As if coming up with an idea worth bringing to market wasn’t hard enough, you then have to find people that actually want to buy it. And unless you have a roster full of check-writing venture capitalists and marketing samurais, you’re going to have to do it like the rest of us: one customer at a time.

The difficulty of finding your first 100 customers is a tale as old as time, one that occurred long before the internet. If you’re struggling with it, don’t worry — you’re not alone. Locking down your first paying customers is “a huge challenge, and monumental milestone, for any startup” according to Groove founder, Alex Turnbull.

Luckily, there are some things you can do to make it easier, and we’re going to breakdown 4 of them.


Mention is a media monitoring tool, which is really just a fancy way of saying that you can give it topics and keywords, and it will tell you when they are being mentioned and where. While it can monitor everything from blogs to reviews, its most potent integration, at least in my opinion, is Twitter.

When you couple Twitter with Mention it’s like prospecting with superpowers — you’re able to weed out the bad candidates and focus on the good. Mention alerts you when people are talking about your topics and keywords, allowing you to engage users right from the tool.

mention example

After reading how the email app Front added 15 users a week with Mention, we trialed the tool with the following setup:

Choose 3-5 Keywords — Mention will track your keywords across a variety of platforms and it’s important to choose ones that aren’t too broad, are being used regularly, and are super relevant. In this example, you can see two of our keywords: ‘Visiple’ worked out well because we obviously want to track our brand mentions, but ‘virtual meeting’ was not nearly specific enough.

Identify Opportunities to Engage — Keyword mentions will be displayed in list format so you can easily scroll and evaluate potential opportunities. Our goal was to try and find people with questions about Visiple or people dissatisfied with their current video platform.

Interact — You can interact with people using your keywords right from the tool, allowing you to answer questions, offer trials, and provide resources. We had the most success by identifying pain points and responding with a Visiple feature that met their needs.

Coworking Spaces

Our constant state of interconnectivity has made traditional networking a bit old school, but if you’re willing to take a break from LinkedIn, I promise there are some good opportunities out there.

With over 10,000 new spaces set to open in 2016, it’s hard to describe coworking as a fad or trend anymore. Propelled by the growing number of remote workers, coworking spaces are quickly becoming the modern office and are constantly trying to woo and impress the work-from-home crowd. This means lots of events that are generally open to the public.

coworking example

And guess what? As someone who has been to both these and traditional networking events, I can say that these are far more advantageous.


Because they are almost always specialized. How many times have you been to a ‘networking cocktail hour’ and left disappointed because you made the same small talk with everyone? That’s because traditional networking events often aren’t specific and focus on attracting as many people as possible, instead of people with similar interests.

coworking example 2

When you have regular events with specific topics, it not only brings together more like-minded people, it helps them to be better prepared to meet customers, partners, and influencers. This is because they know anyone attending will have an interest in the topic and therefore be more receptive to relevant conversation.

Here’s how to gain customers and connections from these events:

Be Specific and Speak Your Mind — Remember, this isn’t some ambiguous cocktail party, you share a common interest with these people, so try and have specific goals going into it. If you want feedback on your site, ask. If you’re looking for beta testers, ask. If you want an affiliate partner, ask.

Get to Know the Organizer — Each spaces’ events are likely organized by one person, and they probably know all the regulars. Even if you don’t plan on joining or don’t even live in that city, make a point of introducing yourself and thanking them for putting on the event. They hold the keys to the castle and can very likely introduce you to the contacts you need.

Embrace Transparency

There’s an innate fear in most people when it comes to telling anyone about your product or business, especially in its infancy. The fear of it being copied or laughed at is real, but it’s also unfounded.

According to Scott Adams, “Ideas are worthless, execution is everything.” The execution is far more important.

Here’s what I mean:

Execution tells a story, it documents your successes and failures, and it forms the foundation of your brand. There’s a great blog that I follow simply because I love following their company’s story. In their quest to reach 40,000 unique blog readers per month, they documented the entire thing. They detailed everything and were brutally honest when describing what worked and what didn’t.

This approach worked so well that they paused their quest for 40,000 readers to focus on all the people wanting to work with them. They were 100% transparent, and it worked — it brought them exposure, regular readers, and eventually customers.

Here’s how you can start:

Set Goals — Grow & Convert wanted readers, but maybe you’re more interested in growing your email list or doubling your sales. Whatever it is, make sure to determine the metric you’ll use to measure success.

Set Up a Blog Section and Category — I’m not alone in my love for case studies and business journeys, so you’ll want to have a section of your website set up so readers can follow along.

transparency example

A great example of this is Buffer and the section of their blog called Open, dedicated to their business and culture.

Document Everything Done In Pursuit of Your Goals — Not only will you want to write about your successes and failures on your own blog, but you can repurpose the content for Medium, Inbound, and Growth Hackers to increase its reach.

Capture and Nurture Leads — If your content is rich and engaging, then people will visit your site. Find ways to convert them (guides, white papers, etc.) so you can capitalize on this strategy.

Don’t Forget Offline Channels

Even if your business isn’t web-based, it’s easy to neglect classic, offline marketing channels. In my opinion, these can have a few advantages depending on your industry — they’re often cheaper and less competitive than their online counterparts. They are also plentiful, so which should you pursue?

Pound the Pavement — Perhaps the oldest marketing tactic in the book is physically going to where you customers are, and it can yield solid results. For example, if you have a product or service based around nightlife, go out to some bar areas in your city and talk to people. Bring a sample or flier to show off and make sure to document any feedback you receive.

Sponsor a Relevant Event — Remember when I mentioned how valuable attending relevant events can be? Sponsoring one is a great way to take it up a notch, get some brand recognition, and get your message out (even better if you speak at the event). Look to smaller venues like coworking spaces to start off — they tend to be cheaper and more flexible with their hosts.

Go Out and Get ‘Em

Gaining and keeping customers is a battle, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. When you’re just starting out, it’s easy to want to throw tactics at the wall and see what sticks, but that’s doing a disservice to your product and customers. Find one or two approaches that resonate with your ideal users, and spend time getting them right.