How Your Startup Can Acquire The First 100K Users With $0 (or Minimal) Marketing Budget

How Your Startup Can Acquire The First 100K Users With $0 (or Minimal) Marketing Budget


The best strategic marketing decision you can ever make is to have a product or business that fulfils a real compelling need to a real and defined group of people—no matter how much tweaking and refining this takes. You can’t achieve the 100k users target with zero marketing budget unless you’ve got an amazing product that fills a real and compelling need right now. 

Rather than wait, marketers need to contribute to this process. Isolating who your customers are, figuring out their needs, designing a product that will blow their minds–these are marketing decisions, not just development and design choices.

These strategies can significantly improve your marketing efforts if you have zero or minimal budget.

1. Create tools of self-expression: No matter what your platform does, users should be able to create something there which they would want to spread. A user may not want to spread the word about your platform but would definitely want to spread the word about what she created on it. E.g. YouTube grows every time a video goes viral because users personally invest in marketing it.

This is marketing that scales with adoption and super-effective. Kickstarter and Change.org allow users to spread their cause to the whole world. Users are vested in marketing it. Forget gamification, forget viral design… there is no bigger incentive for users than the ability to spread their creations, beliefs and causes in a manner that wasn’t possible before.

2. Target a micro-market: Facebook’s early  users were at Harvard, Yelp’s early  users were the tech-savvy crowd of San Francisco, Quora and LinkedIn’s early  users were the VCs and startups of Silicon Valley. Find a micro-market which contains your early adopters.

3. Be shareable and embeddable (if you can): Facebook sharing was great but users have, over time, become desensitized to what gets shared on Facebook. Instead, ensure that what gets created on your platform can get shared where your savvy users want to share it, namely on blogs and niche forums. YouTube got traction because MySpace users (musicians) needed a way to share videos and YouTube offered them a solution.

4. Content marketing is amazing free marketing: Blog away like the guys at Buffer, Groove, Quicksprout, and not about your product, just anything that your target market would want and that would make them want to explore the product.

Mint.com went around this is in a more planned manner and undertook several content marketing tactics during the pre-launch phase including writing a very high quality personal finance blog which ultimately became the #1 blog on personal finance in the US.

5.  Create organic virality, a product that spreads every time it’s used: SurveyMonkey, EventBrite, MailChimp, Aweber, are products that just have to be spread to be used. But even if your product doesn’t fall in this category, you can create features that show this property.

6. Build an invite list before you join: Everybody’s doing pre-launch invite lists these days, if you are now starting up, this is a great strategy to get early users, Mailbox made the most of this strategy. In case of communities and marketplaces, this becomes critical not just because it aggregates the right bunch of people before hand, but more so because it aggregates them on a promise of future benefit.

Done right, this can lead to very high conversions and transactions from Day 1. Typically, invite lists fail to kick off traction when there is a mismatch between what users are led to expect and what actually launches.

7. Can you create a can’t-say-no-offer? You can change your audiences mind by creating a can’t-say-no-offer. Create a massive incentive that gets people to take action. The offer could be as simple as: Buy my product from any retailer (online or off), e-mail me the receipt, and I’ll send you free bonuses worth $XXX.

You can tease this for several weeks before the release date, encouraging people to wait or you can even start a promo that gets users to use premium packages when they share, recommend or  invite others just like what Dropbox did, they gave more space to users who brought on more users.

8. And Finally, delight your customers. Seth Godin talks about permission marketing, which is the underlying commonality between what him and Richard Branson talks about. You need to delight the customers and engage them one on one. Always keep your line of communication open.

Competition on the internet is no longer about fighting tooth and nail over price or features as was the case with traditional businesses. In today’s fast moving internet market, competition is about offering a value proposition that is offered by no one else and creating an entirely new market of consumers who had a latent need but no readily available solution to solve that need. Companies that do this effectively win.


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