Young Entrepreneurs

If You Build It, They Won’t Come: How to Get Users for Your Product

Loyal Users
My business partner -- who is also my mentor -- is an amazing entrepreneur who is very passionate about helping people. When we first started our business, we nearly went broke; we needed to get new clients, but we also had a ton of ongoing costs for the new center we built. We were faced with the choice: pay the heating bill or buy advertising space.

"Content is King, but marketing is Queen, and you know who runs the household," goes the phrase. So instead of paying the heating bill, my business partner decided to spend the last $10,000 on a 2" x 2" newspaper ad.

His bet paid off -- from that little ad, he sold four programs, totaling about $80,000 in revenue. The business was saved because of a little thing called user acquisition, and three key elements in place that made his user acquisition campaign a success. Here are his secrets:

1. Think like an early-century herb treatment specialist.

A century ago, the world operated on an economic system that demystified concepts like marketing, sales and entrepreneurship. A village healer couldn't just be a doctor if he wanted to barter his services for food and other necessities. He had to specialize, establish relationships and loyalty with his customers, and consistently generate positive reviews and word-of-mouth referrals for his business based on the value he could deliver.
So he would instead build his brand as the best rare herb treatment specialist in the area, who conducts home visits, and can always cure his patients without any side effects. His unique value and consistent delivery were the only things that gave him job security and kept other doctors from encroaching on his territory.

As an exercise, pretend that you are living in the last century. How do you differentiate what you do, establish loyalty among your customer base, and improve your offering? Write a blog post about how your business differs from all other businesses in my category.  The key is to find the important differentiating factor that will compel users to use your product instead of another product or service.

2. Demonstrate your purpose with empathy, connection and compassion.

My business partner closed a $1 million business loan for the rehabilitation centers by telling his banker that he didn't care about making money. Instead, he focused on the "why" -- to offer a second chance to people who were chained down with addiction. Demonstrating his passion and story helped him connect with his audience.

A brand is the identity of your company, but it doesn't always explain the "why." My business partner had a compelling purpose for why he was doing what he was doing, and it showed in his personality and story. When you have a purpose, you are able to get all the things you need to attract others and make a sale. Empathy, connection, and passion are the key ingredients to get more users.

But it's not enough to have a purpose; you also have to communicate that purpose. As an exercise, try communicating your purpose to potential users in person. Note the language that people are responding to, watch their faces for confusion or boredom, and listen carefully to their questions to find patterns. This exercise will help you create a better website that resonates with the users you're trying to attract.

3. Don't trade time for users.

If you had found a cure for cancer, you wouldn't worry about how people would perceive your marketing. Instead, you would be calling up every media company in the world to spread the news. Too many business owners feel like they have to "market" or "sell" their products and services to get users. What they really need to do is create products and services that their users desperately need and want.

In essence, that is how to build a viral component into your product or service. Social games such as Farmville are a great example of this: users want to share their cow or milk with friends to gain points and further customize their farm. What can you do to compel users to share your product or service with their friends?

If you're able to find the reason they'll share, then you've moved beyond typical grassroots marketing of acquiring users one-by-one. Don't trade your time for users: compel users to recruit others for you.

Jay Wu leads Innovation at Best Drug Rehabilitation. In his startup experience, he has built a digital marketing agency, a content network, and an e-commerce store. Jay speaks in the Bay area about social media marketing, SEO, and current trends in the internet-startup industry.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.

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