Finding the first adopters/clients for your startup

You got an idea for your product. You think it’s brilliant. But there is only one way to test it – you need to find first clients willing to spend money on it. This is the path to finding your first adopters.

1. Creating a profile of your ideal customer

Who is the person that absolutely craves your product? Without knowing who that person is/what your target audience is, you won’t know where to find them, and you won’t be able to showcase your product to them. Here are some basic questions to narrow down your audience:

1) Basic demographics, are they: male/female and old/young

2) Location: where are they based? Can you narrow it down by country, city, area? Remember, the more you narrow it down, the easier it would be to reach them.

3) Does it matter if they are employed or not? If they are employed – can you target them by profession?

4) Any specific interests/hobbies that they have?

5) What’s their family status? (if it matters. For example, if you are a wedding planner, then it’s probably not a good idea to target happily married parents)

Put all of the above together and you have a virtual portrait of your client. For the purpose of this exercise we will call her Jane.

2. “Where is Jane?”

Now that you know who Jane is, time to reach out and ask her about your product. Ideally you want to do this before you spend time and money creating the actual product.

First and foremost, try to find a way to reach the first clients and get their feedback without having to pay to show them the product. This means, avoiding going to FB ads or Google AdWords. Which means that you must find them “organically”.

Where can you find these clients organically? Offline and online. Based on the answers under point 1, where is your audience most likely to “hang out”:

  1. Is it online forums, where pressing issues are discussed amongst various online “tribes”?
  2. Is it the ever so popular social media and pages/groups on social media? Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat, TikTok, Reddit and others?
  3. “Offline” coffee places, gyms, pubs, retreats? Don’t be afraid to approach people in person. If you are genuine and sincerely try to understand what it is that they want, you can get the feedback you need from any audience.
  4. Other people’s services/products. That’s right – you haven’t even started yet and you already have competition. But that can be a plus. If there is something similar in the market, that means that there is demand for it. Have a look at reviews under other products, and find out how you could improve on someone else’s fault, so that Jane is guaranteed to prefer your product.

Once the “hangout” place has been identified, time to take the next step.

3. “What do you think, Jane?”

Remember, your first point should be to get feedback. You are not hard selling. You are identifying strong and weak points in your product offering.

Here is what you should do to get feedback:

  1. Ask questions. That’s easy – on forums, find someone’s comment about a similar product and reach out. Post questions on blogs and forums. Offline be transparent with people – tell them what you are looking to achieve, and ask what they think about it. Strangers are the best at giving you no bull**** answers. Friends and family may try to “spare your feelings” which is the last thing you want here.
  2. Listen to the answers. This may seem obvious, but too often founders would do the “boring” part of asking the question, and they don’t actually listen to the answers that contain golden nuggets.
  3. Ask more questions – make sure that you understand the answers. It’s not enough to record the answers. You have to be sure about what your adopters mean. Imagine that Jane says she doesn’t like your idea for yoga pants because there are too many stripes. Your immediate reaction is: “Oh, I will make the pants with no stripes then”. WRONG. Jane was not so worried about the stripes per say, but rather she was thinking about her workout shirt, and how it just would not go with those pants. So, your answer to her concern could be to make a full set – yoga pants TOGETHER with a shirt! Ask questions that specify what the adopter means.
  4. Once you get all the feedback you need, make sure you stay in touch with that crowd. At first opportunity, take down Jane’s email, so you can reach out to her when the product is ready and fulfils her requirements.

4. A perfect gift.

You have made a product that fulfils all of the first adopters’ criteria. It’s perfect. Or is it? You won’t know until you go back to Jane and ask for her opinion.

Here you have an abundance of choice in how to proceed. As of 2019, freebies and samples are very popular with startups – and people love free stuff, so you are more likely to have success if you offer your product for free, in return for reviews on your website, to try and spread the word, get that viral word of mouth effect going, etc. However, be wary of what I call “vultures”. Those are the people that would love to prey on free stuff, but would never spend any ££ on your product. You don’t want to let those vultures in. They are inevitably drawn to all good and also mediocre products, but they are not your target audience.

For this reason, it can be a good idea to charge at least a minimum price for the product. At the end of the day, if someone is willing to spend their hard earned money on something you have made, that is the best sign that you are on the right track.

Lastly, if you can afford to get more feedback, then by all means – give 1-2 free samples (each would be an iteration on the previous version of the product) and each time record the feedback. By the time you come back to Jane for the third time, she would be so used to your product, that you can almost count her as being part of your own tribe. That is what you want. People who are loyal to your brand and would tell others about you.

In this process of product validation you have not only found your first clients, but you have also tested waters and confirmed that these indeed are your first adopters. It is now something you can build on.