Users are the lifeblood of any digital product. So, it’s no wonder everyone and their mother is looking to get more of them. Product Hunt and Indie Hackers are littered with discussions on this very topic.
However, there’s a level of nuance that’s usually missed in these conversations – the size of your existing user base will dramatically change your approach to acquiring more users. What you need to do to get your first user is wildly different than what it takes to get your 10,000th user and beyond.
We’ve seen a lot of folks struggle with getting their first 10 users. So, let’s focus on how we can get them.
Build something people want
Now, this sounds exceedingly obvious when it’s written out, but common sense isn’t always common practice. We’ll never be able to get our first 10 users if we don’t build something that they want.
Let’s get meta for a minute. Digital products exist to solve one or many problems that a given group of people is experiencing. Baked into this very definition is the idea of an audience.
We usually see people struggle with getting 10 users when they haven’t done the work to identify an audience that they want to serve. Instead, they dreamed up a cool solution and went looking for a problem.
We call this the builder’s dilemma – when someone has the technical abilities to build anything, they just want to build. But, then they’ll struggle to get their first users because they didn’t do any work validating that this was a problem worth solving. Oftentimes, this workflow looks like this:
🚫 Builder’s dilemma workflow
Build cool idea → try to sell it → can’t find audience → frustration
We’re guilty of doing this ourselves – that’s why it’s such a dilemma! But, what we’ve learned over the years is that life’s too short to build products no one wants. So, we’ve adapted our workflow to look more like this.
✅ Ideal workflow
Find audience → learn their problems → validate solutions → build them
Again, this isn’t rocket science, but there aren’t any silver bullets either. We need to put in the work of finding an audience and then embedding ourselves into their world to truly understand what problems they’re dealing with.
Now like anything worth doing, this takes a tremendous amount of discipline! The builder’s dilemma doesn’t magically vanish, in fact it intensifies as we learn more about a problem space. But, the longer we can hold off and learn, the better our eventual solution will be.
Tactics for acquiring your first 10 users
Alright let’s say that we all on board now. We have our audience, we understand their problems, we put out our landing page to capture preorders, now what?
Again, there aren’t any silver bullets. If everyone could magically acquire their first users, they would. Instead, we need to invest our time and effort into cultivating relationships, getting the word out, and simply delivering a better product.
To that end, these are some battle-tested tactics we’ve seen work wonders.
Embed in the audience
Picture your favorite community. Maybe it’s a sports team, your friend group, a sub-reddit you love – who do you listen to? The newbie who just showed up, or the people you’ve developed relationships with over time?
Unless the newbie is saying something absolutely incredible, no one cares about them. That’s just how group dynamics work. Trust, authority, respect, relationships – these things take time to cultivate.
So, if we want to be able to connect with users in our target audience and have them listen to us, we can’t just drop in out of the blue or lurk around without ever contributing. We need to embed ourselves in their world and participate.
By participate, I don’t mean spamming them with your ideas or solution – I mean taking a genuine interest in what the community is about, joining their rituals, and having some fun.
Give to get
One of the best ways to avoid coming off as scammy in these spaces is to give away as much value as you can. People naturally like folks who help them, so the more you help the faster you build affinity in these spaces. That it feels good to help others is also a lovely bonus!
We’ve seen folks struggle here because they think this means they need to prepare some crazy offer that people will swoon over – things like free calculators or guides or workshops. Yes, those things are great and people do like them, but we can start much smaller.
Be the first to answer someone’s post. Give thoughtful advice. Offer to help when someone asks. All we have to do here is act like the friend we wish we had – you’ll be amazed at how far this’ll go.
Once you’ve done this for a while, then start thinking about those bigger efforts. Compile a list of commonly shared resources. Build an Excel formula. Put together a checklist for a shared process. The sky’s the limit!
Post every day
Now, I know I just said we don’t want to spam people. At the same time, if we don’t share what we’re doing then no one will know about our solution.
So, we need to strike a balance between participating in an authentic way and sharing updates on what we’re building while remaining top of mind for people.
What we’ve seen work well is getting into the habit of posting at least once a day in all of our audiences. Most people have a personal social presence and, if you’ve followed the tactics above, a presence in the communities you’re serving.
We recommend using your personal social accounts for sharing updates and micro-launches, while keeping your community accounts focused on participating and giving to get. And then, using both accounts for major launches.
That way, you’re constantly staying top of mind in the right places without spamming folks and becoming noise.
The more time you spend with your audience, the more you’ll learn about their problems and what they like/dislike. All of this information should be rolled into your solution.
We see so many folks get discouraged that their first MVP isn’t the hit they dreamed it would be. But, so rare that our first effort is the best one. It takes iteration, experimentation, and trial and error to get to a place where our solutions actually resonate with people.
What matters more than nailing the first version is learning if you’re in the right ballpark. Do people in your audience get excited you’re solving this problem? Are they immediately interested in learning more? Do they want to see it? Are they signing up for a preorder?
These are the kinds of things we care about now – building that momentum and continuing to refine our offering so it’s easier and easier for the next user to say, “I need this!”
Do things that won’t scale
One of the best parts of having a small product is that we can do things that don’t scale.
For example, you can personally reach out to potential users and have one-on-one conversations with them. This allows you to understand their needs and pain points on a deeper level. It also creates a strong sense of connection and builds trust with your early users.
Additionally, you can provide personalized support to your first users. This could include offering them exclusive access to new features, responding quickly to their inquiries, and addressing any issues they may encounter. By going above and beyond to provide exceptional support, you can create loyal advocates who will spread the word about your product.
Remember, the goal at this stage is not to scale, but rather to learn and iterate based on the feedback and insights you gather from your first users. This feedback will be invaluable in shaping your product and refining your strategy as you aim to acquire more users in the future.
So, don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and do things that won't scale. These early efforts can lay a solid foundation for the growth and success of your product.
Getting to 10
It’s a magic moment when you get to 10 users. Each one is a testament to your hustle and perseverance, and hopefully they’re putting a little bit of money in your pocket too!
If you’ve built something people want, getting to 10 users is very attainable! So get out there, find a community, start participating, and you’ll be on your way in no time.