But before you start talking to potential customers, make sure you’re super clear on who you’re looking for.
2. Identify your customers
Get real clear on what potential customers look like.
Value statements like “people looking for a better Zoom” are nice for getting the point across when speaking with investors, but unhelpful for identifying potential customers to pitch to.
Your ICP needs to be clear enough that an Upwork contractor can build a customer list, for instance:
Finance leaders at startups who’ve recently raised a Series A.
Want to do better? Go a bit deeper.
Assign a fictional name to represent your ideal customer and provide detailed characteristics for each of your ideal customer profiles (ICPs) in sequence. Additionally, consider utilizing the following strategies:
Generate a custom Reddit feed containing subreddits related to your ICPs.
Compile a Twitter list of relevant influencers for your target audience.
Conduct customer surveys or interviews to gain insights.
Use social media listening tools to monitor online conversations.
3. Say NO to customers you don't want
If there was only one thing I’d like you to take from this article, it would be this.
The ROI of a poor ICP fit could mean:
No recurring purchases
Serving the noisy wheel takes time away from the customers who will grow with your business.
You need to focus on the opportunities that move the needle, which means saying no to those who are going to hijack product directions and make you solve a problem you didn’t intend to. Michael Seibel of YC has a great article on avoiding this trap.
An alternative to a no is to set a price for yes. Quote a price where you are happy to build for one-off cases.
This will allow you to focus on your actual product roadmap and also act as a nice revenue boost if you come across a situation where a user agrees to your price to build.
4. Close your first customers by being an expert
No product is complete at first launch. Make up for your product gaps by consulting for free.
Build a reputation so that founders in your batch tell others that "if you have questions about X, go to Y". Your experience becomes your lead gen.
For example, we helped founders model their fundraising at YC. We first onboarded companies and then used our tool to help them understand dilution.
The caveat to the expert strategy is to avoid selling only your time. Align the value you provide to the product you're building:
Consult (ask questions)
Advise (provide recommendations)
Pitch (your product)
Try making personalized 5-minute Looms for folks you really want to work with—the ROI is immense. Best case: they become repeat customers. Worst case: they always remember you for the nice gesture and direct a founder friend your way.
5. Launch early
The closer you get to demo day, the harder it is to stand out.
More companies are launching, which means reporters are busy. Going early reduces your competition for attention.
A general rule is to launch before you think you’re ready. This will put some healthy pressure on you and prevent you from launching with everyone else.
Launch to your friendliest audience first, then work outward from there:
Share your product with your YC Group
Launch on Bookface
Launch on HackerNews
Launch on Techcrunch
This approach helps you use your traction from warmer connections to build awareness for later launches, and also allows you to learn and iterate with each attempt.