Getting Traction: 5 lessons on acquiring your first customers.

How are you planning to get your first customers? Can you do it quickly? Cheaply? Could you even do it before you launch a product?

We believe that growing an idea and getting it to market shouldn’t have to be expensive risky or slow. Whether you’re an entrepreneur leading a startup or a corporate team, validation is the key to investment. Here are 5 classic articles on how to get early customers without an army of content marketers or a big budget.

1: 5 Early Wins That Got Our SaaS Startup 1,000 Beta Users.

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Alex Turnbull is the CEO of Groove — help desk software for small businesses. In this article, he tells us how he proved traction by acquiring his first 1000 beta testers. He outlines his strategy: from PR to twitter, lead-magnets to blogging. He covers simple but effective ways that any startup can gain traction and grow (hint — it’s all about execution and testing). Read this for his tips on the ‘5 early wins that kept us alive’ and getting customers love and pay for a rough ‘beta’ product.

2: Do things that don’t scale.

Paul Graham is the founder of Y Combinator. In this classic post on start-up growth, he outlines why start-up growth should focus on hard work, not just clever tools.

It’s an easy lesson to forget.

Since this article was written, technology has improved a great deal. Though there are tools to recruit users, to automate customer service and targeting niches, we believe this article holds true. Don’t lose the special connection with your customers. Engage in unexpected ways that delight them. Doing things by hand can not only gain you customers cheaply and effectively. It creates a strong understanding between you, your team and your customers that’s essential for big growth. Read this because it’s the secret sauce behind many of the ‘unicorn’ startups we know — from Facebook to Uber.

3: How we got our first 100 customers


Baremetrics offer a subscription based analytics and insight platform. This classic article from Josh Pigford, the founder (also of Buffer and AngelPad fame) tells you what not to do too. It’s so easy to do all the things when you’re starting out. It’s much harder to find the things that matter and concentrate on those alone. Read this for short punchy lessons on understanding you customer. Finding their pain. Then solve their problem to create growth and traction.

4: How we got our first 2000 users doing things that don’t scale.


If you ever needed proof that ‘doing things that don’t scale’ works, look no further than Ryan Hoover. In this article, the founder of Product Hunt tells the story of acquiring 2000 users before even having a product. He draws on the thinking that Alex Turnbull outlines in 5 Early Wins That Got Our SaaS Startup 1,000 Beta Users: that the key to traction is through customer understanding. Read this to understand early stage traction. How to hand-craft a community of early-adopters to test and iterate a product whilst building excitement ready for launch.

5: The definitive guide to growth hacking

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Neil Patel (of quicksprout fame) is one of the most outspoken voices on growth hacking today. His articles on SEO and content marketing are a great read. He highlights some of the best ways to gain early stage traction through blogging and building a presence on the net. But, if we’re honest, there’s a lot of it. It’s tough to know where to start.

Good news: if you’re going to read one thing from Neil, this is ‘the one’. It’s a (fairly) short guide that works through some of the fundamentals. It’s all in one place too, which saves you from an endless rabbit warren of blog posts that you’ll get with Google. Read this to be learn more about activating and retaining users, even if you’re a growth-pro.

A few last thoughts.

We believe that customer research is crucial to build and grow great businesses. That it doesn’t have to be time-consuming, expensive or complex. Simply putting yourself out there is the first step. Make connections. Start conversations. Observe. Ask questions. Take the time to understand needs and wants and you’ll have the basis of greatness.

Let us help you get further. Drop me a line with your questions, or for a free half-hour consultation at

Jared is a partner at Think Plan Thrive, a London based Strategy company. We help organisations to build from strong foundations, seize opportunities and get results, fast.

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Jared Ruddymarketing, growth