Customer Acquisition Guide For Bootstrapped Startup Founders
Don't know how to acquire your first paying customer? This guide for Bootstrapped Founders in 2023 will get you going.
Growth can feel different.
- Against the wind — you beg people to try your product.
- With the wind in the back — people beg you to sell the product.
What is different? Your user acquisition strategy.
Most Founders start with absolutely the worst acquisition channel.
They struggle to get paying customers → Get demotivated → Give up
It shouldn’t be this way. Here is how to change it:
Step 1. Focus on acquisition tactics
One marketing channel has multiple tactics.
For example, Twitter is an acquisition channel. But you can do a lot of stuff there:
- Sending cold DMs
- Building in public
- Writing Threads
- Running giveaways
When you say, "I want to get traffic from Twitter", you are not saying anything in particular. Because different tactics will get you different results.
You need to be specific — mention what exact tactics you will execute on Twitter to get traffic from it. If you can't describe it in detail — don't do it.
Step 2. Start with the easiest quick wins
Founders who are just getting started, have these goals:
- Get the first paying customer
- Test marketing funnel
- Collect social proof
- Understand their audience
Solution? Early adopters that are willing to pay even though your product is imperfect. We are not talking about thousands of people; a dozen satisfied customers will do the job.
You need special acquisition tactics to get these early adopters. As soon as possible with the lowest amount of effort. A solopreneur's dream.
And some tactics are better than others. Sure, you can get 10 paying customers from 6 months of doing SEO. But you can get the same result from sending 100 cold emails or launching on Product Hunt.
It's important not to do tactics that just feel good to you. You need acquisition tactics that feel good to you and are efficient for your product. Otherwise, your growth will be sluggish.
Here are 10 low-budget-friendly ideas:
- Sending Twitter DMs offering an increased free trial in exchange for a review
- Sending an early bird pricing page to your email list
- Launching on Product Hunt
- Sponsoring a newsletter via an affiliate model
- Sending cold emails with a CTA to learn more about the solution
- Posting your product on Reddit (r/Internetisbeautiful and others)
- Promoting your product on long-tail keywords with Google Ads
- Building in public on Twitter (if your product is B2B)
- Getting beta testers for your product on Polywork
- Recording short-format videos (TikTok, Reels) with the organic promotion of your product
Some of these ideas won't get you many paying customers for a long time. But they are perfect for gaining traction and momentum.
Step 3. Experiment to check the ROI
You don’t want to devote 6 months of your life to a tactic that doesn’t work for your product. Running marketing experiments will save you from it.
Your goal is to get a clear answer to the question, "Can this tactic become my growth driver for the next 3 months?". Even if it will cost you a few bucks or a wasted week of effort.
Run a cheap and fast experiment → Get the results → Make the decision
Here are a few examples:
- Thinking of content marketing on Twitter? Write one thread every day for one week.
- Thinking of cold emails? Send 50 emails with free tools and analyze the conversion rate.
- Thinking of side project marketing? Run a giveaway of a marketing freebie on Twitter.
Start small. You will always have time to overcomplicate it later.
Step 4. Nail one tactic at one time
Finally, don’t chase 10 tactics simultaneously.
You will just fail them all. There is a better way.
- Pick one acquisition tactic
- Understand it deeply
- Get significant results
- Automate it
- Run new experiments to pick a new tactic
- Make sure your new tactic leverages the existing one
Here is an example.
- We picked audience building on Twitter with educational threads
- We figured out what hooks work and what topics people enjoy the most
- We got at least 1M impressions and 5000 followers from threads
- We built the system to generate one month of threads in 3 days
- We experimented with new acquisition tactics around LinkedIn, YouTube, or Newsletter
- We picked repurposing threads on Linkedin (leverages the existing tactic)
This approach is more focused. It removes distractions and makes user acquisition less overwhelming. A solopreneur's dream.
User acquisition is critical to your startup's success.
Because the number of paying customers is the only validation of your product idea that matters. If you fail here, nothing will help you.
Bootstrapped Founders should approach marketing channels smarter. Don't try to jiggle multiple channels at once. Instead, focus and experiment.