15 Acquisition Channels I Discovered From Reading 479 Founder Interviews
A post that took 240+ hours to research.
Update: I now made a v2 version of this article (with 34 acq. channels), available on ZeroToUsers.
I’ve been in the startup community since 2006 (when MySpace was still a thing) and one of the questions I’ve seen constantly popping up is: “How do I get new users? Where do I post? Which acquisition channels should I use to get new users?”
Unfortunately, most of the answers are either based on a single experience or someone providing advice without evidence of why you should trust them.
I was determined to find a better answer to this question.
2016 was a pretty amazing year for founders. It’s the year when Indie Hackers launched and The Open Startup Initiative started to take off. Founders suddenly began to be much more transparent with their startups; they shared revenue numbers, acquisition channels that worked for them, valuable lessons, and much more.
Luckily, this trend still lives on. Indie Hackers now has more than 470 founder interviews, and there are also a bunch of related sites & blog posts where founders share all sorts of data.
Back to my point. When I saw what was going on (with so many interviews & data points), I thought it was a perfect opportunity to finally answer the how-do-i-get-users question in a reliable way. So I started with my research.
I’ve spent almost 2 years (as a side project) reading all 479 interviews on Indie Hackers (each interview is quite long, ranging from 1500 to 5000 words). On average, it took me 30 minutes to read/analyze/categorize each interview, so that’s around 240 hours total.
I wanted to answer the question: What acquisition channels do consistently repeatedly work for founders? How did those founders go from zero to users?
This article will cover the top 15 of those acquisition channels (I found a total of 50+ channels, and plan to do additional posts if this one gets traction, feel free to subscribe to my Zero to Users newsletter if you want to get notified when I release them).
The channels are sorted by the number of “successful mentions” (meaning, the founder mentioned in the interview that a particular acquisition channel is working for them). Now, some founders spend just a sentence talking about the channel, some describe it in detail (you’ll see quotes from the latter below).
Without further ado, here are the top 15 acquisition channels:
SEO (only after getting results with another acquisition channel. I explain below why this is important). Mentions: 83
Platform-specific marketplaces. Mentions: 77
Product Hunt. Mentions: 77 (email marketing)
(sub)Reddit posting. Mentions: 44
Cold email outreach. Mentions: 42
HackerNews. Mentions: 39 (content marketing)
Building a media brand before a product/service. Mentions: 38
Using your own network/connections. Mentions: 36
Google Ads (AdWords). Mentions: 31
Affiliates / having an affiliate program. Mentions: 30
Niche communities/forums. Mentions: 29
SEO (starting right away). Mentions: 29
Twitter posting/engagement. Mentions: 28
Facebook groups (posting/engaging/creating a FB group). Mentions: 28
Mainstream press outreach/being mentioned. Mentions: 27
1. SEO (after being successful with another acquisition channel). Worked for 83 Founders
As I was reading the founder interviews, I’ve noticed 2 types of people who mentioned SEO as an acquisition channel working for them:
a) Those who started with SEO immediately (without having had much success with other distribution channels)
b) Those who were successful with other acquisition channels first, and then focused on SEO. Many of these founders have noticed that search traffic is getting them more and more users (often as a result of another acquisition strategy working, like press mentions), so they decided to double down on SEO.
Here I’ll be talking about the second group under b). Snipcart ($33K/mo) is a tool that enables you to add a shipping cart to any website. Here’s what they had to say in their IndieHackers interview:
In time, we realized our shaky, well-intentioned blogging was driving more and more organic traffic and even a few direct conversions. Especially our platform-specific e-commerce tutorials. So we decided to really own that channel. (source)
As I was reading more interviews, I noticed more and more founders saying the same thing; they discovered that search traffic brings them more and more customers, and doubled down on the channel. Take Creative Tim ($17K/mo) — a set of UI/UX kits:
We’ve seen that we are also getting some revenue from SEO, that is around 22% of the revenue. So we decided to invest in SEO and we’ve got an SEO consultant which we pay around $500/month to improve our products ranks in Google. (source)
A small note on the revenue numbers: You will notice that next to each company (like Snipcard & Creative Tim above) I have the monthly revenue data ($33K/mo, for example). I got this data from the interview text itself (which you can view by clicking on the “(source)” link at the end of the quote.)
It’s easy to overlook the power of search traffic unless you look at your analytics numbers. Instapainting ($32K/mo) is a service that lets you turn a photo upload into a real hand-painted piece of artwork (done by a real, human artist), and they’re an example of this:
What’s been most crucial in helping you to succeed? For me, SEO. I think it took about 5–6 months for me to realize that the business was primarily sustained from SEO traffic.
Today Instapainting is earning about $400,000 of revenue per year. This is up from the first year, which was only about $89-$90k in revenue. The main driver of the increase is improved SEO from content marketing. (source)
Getting started with SEO right away makes sense in some cases (see #12 where I talk more about this). Most of the time, however, getting search traffic takes a lot of time and can cause you to give up early.
This is what happened for Convertify ($5K/mo), a service to convert a website into a mobile app. At first, they used ProductHunt and got 43 sales after launching there. Here’s what happened later:
We didn’t get much more traction after the initial Product Hunt launch. So we decided to pivot our efforts and focus on increasing organic traffic by writing high-quality, SEO-boosting articles. We mainly wrote about how to use Convertify to solve specific problems using keywords like “convert website to android app” and “convert website to iOS app”
Visitors quickly dropped to 1,000 in December 2018 and hit a rock bottom of 200 in January and February 2019. We almost abandoned the project. But SEO takes some time to go into effect, and we started to notice an uptick in March as visitors increased to 400 followed by 1,200 in April.
Focusing on SEO early on can really set your business up for future success. SEO has been a huge part of each of my businesses. (source)
If you think about it, this makes sense. Getting consistent search traffic takes a lot of time; plus, you have no idea if the effort is going to pay off (will those keywords convert?) Plus, focusing on other acquisition channels first (like the press, community outreach) gets you high rankings indirectly (more and more people talk & link to you).
For now, my recommendation is: If you want to (eventually) get search traffic, start by focusing on acquisition channels that bring that search traffic to you indirectly.
2. Platform-specific marketplaces. Worked for 77 Founders
We’ve all heard of the Google Play Store or Apple App Store. Huge platforms with billions of users and a fairly large % of them using the apps built for those app stores. If you’ve ever developed a mobile app, you’ll know that these app stores will be one of your primary acquisition channels to get new users.
Here’s the thing: Almost every major platform has its own “App Store”. Shopify, Slack, QuickBooks, Chrome (the browser), and Wordpress. And they’re a pretty good way to get to a new audience. Why? Because a large % of the platform’s users install these extensions. For example, 87% of Shopify’s users have installed at least one app from the app store.
The way you “integrate” with those app stores is by creating an extension/app/plugin for them. I was really surprised by how many founders found these platforms to be successful in driving new users. Tettra ($24k/mo) is a communication tool for teams to document processes & projects. They got started by creating a Slack bot and listed themselves in the Slack app directory:
Another massive source of trials was the Slack App Directory. After our experience, I highly recommend launching on a platform like Slack, WordPress, or Shopify. There’s a whole chunk of functionality that you can essentially “outsource” to the platform. For us, that was authentication, user management, and access to the “work graph”. You also get free distribution from the parent platform and a clear target persona you can attract.
Some other companies recognized the potential of building platform extensions and took it to a whole new level. Take Widgetic ($3.3K/mo) — a set of interactive widgets to embed to any website (audio/video player, image slider, etc.).
To partner with site builders, we check those that have App Stores and we integrate directly. Most site builders have below 1M users and no marketplace, so we connect directly with their business development people to explore if an integration makes sense. Once they see the value and we work through the technical issues, they usually upsell their plans and our apps become available to their paid users — it’s a win-win situation. (source)
See an example on Weebly:
3. Product Hunt. Worked for 77 Founders.
Product Hunt is (currently) the world’s largest website for discovering new products. If you’re looking for early adopters, this might be a great place for you.
Product Hunt is one of these “spikey” channels that are great for validation, but not so good for sustained traffic. Take EpicPxls ($400+/mo), a site selling designs (UI kits, templates, etc.). Here’s what they said in their IndieHackers interview back in 2019:
For us, the best way to attract users was by promoting our website and products on Product Hunt. We launched on March 6, 2016, and ended up at #2 with 650 upvotes and 5,799 new users, but our traffic went down to normal shortly thereafter. (source)
Some companies solve this issue by having multiple launches. Take Standuply ($25K/mo), which is a Slack bot for team standup meetings:
We launched Standuply and related Slack bot products 8 times on Product Hunt in the latest 18 months. At first, it was our initial launch that brought in our very first users. It wasn’t that successful as we ended up in 7th place. However, it brought us 150 teams.
Our best launch was our latest one: Standuply 3.0. It became the number one product of the day and number four product of the week. So we made it to both the daily and weekly Product Hunt email lists. See how it affected our registrations: (source)
4. (sub)Reddit posting. Worked for 44 Founders
Right now there are 544,343 + subreddits on Reddit. There is probably a handful of these that are relevant to your niche.
Starting with smaller subreddits and climbing your way up to the top can be a good strategy. It worked for WriteMapper ($1K/mo). They’re a mind-mapping desktop app for writers:
I posted WriteMapper to Reddit’s /r/macapps, making sure to share details I thought were interesting, and replied to every comment that came in. As a > small subreddit that 1) doesn’t get many posts to begin with and 2) typically gets posts with no effort made to either provide a background story or active comments by the original poster, I was able to have my post stay on the front page of the subreddit for quite a while. (source)
They then did a bit of press outreach, landing on Forbes and Cult of Mac. After this success, WriteMapper decided to try their luck (again) with Reddit:
I then decided to go a little bigger, and post to /r/apple, which has more than 600k subscribers (compared to /r/macapps’s 19k). Besides making sure to stick to the subreddit’s rules, I also used WriteMapper’s positive reception on /r/macapps and Cult of Mac as social validation that the product would be something of interest to this community as well. That post took off, ending up with 1.3k upvotes and attracting almost 9k visitors to WriteMapper’s website.
Cumulatively, these efforts attracted almost 16k visitors within the first two weeks alone of WriteMapper launching, and about 21k page views, which then translated into actual sales.(source)
The most obvious way to promote your product on Reddit is to just post it, describing what it’s about. A more subtle (and in my opinion, more effective) way is to take the output of your app/service/newsletter and post that instead. This is what Card Crusade ($500/mo), a deck-building game did:
Besides friends and family, our primary way of attracting users in the beginning was via Reddit; we would make a post with something cool from our game and then individually message everyone who left a comment, asking if they wanted to be a beta tester. (source)
If you’re a newsletter, maybe show your latest issue. If you’re doing a SaaS, show something cool that can be done it with (you press this, you get this in X seconds). Get creative.
5. Cold Email Outreach. Worked for 42 Founders
Something we’ve all tried to do at some point. For those of you living under a rock, cold email outreach is basically taking a list of emails you’ve never got in touch with and sending them something that would ultimately lead to them buying your product & service.
What helps a lot is when information about potential customers is easily available online. Take Web4Realty ($100K/mo), a tool to easily create real estate websites:
We’re very lucky to be in an industry where gathering lead information is very easy. Fortunately for us, real estate agents plaster their emails and phone numbers all over the place, which is very convenient.
Raza and I spent the first several months cold-calling leads, continuously collecting more email addresses and numbers, and sending individual marketing emails, one by one. Sometimes the client wanted a demo in real-life so we went and did it.
We operated this way for a good 5–6 months, and grinded our way to about 200–300 paying users. (source)
We all know people these days do not want to be bothered. Well, except when there is a big change going on, and they’re being directly affected.
ShareKit.io ($1.6K/mo) is a tool to customize Facebook link previews. They launched after Facebook announced they would disable the ability to customize link previews (something many people used). Many people were frustrated. ShareKit used cold email to reach out to them:
How have you attracted users and grown ShareKit.io? We also cold-emailed marketers who expressed their frustration with Facebook’s move on Twitter and Facebook. (source)
Is there a segment of your audience that’s particularly frustrated about not having your product? They may be a good target for cold email.
6. HackerNews. Worked for 39 Founders
One of the biggest tech/dev community in the world. Plenty of interviewed founders found success posting on HackerNews.
Mangools(686) ($220K/mo) is a set of SEO tools (like keyword research, backlink analysis, etc.). They used HackerNews to get their first users:
All it really needed to get off the ground was a catalyst — something to get it into the hands of a few users who could start to spread the word. And that’s precisely what that first wave of self-promotion on HackerNews (ShowHN) and Reddit did. After that, the popularity of the tool grew organically. (source)
Getting on HackerNews’ front page can be hard & unpredictable, but if there’s a good percent of your target audience there, it’s totally worth it. You can submit your product as “Show HN,” or write useful blog posts and submit them there.
7. Building a media brand before a product/service. Worked for 38 Founders
Build an audience before you build the product. This is something I’m hearing more and more founders say.
Alitu ($3k/mo) is a tool for podcasting that automates a lot of repetitive tasks (adding music, converting audio, leveling, etc.). They had a pretty big blog (ThePodcastHost.com) before launching their main product:
Right now our traffic on ThePodcastHost.com is in the 200,000 unique visitors per month range. That traffic is the main driver of sign-ups for Alitu, directing readers and listeners towards the tool.
They used this blog to validate the need for Alitu:
Our main site, ThePodcastHost.com, receives around 5k to 6k users per day, and we canvassed them via email lists, surveys, and chat tools on the site. We asked as many people as possible — what are you struggling with? And, like I said, many mentioned editing and production as the biggest barrier. Either they can’t learn the technology or they don’t have the time. (source)
Sometimes you don’t need a large audience; having a small number of the right audience is enough. Baremetrics($80k/mo) is subscription & financial analytics (for Stripe, Braintree, etc.):
My secret weapon — the source of the majority of Baremetrics’ first customers — was Twitter.
When I first launched Baremetrics, there was a small group of other founders I knew. I reached out to them, they became users, and they started the word-of-mouth snowball. Simple as that.
Our first 100 paying users very much came from that. (source)
8. Using your own network/connections. Worked for 36 Founders
Everyone has a personal network. Not everyone knows how to use it.
Your network doesn’t have a be extremely big to get started. SQRL ($1K/mo) is a mobile app to manage your physical, emotional, and financial well-being:
My first corporate customer was a small, local business that I found through personal association. (source)
Many founders were in their particular market for years before releasing a product for that market. Askable ($31K/mo) is a marketplace to help you find participants for face to face usability testing:
…most of our early clients were UX designers in our personal network. (source)
You probably have a bigger network than you think. Don’t just think of your family/friends/colleagues. Is there a meetup you’ve attended in the past? Or maybe a course? You could use those connections as well. Take AlgoExpert ($40K/mo). They’re selling courses to help you prepare for coding interviews, and the founder attended something in a similar market before he created his business:
We’ve grown very organically to over 150 users, thanks in large part to my connection to Fullstack Academy (FSA), the coding bootcamp I attended between September and December 2016. (source)
How many courses have you attended during your lifetime? How many events have you been to? These are all opportunities and a simple “hey, remember me?” can lead to something more.
9. Google Ads (AdWords). Worked for 31 Founders
You don’t need to be a venture-backed startup in order to get AdWords to work for you. Take ScreenshotAPI ($400/mo). They’re an API that allows you to take website screenshots by only entering the website URL:
The thing that really worked well for me was Google advertising. I’m currently spending $100/month on the “screenshot API” keyword on Google. And so far, 13 of the 20 paying users came from that paid Google advertisement.
If you look at the Google Analytics report you can see a spike in users when I started advertising on Google Ads. (source)
With paid channels, you and the owners of that channel have the same objective; for you to get more customers through their channel (you get paid, they get paid). Thus, they (the paid channel) want to help you succeed and usually provide things like free consultations. This is what Altcoin Fantasy ($800/mo), a mobile app teaching people how to trade crypto, made use of:
You might think you know AdWords, but chances are you probably don’t know everything about it, especially given the new features Google is constantly adding. To “hack” this, I requested an AdWords specialist review my ads and give some feedback (AdWords offers this as a free service, which is awesome). What was supposed to be a 15 minute chat turned into a two hour learning session because I wouldn’t let the guy go. Every entrepreneur should take advantage of this! In the end, we had an AdWords campaign built around a custom intent audience, which goes beyond pre-defined audiences categories and reaches people as they’re making a purchase decision by targeting them as they’re actively researching a related product or service. Using fantasy sports players as our custom intent audience, we placed ads in specific Bitcoin apps. We paid relatively little for it, and It really drove relevant users to our platform. (source)
If you got a little bit of cash to spend, AdWords can also be a great way to validate your product. Join It ($18K/mo) is a tool to help businesses sell memberships, as well as manage them. They used AdWords to get their first users (and is now part of their acquisition strategy):
To get from zero customers to 15, we probably had to generate about 100 sign ups — these sign ups predominately came through Google AdWords and a co-marketing blog post with a partner.
To date, our acquisition is spread relatively evenly across multiple channels: Google Ads, Organic Search, and Word of Mouth. (source)
10. Affiliates / having an affiliate program. Worked for 30 founders
Affiliates can be a major acquisition channel for your business. DesignPac ($20K/mo) is a marketplace to hire verified designers/developers for a fixed monthly fee:
This is the most effective method for B2B business. We’ve onboarded a total of 29 clients since the day we launched; 17 are active clients and half of them came from affiliate marketers. We provide a 10% commission for each sign up and have a dashboard which provides an affiliate link after signing up. (source)
You really need to experiment to determine an acceptable amount in order to get affiliates to promote you. For DesignPac, 10% was enough. Lifetime commissions had worked better for some. Take Systeme.io ($50k/mo). They’re a set of tools to help you start an online business (with features like sales funnel builder, autoresponder, membership site builder, affiliate program management):
The main growth channel has been affiliates. We pay out 40% lifetime commissions to our affiliates to incentivize them a lot to promote us, and it seems to work. (source)
How do you get affiliates? Just reach out to them. Take AZLabel ($6.5k/mo) as an example. They’re a tool for Amazon sellers to help them print thermal labels:
I reached out to influencers in the Amazon Seller space and asked if they would be interested in an affiliate program. This has been the most consistently successful channel for me. I would say a third of our sales are driven this way. (source)
You may find that your entire audience (or a segment of it) themselves have an audience. In that case, you can pitch your audience and ask them to become an affiliate. ConvertKit ($597k/mo) is an email marketing tool for bloggers and they did just that. They used the fact (that their audience has an audience) to their advantage:
Once we hit about $20,000 MRR (through direct sales and word-of-mouth) we added an affiliate program. That worked exceptionally well because bloggers — our target market — are used to using affiliate programs to generate revenue. Also, if a small business owner loves your product they might tell 2–3 friends. But if a blogger loves your product, they’ll tell 20,000 readers!
We decided to pay a 30% recurring commission each month, rather than a large upfront commission, mainly because we didn’t have any cash and couldn’t cashflow anything up front. That turned out to be a great decision since many bloggers want a predictable, recurring income source. (source)
11. Niche Communities/Forums. Worked for 29 Founders
Facebook groups aren’t the only place your audience hangs out. There are some pretty popular website communities/forums you may not be aware of.
For example, take Levels.fyi ($5K/mo). They’re a website to compare career ladders across big (mostly tech-based) companies. Here’s what they said when asked how did they acquire their first users:
We seeded traffic to Levels.fyi by answering related questions on Blind and other Q&A forums with a link to the site Other Blind users started linking to Levels.fyi (source)
Blind is basically an anonymous version of LinkedIn. According to SimilarWeb, they’re getting ~1.5 million visits per month. If you are like me, you probably weren’t aware of them.
Another example is Keygen ($3k/mo). They’re an API for developers to implement software license keys into their products and used niche communities as part of their acquisition strategy:
What started working for me:
Being active and helpful in communities like Quora, Stack Overflow, and forums for popular desktop app frameworks like Electron. I’ve answered a lot of questions about software licensing, some which mentioned Keygen as a solution, some which didn’t mention it at all. (source)
Keygen took advantage of the fact that many open source frameworks have their own forums and started to engage with people there. If something about your product is related to a specific framework/platform, use that to your advantage. Take Asana Superheroes ($800/mo) — a set of books/courses about Asana:
How have you attracted users and grown Asana Superheroes?
I used the Quora community for a while to validate new ideas and share news. Then I moved to the unofficial Asana Google Group, and then to the official Asana community that launched last year.
Your product doesn’t have to be about a particular framework/platform. It can also be built with it. In that case, the platform’s community/forum could be a good way to gain initial awareness and get them to even write about you (platforms love to write about cool things their customers have built up.)
12. SEO (being intentional about it from the start). Worked for 29 founders
These were companies that were intentional about getting started with SEO right away vs. the #1 acquisition channel, where the founders first got validation via (faster) acquisition channels and then added SEO (often as a result of noticing an increase in SEO traffic.)
One such example is Repost Network ($500k/mo) — a tool for artists to expand their SoundCloud reach:
I thought if I named the company Repost and dominated the SEO on that specific search we could get some free inbound traffic. My assumption worked. I believe if you search “SoundCloud repost” in Google we’re one of the top hits, and something like 25% of our inbound applicants come organically. (source)
SEO may work as an initial acquisition channel if you’re targeting a local area. Take MyClean ($750K/mo). They’re a service providing residential and commercial cleaning in NYC and Chicago. When asked what worked to get their customers, they said:
Initially, our clients came through organic searches of websites like Google. We didn’t do much advertising. (source)
It all comes down to competition. Competing in a local Chicago area is MUCH easier than competing on a global within an established niche like travel for example (against players like Experia and TripAdvisor).
SEO can also work (faster) if you’ve found long tail/low competition keywords that have a high likelihood to convert. This was the case with JitBit ($160k/mo) — a help desk software:
What’s been most crucial in helping you to succeed? For Jitbit, SEO. There’s room for SEO even in a highly competitive niche. Sure, if you Google for “help desk software” my company is somewhere on page four, but there’s the long-tail search you should focus on. (source)
I plan on going more in-depth on this with a separate post. Feel free to subscribe to my newsletter if you want to get notified when it’s published (and you liked what you saw so far :) ).
13. Twitter posting/engagement. Worked for 28 founders
There are basically main 2 things you can do on Twitter: Post & engage with the community (via liking & messaging & re-tweeting). I’ve seen half of the founders being successful with posting and half with engagement.
The #1 question to ask before posting regularly on Twitter is: Is your audience there? This was the case for Disrupt Cards ($1.5K/mo) — a funny card game that parodies the startup tech world:
While many think Twitter is dead, we knew that our target audience not only used the site. They lived on it. We were marketing to a bunch of Twitter power users
So we spent a ton of time and resources building our brand’s voice on Twitter. By tweeting almost every day and engaging with our followers, we were able to build a community that loved our game. (source)
Posting on Twitter is useless unless you have people somehow find out about your Tweets. While reading through founders quotes that mentioned posting on Twitter, I saw an unusual amount of them mention 2 things a) Posting a lot b) Automating the process in some way (so they get on the radar of as many people as possible, like following them, liking/sharing, etc.) One such example is Stock Alarm ($3k/mo) — a tool that alerts you when the price of a stock (in the stock market) changes:
Our Twitter account has been fully automated and will use some of our existing data to provide stock market insights for free. Our bot will provide breaking news on an hourly basis and will also tweet upcoming earnings dates for the next day and week. We’ve gained five to fifteen followers per day with this strategy as well as a few subscribers along the way. (source)
You may decide to do this engagement thing manually as well. The key is to get on people's radar. Basically, do things like liking/replying to/retweeting their posts, following them, sending messages (not spamming, etc.) But how do you find RELEVANT people to send messages to? Twitter search.
Game Quitters($6k/mo) is an online support community (providing support & online courses) for people struggling with video game addiction. They’re a great example of engaging with using Twitter search:
How One Tweet Led to $12,000 in Revenue:
One of the things I do on a regular basis is type ‘video game addiction’ into Twitter search and just check out what people are saying. It’s helped me connect with journalists and stay on top of the conversation around the issue. Last year I saw a summer camp tweet an article about gaming addiction, and after checking them out, decided to tweet at them.
A few hours later I had an email in my inbox from the director wanting to hop on a call, and that call led to them licensing our program IP this past summer, leading to $12,000 in revenue. (my note: People that tweet about your niche may be journalists or potential partners.) (source)
Another example of this is Referral Rock ($70K/mo) — a tool for creating a refer-a-friend (referral) program:
I was also active on Twitter where I reached out to marketers or anyone that mentioned “referral programs.” I would comment or favorite tweets from the Referral Rock Twitter account which listed a free referral program. Throughout the year-long beta I had over 500 individuals kicking the tires on the free referral program before I started charging. (source)
Imagine Twitter Search being Google. Tweets — the search results; Twitter profiles — the websites. Go out and reach out to the websites. Get on their radar.
14. Facebook Groups. Worked for 27 founders
You’re probably part of at least 3 (often more) Facebook groups. So are your (potential) users. There are niche-specific groups out there and they are a great way to reach potential users. ManyPixels ($50k/mo) is a service providing unlimited designs for a fixed monthly fee:
I posted the site on a few Facebook groups for entrepreneurs, and we made our first sales (about $1,500 in one day). We got our initial users solely via niche Facebook groups of entrepreneurs and startups. I joined many Facebook groups and wrote a post asking for feedback on ManyPixels and our value proposition. My message basically was, “Hey guys, here is what we do, would you be interested in this? Yes/No/Why not?” I also experimented by promising that each person giving us feedback would have a promo code. This worked well — lots of people commented, and this was a small hack that got us a lot of buzz. (source)
Once you get your own audience, you can use it to create your own Facebook group. This is what Content Snare ($960/mo) did — they’re a tool for freelancers to make it easier to get content (like files/attachments/requirements) from clients:
For around six months in the lead-up to the launch, we wrote a bunch of blog posts. These were long, high-quality, and genuinely-helpful posts for our target audience of web designers, which made it easy for them to share in groups and get discussion going. They received a lot of thanks, and made people aware of Content Snare. I’d post in two or three key groups every week, as well as helping out people where I could, totally unrelated to our product.
Once we had our own audience, we funneled them into a new Facebook group aimed at web designers looking to grow their business. This wasn’t a group for our product, just a place where our target audience could go to get advice. Through these groups and Twitter I began engaging with influencers in our space.
By far, the Facebook group has been the best thing so far. It’s helped give us a good understanding of our audience, the language they use, and the questions they ask. This feeds back into marketing, content, SEO, and copy. (source)
The nice thing about Facebook is that they’re actively working to promote engaging Facebook Groups. Once your group gets big enough & engaging, they’ll begin to suggest it to relevant people in your niche. It’s a win-win situation: They get people to spend more time on Facebook, you get new potential users.
15. Mainstream Press Outreach / Being Mentioned. Worked for 27 founders
These are publications with millions of monthly visitors; a small percent of these visitors are usually within your target market.
Getting covered by a publication of that size that could bring you a bump in sales. Take Instapainting ($32K/mo) — a service that lets you turn a photo upload into a real hand-painted piece of artwork:
A few weeks later, I launched on TechCrunch and did over $30,000 in revenue in the next 3 months. (source)
From my analysis, the press works best on hot/trendy niches. Take Game Quitters($6k/mo) — an online support community (providing support & online courses) for people struggling with video game addiction:
One of our other main focuses has been press. We are fortunate that “video game addiction” is a hot debate and trending topic in the media, and we have leveraged that as much as possible. I regularly appear in the press, with over 75 features in the last two years, many of which were initially sparked by reaching out to journalists with a simple pitch for a story hook that was interesting, local, and timely. (source)
Another thing that contributed to Game Quitter's press coverage was connections:
Last year I was speaking in my hometown and I wanted to see if I could generate any press for it. But I didn’t have any press contacts, and although I could email journalists or tip lines, a warm intro is always better. So I took dumb action, and posted on Facebook asking if any of my friends had friends in the media. Within an hour I had multiple friends who tagged different people and this one post on Facebook led to 25 media interviews in five days. (source)
How many press contacts do you have on your extended network? It’s probably more than you realize.
Don’t get discouraged in case you’re not a hot/sexy product. This is where sustainable action works. Take Kapwing ($240+/mo when interviewed, now having 4 million visitors/month) — an online video editor and meme maker:
We searched for articles about meme makers and contacted the relevant writers. I tried dropping a “tip” on hundreds of news sites and experimented with a lot of different email tactics to see if reporters would cover or mention Kapwing. But I got almost no response :( Early on, one blogger from Try Modern wrote about Kapwing, and that helped a lot. We learned that when one news site blogs or writes about a product, other websites will re-publish the content on their own feeds, meaning even one post echoes across the internet and gets you tens or hundreds of links.
Now, seven months later, I still send ~10 cold emails a week to bloggers/writers who might be interested in our product. I find potential bloggers by Googling relevant queries, skimming the recent articles and editorials, and using a Chrome extension like Hunter.io to find an email. Sometimes, I find promising leads through Facebook groups, Instagram, or Twitter.
Then, I send a personal email to the author. I explain that their article could benefit directly from our product. Here’s an example:
“I saw your blog article about Facebook Cover videos — thanks for the helpful tutorial! I’m Julia, a web developer and entrepreneur living in San Francisco, and I just launched a tool to help people resize videos for Facebook Covers: Kapwing Resizer.
Could you take a look at the free tool and consider adding it to your article? We’re still a very young company, so would love all the feedback we can get from experts like you!”
Outreach like this has resulted in links from people like Rachel Beaney, Premiere Gal, and The Creative Folk.
Takeaway: Send brief emails with clear calls to action to bloggers and journalists letting them know about your product. Follow up. Expect a low hit rate and don’t get discouraged. Manual work is important at the beginning. (source, mentioned in their original interview)
More Acquisition Channels?
I have a lot of data/analysis to share. This was just the first article (out of many, hopefully) where I do that.
If you guys have any questions/comments/suggestions on what to write about, feel free to get in touch with me at Zero to Users.
Thanks for reading :)