37
72 Comments

Everything it took to get my first paying customer.

Image description

For better or for worse, I like building products for founders of startups. It's a blessing and a curse. A blessing because this is my tribe, but a curse because it's a very difficult market to sell to unless you're already on the inside, or part of a special group like YC.

This is hopefully another sobering view in how to actually get your first paying customer without the "i put it on <product hunt, hacker rank> and it blew up". That's never happened to me. Maybe one day! But until then, I'll just keep grinding the best way I know how to.

Metrics

Total emails: 556
Total Opens: 154 unique opens
Total Replies: 7
Total Contacts: 199
People who worked on it: 1 (yours truly!)
First Code Commit: April 1, 2022
Twitter Followers: 132
Blog Posts: 11

Total Meetings: 6
Total Signups: 99
Total Paying Customers: 1

Total Revenue: $15.00

Story

This product is in a competitive space. There are several (much) larger and better funded competitors who have a lot more features but are also much more expensive. My tool is a stripped down, cheaper version that tries to get out of your way. That's the initial angle I went to market with. I know competing on price is generally not great, but for the first 100 customers I don't mind having a big discount that goes away over time.

I chose cold email as my primary channel for finding new customers. I also set up a twitter account which as i write this has 132 followers. I posted several bits of cold email wisdom and some cold email memes. This got me 10 people on my email list. Here's an example tweet:

Want your first 100 customers? Learn how to write compelling copy. Find where they hang out, build a relationship and deliver value for free every step along the way. You'll get there.

My list of prospects came from BuiltWith and filtering for people who use Lemlist (a competitor). Once I had that list I uploaded it to our email sending tool and set up a simple 4 step sequence across email and LinkedIn. I'm not a big LinkedIn person but adding LinkedIn steps to a sequence definitely helps conversion rates increase.

For every person that got on my "early access" list, I also had to send them a sequence of emails as well because oddly people were saying they wanted to sign up but then they would never actually get back to me once I gave them access, so I started asking them to do part of the set up on their own, ping me when they finished, and then I'd give them access. I'm sure I turned away a few would be customers but that's okay at this stage. I'm not looking for any customer right now, I need the right kind of first customers. This special group of people will help guide the product to its next evolution. If you make a mistake here, it could have 2nd and 3rd order effects down the road.

I had a lot of trouble getting people to book meetings with me even after they indicated they wanted to sign up, so I ditched the requirement for a meeting and just asked that they take a series of setup steps in the app and then let me know async when they were done. This proved to be slightly more effective in getting people to respond, but the majority of people still didn't complete all the steps necessary to start getting value from the product. This is something to circle back on.

After a two week free trial from 6 users who I considered active, I asked if one of them would pay on the day their free trial ended. They paid immediately. During their free trial I answered 6 support requests from this person myself and built 3 features they asked for.

There was absolutely no magic here. This was a grind that end-to-end took 4 1/2 months. It was surprisingly slow. During this process, I regularly had to keep marketing (and stop building) and make the action steps the goal, not the outcomes. With early stage companies / products, making concrete goals like these are very difficult:

  • I will get 100 customers by X date
  • I will be at $1k MRR by December

I think you're much better off making goals like:

  • I will write X posts per week
  • I will distribute those posts on X channels
  • I will reach out to every prospect that signs up to my email list
  • I will offer a free 1-hour consulting session to every prospect this week.

For the sake of your sanity, having goals you are 100% in control of helps tremendously. You really can't control if an algorithm on a social network is going to turn a random post into a hit, you can only keep doing the work. I've found these subtle shifts in how I set goals this early to make me feel less like I'm pushing a rock up hill and more like I'm on a path where I can simply keep putting one foot in front of the other.

I'm sure I forgot some part of the journey, but happy to answer any questions if you have any.

Keep putting one foot in front of the other!

✌️ ,

Andrew


Bonus: My exact email sequence

Email Sequence:

Email 1:

Hi {{first_name}},

I just saw you used Lemlist and wanted to reach out to let you know we've built a simpler but just as powerful alternative to Lemlist. It's called https://supersend.io

We're offering a no-brainer deal for the next 30 days. It's $15 per sending email per month. Yep, that's 3x cheaper than Lemlist with the same powerful features (minus all the emojis).

If you're intersted in taking a look, I'd be happy to show you around. Here's our calendly for myself, Mikey and Julia (co-founders).

https://calendly.com/d/dn8-bw8-tnj/cold-email-chat

✌️,

Andrew


Email 2:

Tired of all that annoying gamification in Lemlist?

Super Send is a drop in replacement. You could be up and running for 3x cheaper in a day.

Can I show you around the platform? You can automate emails, Linkedin, and >even Twitter!


Step 3:

Linkedin Profile Visit (automated)


Step 4:

hey {{first_name}}, last attempt. Would love to show you around supersend.io. >We've got the power of Lemlist without all the complexity.

If you're curious, we run a cold email agency. We send 10's of thousands of emails a month for some of the highest growth startups around the globe. We were the ultimate power users of Lemlist and at a certain point realized how much simpler and more efficient we could be if Lemlist would just get out of it's own way.

Anyways, would love to show you around the product, here's our (the cold email agency's) calendly. You can speak to myself, Mikey or Julia, we're the three co-founders of Super Send :)

https://calendly.com/d/dn8-bw8-tnj/cold-email-chat

  1. 9

    Thanks for sharing! Nice to see some raw metrics surrounding the hard work that goes into building a product. And I appreciate the 'goals that we can control', vs. the more ethereal ones. The next step is measuring the output of those controllable goals, and tweaking as necessary (which it looks like you're doing).

    1. 3

      Wholeheartedly agree with this, but I do think it's important to commit to measuring some inputs and give them a chance to work before tweaking them.

      I've found many people expect results within a week or two of starting a new effort, which would be great but unfortunately isn't realistic.

    2. 2

      ty sir! couldn't agree more. I even like having some kind of consistency metric esp w/r/t marketing. I struggle with consistency.

    3. 1

      I too agree on the point to prefer soft metrics (outreaches, blog posts, etc.) over hard metrics (customers, revenue, etc.).

      Still, I'd stress the importance of monitoring hard metrics. There must be indicators to incentivize strategy adaptations if things don't go in the right direction.

      I'd suggest to find the right balance: short- to mid-term focus on soft metrics while having mid- to long-term goals for hard metrics.

  2. 5

    I interpreted the pricing would be $15 per email I would send :') Might be worth changing to something like 'monthly'.

    I might sign up cause it sounds interesting!

    1. 1

      oh shoot. thanks for the feedback, I'll revisit!

      1. 1

        Fixed. For the next month I just made it unlimited everything for the same price.

        1. 1

          Can I get access as well? :D

  3. 3

    This is an awesome format. Thanks for sharing. Have you built businesses before? Was the general pattern of many shots:few hits pretty similar?

    1. 2

      I've started and exited an AI company. I also started XO.capital ($26k MRR) and Cold Email Studio ($30k MRR).

      I took 30 ish shots over 7 or 8 years and made $0.

      Late 2020 I started 2 businesses that are working so far. I think both could individually do $1M each next year.

      I might be getting smarter or I might have just used up a lifetime's worth of luck!

      Either way I think I'm getting better at focusing on the process rather than the outcomes. honestly the outcomes feel random, I can't control that, but I can control my process.

  4. 3

    You're right.

    You can never set a outcome goal ($X MRR by Y time).

    You can only set a process goal (do this amount of work or range of tasks).

    Outcome goals are just wishes because you can never directly control them.

    1. 1

      Took me a long time to figure this out

  5. 3

    Big fan of yours Andrew, you always share great stuff on Twitter - keep at it! Can't wait to see if Tiktok produces results!

    1. 1

      Aw thanks man. Means a lot to me to hear this 🙏

  6. 2

    I 100% echo the sentiment of "measure inputs to success, not outputs". In my own experience, the things that I did that "blew up" are almost completely random. I've also found that the growth from efforts that blew up tends to be less sticky than the slow, grinding growth that you put in. (The same people that arrived via Product Hunt are also more likely than most to move on quickly to the next thing.)

    Great work, and thanks for sharing!

    1. 2

      Thanks! That's exactly my experience. Stuff that gets traction on twitter or (worse) TikTok is sooo random.

      And I agree, if they're quick to come, they're quick to leave. keep fighting the good fight!

  7. 2

    That's actually a good idea.

  8. 2

    Congrats for your mindset and for not giving up.
    I’m currently going to something similar and I feel like everything I do is in vain because nothing is working. I am too focused on the results and not the journey.
    It became a psychological game for me. But I’m happy to see people who defeated this game.
    Gg :) Keep up the good work!

    1. 1

      I'm not sure if netting $15 is winning the game but it's a lovely milestone! Keep on trucking! Took me like 20-30 failed saas product launches to find even 1 that worked.

      1. 1

        You've won according to Liron Shapira. "80% of startups are killed...before they ever got one user". Congrats!
        https://medium.com/bloated-mvp/the-great-filter-of-startups-efcef25dc051

        1. 1

          brutal. I think that's got to be wrong. I believe it if you changed users with $$ though.

  9. 2

    That's actually a good idea, even if you won't get people to switch you can at least get feedback from people who would be a customer.

    1. 1

      that's exactly right

  10. 2

    Thank you for sharing your experience.

    1. 1

      anytime, thanks for reading!

  11. 2

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

  12. 2

    Thank you for sharing your experience and congratulations on your first client.

  13. 2

    bravo. what a grind. hope you reach your goals

    1. 1

      not even close ... I want a jet :)

  14. 2

    Love the transparency and grit here!

    Quite honestly, I am not yet at a spot where I'm needing a product like this, but I saved this post because as I build out my new product, I will be in need so I will be back :)

    1. 2

      cheers! I'll be around!

  15. 2

    The email sequence is well organized, good luck with getting more customers

    1. 1

      I'm really glad to hear you think that. I was a power user of Lemlist and just got fed up with how complicated stuff was.

  16. 2

    I can't agree more on the goal setting part, that's my biggest takeaway from this post. Loved the whole post, insightful and crisp.
    Copywriting is one of the best skills to acquire!

    1. 1

      yeah it's really underrated. thanks for the kind words!

  17. 2

    Hey Andrew, I'm curious, what tool do you use to manage all your projects, brainstorm ideas, and plan out tasks?

      1. 1

        Relating to brainstorming ideas/tracking goals, is there anything you wish you could do in Notion that can't really be done/is difficult to do?

  18. 2

    Quite insightful, I have been following XO capital quite often and would love a blog outlining this project.

    1. 1

      Awesome! Thanks for reading!

      happy to write it, can you share what you mean by outlining this project ? Architecturally or the go to market?

  19. 2

    Great stuff. Was wondering what was the subject line for all the emails?

    1. 1

      A Cheaper Alternative To Lemlist

      Not my best ... not my worst!

  20. 2

    I got my first paying customer for my newly launched product by directly messaging them on Reddit after they were the first to leave a comment on one of my demo videos.
    I said something along the lines of "would you be willing to try my product for $x" and 15 minutes later they purchased it!
    I'd say it's one of the greatest milestones in a product's journey.

    1. 1

      I love that.

      I've literally gotten kicked out of every reddit community i've ever tried posting something remotely promotional... haha

  21. 2

    This is some awesome info, thanks for sharing!

  22. 2

    This is so much insightful! Thanks for putting this out. Not sure how many people send the 500 emails before calling it a day.
    Question: Would you build another product in a validated but competitive space? What would be your considerations?

    1. 2

      ty!

      I personally HATE building stuff nobody wants, so I'm much more likely to build a product in a validated but competitive space than to build something "new".

      One thing i do try to look for is whether there is a big player in the space (venture backed or large incumbent) that has a super generous free tier. I always find that is particularly difficult to compete with. The only thing that beats free is speed and if you can't be faster (but charge more) then maybe look elsewhere.

  23. 1

    this was a very good informative read, appreciate the insight and you sharing this!

  24. 1

    I have been chasing revenue over process goals and you’re right it can be frustrating. On the one hand you reward yourself for your hard work, whilst on the same day putting yourself down when measuring results. I still am not sure this is completely unhealthy because how long should a business continue with no results?

  25. 1

    If possible can you please share email subject line of each email from the email sequence?

  26. 1

    Nice summary, insightful.

  27. 1

    Super cool post, really insightful! What did you use for capturing the emails people entered?

    1. 2

      Thanks! It's a little recursive:

      1. people enter their email on our landing page (tailwind)
      2. that goes into our database
      3. It also get's added to an email sequence via our own api (which customers could also use to automate stuff)
      1. 1

        Makes sense, dogfooding is definitely the way to go!

  28. 1

    Really appreciate raw data you provide here. Great work man !

  29. 1

    This so raw and pure process loved it man, specially emails.

  30. 1

    This is pure dedication, keep up the good work!

  31. 1

    Good things take time, no doubt for this kind of product it requires more effort and time we also facing the same thing for our product "https://churnfree.com/" which is helping business to reduce their churn rate!

    But know we are at second step! Hope you will get result and you also will be at your second stage!

    1. 1

      nice! we're implementing churnkey right now, there's definitely value in those tools!

  32. 1

    Thanks for sharing the "behind-the-scenes" story.

    The signup problem sounds to me like a big deal. Perhaps, reducing time-to-value will increase conversions, making the grind more rewarding?

    1. 1

      probably. but at the moment I just want the right kind of people. If i open it up too much the product will attract a lot of spammers :( Need to think through how to mitigate that.

      1. 1

        By spammers, do you mean people who will use your tool to send spam newsletters? If you want to add some exclusivity, you can introduce due diligence; that is, users should confirm that their open rates/reply rates are above a certain minimum. Or you can block users whose rates are very low while the number of emails sent is huge.

        The question is, whether it's worth passing on customers? You can take into account the feedback only from the ones who fit your ICP to attract more of them, but I don't see the immediate value of restricting – unless you want to build around exclusivity.

        1. 1

          mostly because the people that just sign up and we let them in don't successfully set up the tool to start sending emails. This is of course a product issue but initially we can overcome that by just doing things 1:1.

          We're looking for people to hand hold through the process otherwise we just have a leaky bucket. These initial 100 or so paying customers are so so important.

  33. 1

    this is really helpful!

  34. 1

    What exactly do you mean by your third step? Is it just a hit on their linkedin profile so if they have premium they see that you visited thier profile? Does this help? What did you use to automate it?

    1. 1

      Yeah that's exactly it. Automated profile visit. It helps because it makes the whole experience of reaching out feel that much more personalized and authentic.

      We use our own tool to do it supersend.io!

Trending on Indie Hackers
50 investors said no to us !😥So, now we are building our startup in public💪 20 comments The data proves you don't need a co-founder 16 comments Google add-on for SEO 14 comments My product is not first-need, should I keep working on it? 7 comments 🖐️5 Ways to market your business (without spending a penny) 6 comments Indie Hackers' Hall of Fame 6 comments