How to Get Your First 25 SaaS Customers

June 2020

entrepreneurshipsaas

Bannerbear has around 40 paying customers now and I have noticed that whenever I post anything on Twitter or startup communities about achieving a milestone, many of the responses are early stage entrepreneurs asking how I did it. Here's how.

How did you get your first X customers? is one of my most disliked startup tropes.

Not because it isn't a valid question, but because I feel trapped whenever someone asks this. I know that what the individual wants is some helpful nugget of advice, some neatly duplicable process, a "one thing" to breathe life into their customer acquisition machine.

But I can't offer them that because that's not how things have been for me.

If you want to know how I got my first 25 customers, here's a list of all the things I did:

  • I re-invented the product multiple times to find the right positioning
  • I launched big new features on ProductHunt 3 times - until people grew sick of me
  • I posted in online startup communities giving advice in a non-promotional way
  • I wrote about bootstrapping on my blog and built 8 other products before this one
  • I tweeted about my startup constantly and sometimes those tweets went viral
  • I shared all my revenue data hoping that it will inspire others
  • I started a newsletter from scratch which now has 1500 subscribers
  • I implemented a referral credit system that had zero effect
  • I started an affiliate programme that has had some small effect
  • I built a shopify version of my product which was a failure, and shut it down
  • I have written dozens of "how to" articles describing the features of my product
  • I reached out personally to all my early users to gather feedback
  • I set up a Twitter account for my product and regularly post (500+ followers)
  • I sometimes share startup milestones to Facebook and Instagram
  • I have slowly increased the amount of content on my marketing site
  • I have responded quickly to users who needed a feature by building that feature
  • I have relentlessly improved the product itself

…and that's just the stuff I can remember right now.

I think this is what normal life looks like when you're under 100 customers, still navigating product-market fit, still able to try lots of things to see what works. I don't know any early stage bootstrapper that isn't also doing all of these things and more.

This is why it's difficult to reply to the "how did you do it" question. If you're an early stage SaaS I just don't think there exists a bite-sized, neatly duplicable process to follow to reach your first 25 customers.

You just have to hustle, try a bunch of things and see what works. And know that what works for someone else may not work for you. And what works today may not work tomorrow. One thing is certain though: SaaS is hard!

Note that this post isn't meant to discourage you, it's meant to pull back the curtain and illustrate what is needed to get to even the low level of sub-ramen-profitability that I'm currently at.

I'll end this post with perhaps the only real nugget-size early stage SaaS advice I can give and that is to pick a problem that you are truly passionate about solving. Your journey to SaaS profitability is likely going to take longer and be much harder than you think - being passionate about the space you're in is one of the strongest competitive advantages you can have to stay the course and grind through the journey.

Author
Jon Yongfook@yongfook

Jon is the founder of Bannerbear. He has worked as a designer and programmer for 20 years and is fascinated by the role of technology in design automation and design efficiency. Jon is a digital nomad and can be found riding a motorcycle around Asia, lives out of Airbnbs and works from coworking spaces.

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