those first thousand or so customers.

Considering every marketer or a startup founder faces the same dilemma at some point, I would like to address everything that I learnt over the years. I have also spoken to a couple of other founders who were kind enough to share their learnings generously. I had also given a talk about it recently but since it was a closed group & it picked interest of many, I wanted to make it public. Hope you find it beneficial.

Before I dive in, I would highly recommend you to read about buyer persona & competition analysis (if you haven't done so already).

  • Make every touchpoint as a POS (Point Of Sale)

We make the mistake of selling things only through typical marketing collaterals however, every touchpoint you have with a prospect is an opportunity to make a sell. Have a product that you can afford to give a discount on or do you have a sign up offer? Mention that on your business card. Business cards have become obsolete offlate & while people still exchange it, they are rarely used. This is one of the opportunity to make a lasting impression & nudging people to convert subtly.

  • Go to the users offline

This might sound like a really bad advice especially during the current time when a lot of people are in lockdown but people do crave human connection. If you have a clear understanding of your ideal buyer, please find people offline. People tend to give you more attention offline. Not just that, when you meet people in a relaxed, friendly environment, they will be comfortable in sharing a lot of insights. Also, their body language would also tell you a lot more about their actual interest level which is difficult to gaze online.

  • Ask for referral & make it really simple

We all have friends who sent us long emails about how they are super passionate about the idea, followed by a couple of more lines of explanation & then finally the ask. These are mostly not very actionable and it requires a lot of your time. While you have all the intention to help them, coming up with content for social media does require time & effort & so it inevitably gets pushed off. So, try writing crisp 3 line email & give them ready made templates. Tell them this is what people have been using & they could post the same or just edit it wherever required. You will see a lot more people referring you as all they have to do is literally copy & paste.

  • Create FOMO

Fear Of Missing Out is driving a lot of conversions online. It usually is a great nudge for the people who're sitting on the edge. There are a lot of ways to do it like creating an invite only community, giving access to only the ones who pre-order, curating a wait list or simply letting existing users add new ones. These tactics are being used by a lot of companies now & they continue to be in vogue because our mind is tuned to taken an impulsive decision just because have a fear of missing out on something.

  • Build you own PR Opportunities

I have never been very good at networking & this has been one of the most challenging things I had to do as I have never been a person who could just go to networking events and start a conversation. I have made a lot of mistakes in approaching bloggers & journalists. Always tell a compelling story where you paint a hero and draw a narrative around it. Do identify the right journalists who cover your sector & segment. Be mindful of the publication too. A large publication may not be a suitable platform when you are just starting up. Think about the trade bloggers, small community relevant to you & target them appropriately and once you have targeted them, when you are writing an email, keep it precise.

  • Do things that don't scale

I sound like a broken record when I say this & most of the YC mentors + companies swear by it but it's really important to find the niche long hanging tactic that would help you get your initial customers. This could be approaching a community that's driven by the same passion, emailing your entire contact list etc. After all, you are looking to get just 1000 odd signups.


In a snapshot here are the 6 things we have covered in this:

  • Make every touchpoint a POS

  • Ask for referral & make it really simple

  • Go to the users offline

  • Create FOMO

  • Build your own PR opportunities

  • Do things that don't scale.

That's all for today. Do share your thoughts & hacks that worked for you. Would love to get your insights.


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