8 Startup Founders Reveal Their #1 User Acquisition Tactic

newusers

Let’s face it, if you’re starting a business, one of your main concerns is going to be growth. It won’t matter how great your idea is if you fail to gain any traction. In today’s world, there are countless strategies to grow your business, but it’s often only a few tactics that will really skyrocket your growth.

Bear in mind tactics that work really well for one company might not work for yours so it’s important to test. Once you’ve discovered your successful growth channels, go all in. If you do really well, you might see something like this:

hockey-stick-growth

In this post, 8 startup founders reveal their top user acquisition tactics. Hopefully this will give you some ideas on how to hack growth for your business.

SEOmoz

Our SEO blog has been, by far, our single most successful user acquisition tactic. You could expand that more broadly to our overall content marketing strategy. The blog specifically has been a great success because it attracts potential customers and influencers of potential customers through many channels (email, RSS, SEO, social, press, referral links, etc) and builds recognition, likability, and trust that then transfer over to our software offering.

We don’t convert many visits directly from the blog to a free trial of SEOmoz PRO, but we convert a lot of folks who come back 6+ times, and there’s almost always a visit to the blog (or a few) in that stream.

Rand Fishkin, CEO of SEOmoz

KISSMetrics

SEO has been the most effective. It takes a while to kick in as you can’t achieve great rankings instantaneously, but in the longrun it works great.

Neil Patel, Co-founder of KISSmetrics

Ginzametrics

For us, it has been a combination of creating brand / mindshare + sales. In our space, you have to be perceived as doing new and insightful things so it has been important to create content and a product that reflects that. But we also have had to create a process around sales to take the leads we receive and follow them all the way through closing. We’ve really seen a big difference in our customer acquisition when we really focus on follow-through.

People are busy, they have lots of options, and time is the enemy of all deals, so never letting customer communication lag is key for us. It took us a long time to learn that lesson and I’m glad we did.

Ray Grieselhuber, CEO of Ginzametrics

Thrillist Media Group

At Thrillist, we’ve always used one pretty simple tactic to grow our business — create great products. its an obvious answer but not necessarily something that happens in practice as much as it should. Beyond that basic principle, the thing i’d say the #1 driver of success has been a continued focus on investing into the best talent on the team. And i don’t mean just financially.

While raises and other cash incentives are nice, i think the most efficient way to drive great performance is to continually challenge people and give them the tools to get better and evolve the way they approach their careers.

Ben Lerer, Co-founder of Thrillist

BufferApp

Buffer’s most successful way to get awesome and engaged new users was through guestposting. We have written over 100 different posts across the web, which brought us a ton of traffic and exposure, making Buffer shoot to 100,000 users in 9 months. Most importantly though, we were able to build a huge amount of relationships with great people in the blogosphere that remain our strong supporters and friends to date.

Leo Widrich, Co-founder of BufferApp

Rafflecopter

Because Rafflecopter is a widget that’s embeddable on a website or blog much like a YouTube video, our biggest user acquisition channel has primarily been through word-of-mouth referrals. We have branding on the bottom of the widget so when someone comes across a giveaway being managed through Rafflecopter, they’ll be able to recognize that the promotion is being run through our app. Every impression our widget receives is valuable for us and has been the main driver of our customer acquisition.

We’ve put a lot of effort into the user experience of our product both from the giveaway admin and giveaway entrant perspective.  Because we don’t have a traditional marketing budget, we also put a lot of emphasis on inbound marketing as well as customer support. If you genuinely care about your product and help your users, folks will pick up on that.Of course, we will also run giveaways through Rafflecopter on our blog or Facebook page to acquire users as well, but that’s just too easy.

Greg Goodson, Co-founder of Rafflecopter

Onboardly

There is not one tactic that works best. You can’t just “put all your eggs in one basket”. In fact it’s a combination of a few things that have the best results. At Onboardly, that is just what we do, we combine public-relations, content marketing and social media together to create a strategy that works very well for many technology startups.  The thing with ‘Content Marketing’, to do it right, you need to understand the logistics of PR because 80% of your time is either spent sourcing publications to post your content to or promoting it, so building those relationships is key. Ultimately it is the solid relationships you build that help drive your marketing forward.

Sure you can easily spend millions on advertising, quirky promotions and what not, but – as with many startups and small businesses – cashflow is an issue and allocating those resources to marketing spend is typically not priority. Startout by growing your network, speaking at events/conferences, and getting to know your community (including users, contacts and investors). The best and RIGHT opportunities lie within.

Renee Warren, Co-founder of Onboardly

Unbounce

Our blog. The day we started coding we started the blog. We’ve focus on creating quality content on our blog and distribute via social, some post being pretty epic in size/scope. This has done several things for us.

People share/discuss/reference our content and it ranks well for search, making it easy for prospective customers to discover Unbounce.

Our first two years, we grew our business with only one person in marketing and their focus was our blog.

Rick Perreault, CEO of Unbounce

Conclusion

One key theme you can see from the answers above is none of the founders really mentioned traditional paid advertising channels as their #1 user acquisition strategy. In fact, the prevalent answer to user acquisition has to do with building a great product and a great relationship with your customer base. Perhaps that’s why a lot of the answers involve SEO/content marketing because at the end of the day, that’s what that channel is about: providing immense value to people and building a relationship.

Once you have that relationship, you increase the chances of your readers buying or referring you business. Often times, people want results quickly and turn to paid channels in hopes of hitting numbers quickly.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

People like buying from people they trust. If you have a blog that they constantly turn to for helpful content, who do you think they’ll turn to when they can’t solve the problem on their own? The company they have a relationship with.

Image credit: cambodia4kidsorg

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Eric Siu

Eric Siu is the User Growth lead at Treehouse. He likes Apple products, food, travel, and Monopoly Deal. You can follow him on Twitter at @ericosiu.

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