The #1 Way To Get Users For Your MVP

 

You’ve Gone And Done It

You built a beta of an app that targets a specific problem. It solves the problem wonderfully. It’s beautifully designed. It’s easy to use. You only need a few folks to start signing up, to start experiencing it, and then you’ll be the next Pieter Levels (Nomad List), David Cancel (Drift), or even Stewart Butterfield (Slack). You blow up your social media pages with landing page links, hooks, beta keys. You post your app on a bunch of sites where like-minded people hang out. You go to sleep, barely able to contain your excitement.

You wake up to A GIANT THUNDEROUS APPLAUSE OF… nothing.

A dozen people came and went. Maybe a hundred. Maybe a thousand. You’d think a thousand users would be great, but nobody stuck around. Hardly any usage, barely any feedback. You go back to those like-minded-people sites to elicit their help.

“What’s the pricing like?” they ask.

“How does XYZ work?”

“How does this stack up to that other thing?”

The problem? Those questions are all about the product. Building a thing, and getting people to use that thing, are completely different practices. None of those questions have anything to do with getting people to use your product. They are adding to the noise. You will wind up atop a mountain of distractions if you pay them any attention.

You Need To Focus

There are several approaches to acquiring early users. I’ll be writing about just one: the best one. It’s not just me saying that. Almost every successful Founder, Growth Hacker, Maker, or any other related title that I’ve talked with or tuned in to, has said the same thing. This approach builds close connections, strengthens your product prior to launch, uncovers whether or not you need to pivot right-the-hell-now before you’ve invested serious effort, and gets you a ready-to-go community.

So that all sounds pretty great, eh?

Maybe you read through this and don’t believe me. That’s fine. I urge you to go with one method and go at it hard. What happens is a first-time Founder thinks they’re the exception, goes “I’ll show them!” (the people who’ve done it already? OK…), takes the spray & pray approach, and flops. A couple of months later they post to their blog or to YouTube to say how they wish they had focused and how much time they wasted. A lot of times they don’t recover.

All right. Let’s get moving.

The Best Method For Getting Early Users

What is it?

Connect with your target audience directly and personally. That’s it. All there is to it.

OK. That was way too vague. I hate when someone comes along and goes, “Oh yeah just do blah, blah, blah. IT’S SOOOOO EASY” and then disappears. They’re either showing off or trying to sell you something. I know because I used to be just like that. 15 years ago, you’d have found me acting the same way at times. But this ain’t a personal story. I’m going to walk you through, step-by-step, the exact tasks you can do in order to make this happen.

If you apply focus and discipline to this method, you will find it is the only method you need to get off the ground as a single Founder or small team.

Here’s a scenario so we can share a common language.

The Scenario

Your app brings “gamification” to any website in just a few clicks. It’s called “Pythiga”, after the Pythian Games of Ancient Greece. (Hey, nobody said I was good with names! Ahem.) Pythiga addresses the problem of new users churning due to terrible initial experiences. Simply put, it enables people to create amazing user onboarding experiences with a few clicks. Anyone with a website or web-based product (think Software-as-a-Service aka SaaS) can add Pythiga to their site to quickly add elegant user onboarding workflows that are also loaded with gaming elements like scores, badges, social challenges, and more. Pythiga targets two primary audiences: Product Managers, who need to rapidly create amazing onboarding workflows to reduce churn, and Inbound Marketers, who need the lead-generation aspects of the gaming elements to increase sign-ups.

You have a couple of friends who use Pythiga on their side-projects and love it, but this isn’t a side-project for you. You want serious traction. You’ll need to get a lot of people, in relevant roles, using your product. It will take more than just your friends, and more than just any random person, to have any chance of this thing taking off.

To get super-specific on the step-by-step, I’m presenting this method with the assumption you use LinkedIn as your professional profile. If you instead rely on a site like AngelList or Product Hunt, or keep in touch through other social media platforms, the principles and tasks will still apply but the names of buttons, fields, and the specific clicks required to get the job done will differ.

Step 1 – Setup For Success

Open up your favorite spreadsheet software. I like Microsoft Excel. Spreadsheets give you a lot of flexibility in working with data. Create columns for the name, email, job role, company, pain point, profile link, and dates of contact for all the people you’re targeting. Here’s a sample. Feel free to make a copy. Be sure to check out the Comments I left to help get you started.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1KMVYR8PmF_aj8auu0M9IbDaJb2u5jabEyQNjRBYWHq0/edit?usp=sharing

Don’t have Excel? Hate Google Sheets? Get a pad of paper and a pencil. Welcome to the Rolodex era. Nothing wrong with that. See? No excuses preventing you from taking action. Let’s roll.

Step 2 – Update Your Profile

Let’s head to our LinkedIn profile.

Remember, if you don’t use LinkedIn you can follow along through this guide to get an understanding of the method, then apply the method using your other social sites.

Check out that profile. Does it say anything about your startup? Or that you’re working on a stealth project? Or that you’re working on (cool thing that solves problem XYZ) at least? If so, great! If not, WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU? What, you’re afraid that it will fail and you’ll be embarrassed for 10 minutes? I mean this in the nicest way possible: nobody cares about your app right now. They don’t even know it exists in the first place! Put the URL of the app site in your profile. State the problem you’re solving. Pitch! Say there’s an exciting closed beta and “send me a note with ‘OMG I have that same problem!’ and I’ll get you access”.

Congratulations, your LinkedIn profile is now akin to a landing page.

Step 3 – Start Building Your List

OK, stop messing around with your profile. Let’s get to the real work. Still using LinkedIn, find all of your Product Manager connections. Not sure how? Go up to the search bar, type in “Product Manager”, and when the search window drops down, click “Product Manager in People”.

Next, click the “Connections” drop-down, check “1st”, and then click “Apply”. The result should be a list of fine folks all lined up and waiting for you to go through this process with them.

Start opening profiles. Open a few at a time. Don’t reach out yet. Follow the process, we’ll get there. Go to each profile and then copy name, email, title, company, and profile link into the spreadsheet. Can’t find their email address?

show-more
Screenshot from LinkedIn. Not actually a button! 🙂

Click “Show More” over on the right-hand side of the page to expand their contact information. That option looks like the image above.

Tip: print a copy of each profile to PDF for an offline reference on each person. You can quickly go back and gather missing information without looking like a LinkedIn stalker.

Step 4 – Keep Building That List!

Now do you reach out? Not yet! I pity the fool who doesn’t follow the process! Do another LinkedIn Search to find all of your Inbound Marketing connections. “Whoa, Sean that’s not a very common title, are you sure it will work?” Yes. LinkedIn’s Search doesn’t just search Headlines but also titles and blocks of text such as the Summary. It also finds common alternate terms, such as “demand” vs “inbound”.

Just like in Step 3, go to each person’s profile and copy their name, email, title, company, and profile link into the spreadsheet.

Don’t reach out just yet. First, we need to see where we’re at.

• Intermission •

You want to start with a target list of 100 people. How many do you have? 90 – 100? You’re in a great spot. 70 – 80? Things may go a little slower at first, but you should be A-OK. 50 – 70? You’re in a tight spot here, but if you’re over 50 you can still make this happen. If you have more than 50 people on your list you can skip ahead to step 5. If you have less than 50 people on your list, keep reading.

• If Your List Is Shorter Than 50 •

Having less than 50 people on your target list often means one of two things: either you aren’t leveraging any professional networking sites or…

You may not actually know your target audience.

Let’s talk about not leveraging professional networking sites first. This presents a major challenge to every method of early user acquisition. People want to connect with “Founders” and “Makers” and “Doers”. You’re depriving them of that connection. In doing so, you will find traction incredibly difficult. With few connections to rely on online, you’re missing out on a wealth of social support, access to expertise, and network effects. There’s no better time to start connecting than now. Go to LinkedIn.com and create a profile (see Step 1). Search for your past employers and start connecting with current and former co-workers. Make it a priority to connect with folks in your target audience. Even if you didn’t work with them closely, you worked for the same company. You’re bound to have a connection.

If you have less than 50 people on your list and you are leveraging social networking sites, I’d argue that you don’t know your audience. “Yes I do!” you exclaim. I disagree. You aren’t connected enough beyond your own inner circle. Do not give up! I’m saying be honest with yourself. Build more connections. Get embedded into the bigger audience beyond yourself and your circle. Tune in more closely. Are the people you’re chasing after really talking about the problem you’re looking to solve? Or is it all just something you dreamed up after you slipped and hit your head while trying to hang a clock?

(Get the reference?)

There is no better time to start connecting with folks than right now. Get moving.

• If Your List Is Between 50 and 90 •

Connect with anyone in your LinkedIn Activity Feed who is part of your target audience. “Jill, I loved your post about {thing}. What made you want to share it?” Talk. Share. Connect. Offer a tip you found valuable. On LinkedIn, you can join Groups. Find the Groups that Product Managers and Inbound Marketing professionals are members of. Tune in. Take notes. Give back to some conversations. Make a few connections and get that list up to 100.

• If Your List Is At 90 Or More •

Once your list contains 90 or more people, pat yourself on the back. Nice work! Let’s move forward to the next step. It’s time for the one and only shrinking of the list you’re allowed to do.

Step 5 – Risk Management

Scan down the list once. Does any name make your hair stand up on end? Make a note of it but keep going down the list.

Did you get to the bottom?

Have a few names written down?

Does the thought of connecting with one of those people make your brain scream, “AWW HELL, NAW!” or worse?

If connecting with this person poses a real, tangible risk to your job or your safety, drop them from the list. If it’s just fear of being embarrassed in front of an old colleague or friend, too bad, keep them on the list. Only if there is a real risk are you allowed to drop anyone. If talking about your project with one of these folks would mean being fired from your job, drop them. If you just don’t want to share your idea with this person for any reason then again, too bad, they stay on the list.

In short: don’t remove anyone from the list unless you absolutely have to.

Step 6 – How To Get Any Email Address In The World

You now have a list of roughly 90 – 95 target users. Next up? Reconnaissance! You also get to see another one of the reasons I love spreadsheets (besides the fact that I’m a nerd). Missing an email address? Missing more than one? Can’t stand scrolling up and down the page? Filter the Email column for “Blank” or “Blanks”. BOOM! Now you only see the entries where you’re missing an email address. Crazy, huh?

Yeah, I probably need to get out more.

All right. You’ve got a few folks on your list that you can’t connect with via email right now. Want to know how to get any email address in the world?

Ask!

Hang on. Earlier in this guide, I said I hated folks who say something is easy and hurry on to the next thing. I stand by that and I don’t want to be “that guy”. We can apply a short process and go step-by-step to gather any missing email addresses.

  1. Go to the first person with a big blank space in the email column.
  2. Click the person’s LinkedIn profile link.
  3. Click “Message” and type something like:

“Hey, Jim! I’ve been working on a new project and I remember you were the best Product Manager back at Initech. I’d love to get your opinion on what I’m doing. I’ll buy you a beer if you’re still in town. What’s your email? Mine’s…”

Email Template

Hey, {First Name}! I’ve been working on a new project and I remember you were the best {Job Role} back at {Company}. I’d love to get your opinion on what I’m doing. I’ll {owe you a coffee/buy you a beer/take your sister out on that date I promised her in high school}. What’s your email? Mine’s {Email}.

Give it 24 hours. Be patient. Anyone who wants to reply will reply. Plug those email addresses in. For anyone who does reply, go ahead and pitch them. Skip ahead to Step 7 to see how and then jump back here when you’re done so we can repeat the process of gathering email addresses.

If 48 hours go by and you’re still missing some email info, we can get more creative. Use LinkedIn again to find any connections you share with the person you’re targeting. For each email address that you’re missing, go back to that person’s LinkedIn profile. Click “Mutual Connections” and then CLICK THE FIRST PERSON IN A ROLE RELEVANT TO YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE.

…oops. Sorry about the shouting. I get excited when I get to show someone how to do a neat trick. Let’s try that again:

Click the first person in a role relevant to your target audience. Click “Message” and then send them something like this:

“Katie, how do you know Janine Cook? She and I worked together at Initrode. She was a really fantastic Head of Inbound Marketing. I’d love to get her opinion on a project I’m working on. Mind sharing her email with me? I reached out on LinkedIn but I think she has notifications disabled.”

Email Template

{First name}, how do you know {Target Person}? {S/he} and I {met/worked together} at {project/company}. {S/he} was a really fantastic {Job Role}. I’d love to get {Her/His} opinion on a project I’m working on. Mind sharing {Her/His} email with me? I reached out on LinkedIn but I think {S/he} has notifications disabled.

Sometimes you’ll get an email address. Sometimes you’ll get a polite decline, “I don’t want to share someone else’s info”. But almost every time, they’ll ask what you’re working on. See why you chose someone in a role relevant to your target audience? All part of the plan.

“Funny you ask! I’ve found a lot of Product Managers face a big challenge of user churn due to boring sign-up processes or being overwhelmed when they first sign up for a new SaaS tool. Does that sound like anyone you know? Let me know! I’m looking for more folks to give me feedback on what to tweak before I launch in a few months.”

You might not get a response. You may only receive, “I don’t, sorry.” You may also get, “That sounds pretty neat. I’d love to check it out!” If you do, enroll them in your product and keep the conversation going.

You may also strike gold. Any time you get a response like this: “Oh yeah, talk to so-and-so over at so-and-so@email.com. I just shot them a note about you!” …it means you’ve convinced someone else to do the work for you. Make a note of it and make sure you return the favor whenever possible.

Have you got at least 80 emails and you’re just working on collecting the last 10 or so? Awesome. Keep going through the process, reaching out to mutual connections and flexing your communication muscles. When you’re at or over 90 targets on your list, go on to the next step.

Step 7 – Creating Excitement

“SEVEN?! HOLY CRAP, SEAN! WHEN THE HECK DO I START GETTING USERS?!”

Right about now.

Besides, didn’t you pick up a few users back in Step 6? No? Well, crap. Let’s do something about that. You’re now going to message everyone on your list and convince as many of them as possible to sign up for your app.

Craft two email pitch templates, one for each job role. In this case, that’s one for Product Managers and one for Inbound Marketers. You need to hit 3 core points:

  1. The problem to be solved, which is a problem you believe they have.
  2. How your app solves the problem.
  3. The call to action.

“Aaron! As a Product Manager at Hooli, I know you spend a ton of time on the problem of user churn. I’m building a new app called Pythiga that lets you quickly create amazing user enrollment experiences and adds social metrics to their first few days with your product. I’m letting a few early users in totally free. No spam, no BS. Reply back with a ‘HELL YES!’ for early access!”

Email Template

{First name}! As a {Job Role} at {Company}, I know you spend a ton of time on the problem of {problem}. I’m building a new app called {App Name} that lets you do {Thing 1} and {Thing 2}. I’m letting a few early users in totally free. No spam, no BS. Reply back with a “HELL YES!” for early access!

Let’s go! Send those messages out. Be sure to replace the {xxxxx} spots with the required info so you don’t look like a turd. 😉

All good? OK, OK, fine.

There’s one more step…

Step 8 – Welcome, Users!

Respond to all the “HELL YES!” responses with a direct link to enroll in your new app. Better yet, sign them up yourself so they just get a “Welcome” email and a link to “please set a password”. After a full 24 hours go by, message anyone who hasn’t replied:

“Hey, Jason! I added a dozen Inbound Marketing Managers into Pythiga today. Janine Cook over at Initrode has been using Pythiga for almost a whole day now! It’s starting to get pretty busy. I really want your feedback on it but I probably can’t juggle more than 30 or 40 early users right now. Let me know if you want in ASAP!” If they decline, knock them off the list. Keep in contact with them, you weren’t just using them for early traction, but you also don’t want to email them any template emails by mistake.

If another 24 hours of silence come from anyone, use another hook:

“Marla, the first 48 hours of Pythiga early access have been crazy! I’m getting a lot of awesome feedback. Already building one of the requested features into Pythiga. Yours could be next! I still have 5 spots open. Here’s a link to sign up right away and claim your spot! {link goes here}”

Keep this up for 3 – 4 more days for anyone who doesn’t respond. Remove anyone who declines. Drive excitement, but don’t spam anyone.

Tip: in place of removing people from your list complete, consider cutting their row from the spreadsheet and pasting them into another spreadsheet called “Round2”. For anyone in the Round2 spreadsheet, wait 30 days and try again.

On the last day, swing for the fences with any last holdouts:

“Hey Carl, sorry-not-sorry for all the emails this week. I’m super excited about Pythiga so I’m making one last push for you to sign up and check it out. Let me know by midnight, dude, before I close the doors to early access for a bit. I truly want you to check Pythiga out and I want you to share your candid feedback with me. And seriously: no BS, no credit card, no nothing! I made Pythiga for YOU! Thanks again.”

Crossing The Finish Line

All done? Enrolled a bunch of new users? Great! If not, let me know and I’ll see how I can help. You can find me on LinkedIn & Twitter, or you can send a note through my Contact page.

By the way, did you figure out why this method works basically forever when you’re just starting out?

Ah right, I left that part out. Wow, what a bonehead I am…

All those folks who didn’t respond? Wait 30 days and try again. In the meantime, you basically repeat the process, starting with Step 2. Update your LinkedIn profile with any relevant progress, then start finding new users. In addition, ask your users for referrals! Leverage them to build your second list of folks in your target audience. This time around, try to start with a list of 200. As you go through all the steps again, now you can say “So and so sent me. They had {Problem} and they are LOVING my new app because it lets them do {Thing 1} and {Thing 2} to smash that problem to smithereens!”

After 200, try for 400. You can do this! Keep leveraging your connections and keep improving your app based on real user feedback.

After 400?

That’s a whole new ball game. More on that coming soon…

NOW, GO FORTH AND MULTIPLY (your early adopters!)

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