It is finally time to bring your product or solution to market. Very exciting indeed. The temptation is to think you can go big out of the gate and acquire millions of customers and dominate your market. While that would be great, in most cases it is not realistic. Even if you did get millions of customers, for many early-stage businesses this would bring way more problems to the forefront that you are not equipped to manage. Your goal with this initial launch should be to identify a small group of customers that you can make super happy. You should look to really solve a problem for this beta customer group, and you want to have a strong enough relationship with these customers to be able to get detailed feedback from them. Once you have done this, you will be in a strong position to add jet fuel and scale your business.
To pick the right initial launch customer segment, think hard and identify a group with similar characteristics that are likely to be reached by one type of marketing strategy. When I ran a youth sports startup, we decided to target travel basketball teams in three areas of Atlanta as our first customer base. We thought we had a good solution to help them find gyms to use for practice and training. We worked diligently to make sure we had a big inventory of gyms in their area, with a range of hourly rental fees and available days and times. This allowed us to provide something of real value to this smaller group of potential customers, and it meant that we could form a stronger relationship with them. Resist the temptation to try and be everything to everyone in the beginning, you do not have the resources to do everything well, instead do one thing great.
Once you have the initial customer target identified, spend time getting to know them. This can be on the phone or in person, but it definitely can’t just be surveys or emails. Find out how they are currently solving the problem you are working to fix. Ask them about the alternatives they have tried or considered in the past. Show them your new solution and find a way to elicit honest feedback. Most people will not want to hurt your feelings, you have to push through that and get the real scoop. Talk to these early customers about your pricing, see if they are comfortable with what you intend to charge and find out what features you would need to add to get them to pay more in the future.
As you start to think about how you will scale from your initial customer base to a larger group, you will likely need to find new acquisition tactics that are more scalable. These first customers are often going to be people you already know personally. Eventually your personal contact list is going to be played out. Talk to your first customers and see how they have found similar products or services in the past. Maybe they search for these on Google. Maybe they find these on social media. Maybe they get recommendations from friends or colleagues. Try to deeply understand this buying behavior of your customers so that it can inform where you go next to enlarge your base.