Today I want to respond to the #1 concern I hear from early stage startups: how to get people to find out about your product without having to pay for it.
In this post, I’ll cover some of the best growth hacks that I’ve discovered for the acquisition stage of the lean marketing funnel. Here’s how I like to think about it. You can either do the work of acquiring new potential users (HARD), or you can let others do the work for you (EASIER).
What do I mean?
Put simply, go to where your potential users are. There are literally thousands of services out there that have already done the work of building up a audience, whether it’s a highly trafficked website or a big email list. What you want to do is piggyback off of those traffic sources.
Here are a few which have recently grown in relevance if your audience is startups or early adopters: Quora, Slideshare, Wikipedia, Hacker News, Meetup, Craigslist, Skillshare, email newsletters like StartupDigest and events. These are all channels where a large amount of high-quality potential users for your product are every single day.
You can’t just post a link to your startup’s site on each service and expect people to come, that’s lazy. But you can do basically the same thing so long as you cater to the content that people go to each service for. For example, in my spare time I teach classes on How to Teach Yourself to Code on Skillshare and Udemy. I accidentally discovered that SlideShare could tap into a huge audience that could drive students to my class when I posted my class slides which didn’t take too long to be viewed by over 95,000 people.
After putting these up, I started getting getting multiple emails a day about the slides, people begging to learn more.
Put together a short presentation (20 – 40 slides) with educational content that potential users of your product would be interested in.
If your product helps people out with their finances, make a deck on tips for managing your finances. If your product is a marketplace where college students can swap goods, make a deck on how to save money and get free stuff in college. If it’s a tool to help people cut down on email clutter, write a guide for cutting down on email clutter!
Then put a link to your website on some slide near the beginning and also on the last slide. Don’t make it too salesly. We recently had BrandYourself talk at our NYC GrowHack Meetup on how they got 60k users in 60 hours.
The slides have been viewed over 15,000 times and drove several thousand visitors to their site. I’ve had similar success with slides on growth hacking I recently put online. If you’re unsure of whether you can build slides that people will find worth sharing, check out my slides on How to Build Great Presentations.
Every founder of every company should be on Quora answering questions related to their company’s product ALL THE TIME. Okay that’s probably overkill. But, there’s no better way to get your expertise known and get yourself in front of people who never would have heard about you and your company otherwise.
The point is to to focus on providing content that’s useful for your audience. Link to your product, but be as objective as possible. Here’s a great example:
But what if no one’s asking questions about your product? Post your own questions and then answer them yourself. Also don’t forget similar services like Yahoo Answers.
One dirty secret companies like TechCrunch use all the time is every time they write an article about a person or a company, they update the Wikipedia page with a new fact and link to the article.
This may seem small, but depending on how trafficked a Wikipedia article is, this can drive a significant amount of users to your site.
Just make sure you read the Wikipedia guidelines first so that your changes don’t automatically get deleted for being too promotional or anything like that.
You probably can’t create a Wikipedia article for your startup (it’s not “notable” enough in wikipedia’s eyes) but you may be able to create one for your product category or something similar that may not have been covered yet. (I plan on writing one for Growth Hacking soon, and you can be sure I’ll be linking to this post).
If you’re focused on a startup crowd, Hacker News can bring some incredible traffic, and has done a great job promoting some of my content from other places like Slideshare (although it’s tough to know what will take off and what won’t).
Write a blog post about something technical, where techies will learn something cool or new. Sometimes you may need a small bump to make it out of that “new” section. DON’T send your friends links to the item directly asking for an up vote. Hacker News recognizes this as manipulative behavior and doesn’t count the vote.
Instead, send your friends to the “new” section and tell them what the name of the item is to search for. Make sure they do this quickly. If you can get a handful of up votes in a short amount of the (5 or so) you can get catapulted to the front page and get potentially thousands of visitors.
If you do want to just show off your product and you think it’s cool enough, do a Show HN. Depending on what you’re showing, people may see this as spammy and not up vote, but it may work.
Meetup.com is one of those services that will do the job of driving traffic to your meetup if you create one. Find a topic your users would be interested in, and bring them great content. If your biggest potential userbase is people on Etsy, then start the NY Etsy Meetup and bring in people who’ve launched successful products on that platform.
This is also an excellent place to do in person for customer development. You’re able to hear first-hand the language your audience uses to describe the problem and get a sense of how they really feel about your product.
This can also work as a way to base yourself in reality. If you’re not able to create content that attracts your customers, you might want to rethink your product.
If people looking for products like yours ever go on Craigslist, you’ll be able to get in front of them for free by putting up a post. This involves a bit of 1-on-1 back and forth.
One huge opportunity a lot of founders miss out on is teaching classes around their topic of expertise. This gets your company in front of a room of 20-40 people who are interested in learning more about your product (and they’ll pay for it too)!
Every few weeks, I teach classes on coding, growth hacking and presentation design. Again, this is great customer development. It’s a way to make a bit of money, and get to know people in the class who are willing to pay money to solve that particular problem.
All the cool kids are doing it.
In the startup scene, this can another great way to get people to come to your classes and meetup. Big newsletters in NYC include StartupDigest and Gary’s Guide, but you can also reach out to meetup organizers who want to give bring in good content to their meetups.
Others have already been built to upwards of 10s of thousands of people. Each one has a way to submit events so figure out how to do that. For StartupDigest submit your event here, for GarysGuide submit your event here.
Founders should have a list of all the big relevant events to their potential customers and be there. Don’t confuse this with being at tech events. If your product is a tool to help authors self-publish online, go to the events that THOSE people will be at. Publishing conferences. Etc.
Each industry has a number of big name sites that collect the events for people in that industry to go to. For example, http://www.mediabistro.com/events/ for advertising.
Bonus tip: Update your email signature
Update your email signature. You send what, at least 30 emails a day? What’s in your email signature right now?
Hotmail was able to grow virally just by adding “PS. Get your free email at Hotmail” to the signature of each person. If you’re trying to get people to use your product, put a simple “sign up for x at y” in your signature on every email. Its not too pushy, and over the course of a few weeks you can get potentially hundreds of free users.
How do you get your users?
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it includes some of the basic tactics I’ve recently seen. If you’ve used any others successfully that I didn’t include on the list, please post them in the comments below. I’d love to hear about it!