What’s the best way to get your first customers?

Boris Wertz (Founder of version one ventures)
How to seed your marketplace – Version One

So how to you go about seeding supply? There are four common strategies: 1. Identify unique inventory for which the sellers have no current marketplace 2. Convince existing inventory to list on your platform 3. Pay for inventory 4. Aggregate readily accessible inventory

What’s the best way to get your first customers?

Fred Wilson (Co-Founder and Partner at Union Square Ventures)
Single User Utility In A Social System – AVC

One of the most important lessons we took from delicious was the value of single user utility in social systems. It might seem odd that systems designed to leverage interactions between people can have (should have?) single person utility. But I strongly believe they should.
The first users of delicious were barely aware of and rarely used its social aspects. They just wanted to store their bookmarks in the cloud instead of in their browser. And… (read more)

David Sacks (CEO at Zenefits)
New Sales Models – David Sacks, Founder and CEO of Yammer – YouTube

have you found a real market need? Once you have that do you have a product incarnation for that need? Do you have a simple interaction or user behavior that you can get users to use the product? What’s the initial simple behavior you can get a user to engage in? At PayPal it was getting users to email money. At Yammer it’s What are you working on?

Boris Wertz (Founder of version one ventures)
How to seed your marketplace – Version One

So how to you go about seeding supply? There are four common strategies: 1. Identify unique inventory for which the sellers have no current marketplace 2. Convince existing inventory to list on your platform 3. Pay for inventory 4. Aggregate readily accessible inventory

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
How to Get Startup Ideas

ask yourself: who wants this right now? Who wants this so much that they’ll use it even when it’s a crappy version one made by a two-person startup they’ve never heard of? If you can’t answer that, the idea is probably bad.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Startups in 13 Sentences

One of the things I always tell startups is a principle I learned from Paul Buchheit: it’s better to make a few people really happy than to make a lot of people semi-happy.

David Cummings (Managing Partner at Shotput Ventures)
10 Ideal Customers are More Important than 30 Random Customers | David Cummings on Startups

[When you’re looking for product/market fit], signing 10 customers that fit your ideal customer profile is more important than signing a large number of random customers in the near-term. Customers will always ask for product enhancements, so it’s key that requests align with the entrepreneur’s vision of the future. Ideal customers are going to be happier customers and happier customers are going to provide testimonials as well as references for … (read more)

Seth Godin (Founder at Yoyodyne Entertainment)
Seth’s Blog: Hypergrowth

If you make the audience you’re initially serving too big, you will dilute the very thing you set out to make, avoid critical mass, and compromise the magic of what you’re building. You’ll make average stuff for average people instead of something powerful for the few. Fast growth comes from overwhelming the smallest possible audience with a product or service that so delights that they insist that their friends and colleagues use it.

David Jackson (Founder, Seeking Alpha)
Doing things that don’t scale | A Founder’s Notebook

In the early days of Seeking Alpha I remember personally reaching out to bloggers to ask whether I could republish their posts, and explaining to each one how it would get them a larger audience. It was a ton of manual work that wasn’t scalable.

Sam Altman (President at Y Combinator)
Startup Playbook

You usually need to recruit initial users one at a time (Ben Silbermann used to approach strangers in coffee shops in Palo Alto and ask them to try Pinterest) and then build things they ask for. Many founders hate this part, and just want to announce their product in the press. But that almost never works. Recruit users manually, and make the product so good the users you recruit tell their friends.

Tristan Pollock (Entrepreneur in Residence and Venture Partner at 500 Startups)
14 Marketplace Mistakes That Are Killing Your Startup | 500 Startups

Ensure you win the trust of your customers, and watch out for their safety. Let your customers know about your marketplace protections early in the dialog.

Seth Godin (Founder at Yoyodyne Entertainment)
Seth’s Blog: Hypergrowth

If you make the audience you’re initially serving too big, you will dilute the very thing you set out to make, avoid critical mass, and compromise the magic of what you’re building. You’ll make average stuff for average people instead of something powerful for the few. Fast growth comes from overwhelming the smallest possible audience with a product or service that so delights that they insist that their friends and colleagues use it.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

One of the most common types of advice we give at Y Combinator is to do things that don’t scale. A lot of would-be founders believe that startups either take off or don’t. You build something, make it available, and if you’ve made a better mousetrap, people beat a path to your door as promised. Actually startups take off because the founders make them take off.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

The most common unscalable thing founders have to do at the start is to recruit users manually. Nearly all startups have to. You can’t wait for users to come to you. You have to go out and get them. If [a] market exists you can usually start by recruiting users manually and then gradually switch to less manual methods.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

How do you find users to recruit manually? If you build something to solve your own problems, then you only have to find your peers, which is usually straightforward. Otherwise you’ll have to make a more deliberate effort to locate the most promising vein of users

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

The usual way to do that is to get some initial set of users by doing a comparatively untargeted launch, and then to observe which kind seem most enthusiastic, and seek out more like them.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

Your first users should feel that signing up with you was one of the best choices they ever made. And you in turn should be racking your brains to think of new ways to delight them.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

Any startup that could be described as a marketplace usually has to start in a subset of the market, but this can work for other startups as well. It’s always worth asking if there’s a subset of the market in which you can get a critical mass of users quickly.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

Sometimes we advise founders of B2B startups to take over-engagement to an extreme, and to pick a single user and act as if they were consultants building something just for that one user. The initial user serves as the form for your mold; keep tweaking till you fit their needs perfectly, and you’ll usually find you’ve made something other users want too.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

When you only have a small number of users, you can sometimes get away with doing by hand things that you plan to automate later. This lets you launch faster, and when you do finally automate yourself out of the loop, you’ll know exactly what to build because you’ll have muscle memory from doing it yourself. It would be a little frightening to be solving users’ problems in a way that wasn’t yet automatic, but less frightening than the far more c… (read more)

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

I should mention one sort of initial tactic that usually doesn’t work: the Big Launch. It’s easy to see how little launches matter. Think of some successful startups. How many of their launches do you remember? So why do founders think launches matter? A combination of solipsism and laziness. They think what they’re building is so great that everyone who hears about it will immediately sign up.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

Partnerships too usually don’t work. They don’t work for startups in general, but they especially don’t work as a way to get growth started. It’s a common mistake among inexperienced founders to believe that a partnership with a big company will be their big break. Six months later they’re all saying the same thing: that was way more work than we expected, and we ended up getting practically nothing out of it.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

You have to make an extraordinary effort initially. Any strategy that omits the effort—whether it’s expecting a big launch to get you users, or a big partner—is ipso facto suspect.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

The need to do something unscalably laborious to get started is so nearly universal that it might be a good idea to stop thinking of startup ideas as scalars. Instead we should try thinking of them as pairs of (i) what you’re going to build, plus (ii) the unscalable thing(s) you’re going to do initially to get the company going.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

If you have to choose between [a subset of customers] that will sign up quickest and those that will pay the most, it’s usually best to pick the former, because those are probably the early adopters. They’ll have a better influence on your product, and they won’t make you expend as much effort on sales. And though they have less money, you don’t need that much to maintain your target growth rate early on.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Frighteningly Ambitious Startup Ideas

Don’t worry if something you want to do will constrain you in the long term, because if you don’t get that initial core of users, there won’t be a long term.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Startups in 13 Sentences

Offer surprisingly good customer service. Customers are used to being maltreated. In the earliest stages of a startup, it pays to offer customer service on a level that wouldn’t scale, because it’s a way of learning about your users.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
How Not to Die

It will be good for your morale to have even a handful of users who really love you, and startups run on morale. But also it will tell you what to focus on. What is it about you that they love? Can you do more of that? Where can you find more people who love that sort of thing? As long as you have some core of users who love you, all you have to do is expand it. It may take a while, but as long as you keep plugging away, you’ll win in the end.

Seth Godin (Founder at Yoyodyne Entertainment)
Seth’s Blog: First, ten

Find ten people. Ten people who trust you/respect you/need you/listen to you… Those ten people need what you have to sell, or want it. And if they love it, you win. If they love it, they’ll each find you ten more people (or a hundred or a thousand or, perhaps, just three). Repeat. If they don’t love it, you need a new product. Start over.

Eric Ries (Author, The Lean Startup)
The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses

Start with a small geographic area, perhaps as small as a few city blocks, and instead of paying for expensive television or radio advertising to let people know about the service, use highly targeted advertising. Flyers on billboards, newspaper advertisements to those blocks, or specially targeted online ads would be a good start. Since the target area is so small, they could afford to pay a premium to create a high level of awareness in the tar… (read more)

Amir Elaguizy (CEO Cratejoy, YC Alumni)
58 things I learned at YC – Giftshop Scientist

All the technology heavy startups wanted to try to somehow outsource their marketing or customer acquisition

David Jackson (Founder, Seeking Alpha)
Keep your target market narrow | A Founder’s Notebook

Keep your target market narrow.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

Over-engaging with early users is not just a permissible technique for getting growth rolling. For most successful startups it’s a necessary part of the feedback loop that makes the product good.

Patrick Collison (Co-Founder & CEO at Stripe)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

At some point, there was a very noticeable change in how Stripe felt. It tipped from being this boulder we had to push to being a train car that in fact had its own momentum.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

Like paying excessive attention to early customers, fabricating things yourself turns out to be valuable for hardware startups. You can tweak the design faster when you’re the factory, and you learn things you’d never have known otherwise. Eric Migicovsky of Pebble said one of things he learned was “how valuable it was to source good screws. ” Who knew?