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Monday, October 12, 2009

No One Cares About Your Stupid Start-up, Stupid

How do you get those that should care about your company to actually care?

One of the bigger frustrations a new company can likely run into is generating awareness and adoption of their product. This reality can come as quite a surprise to a would-be entrepreneur because you mainly hear about the success stories: for example, launched at Harvard and quickly spread around the Ivy League like a California wildfire). This survivor bias can skew expectations concerning the effort, creativity, and capital that likely needs to be expended to gain initial (and future) customers.

What are some ways that you can increase your customer base and get your business out of the "start-up" classification and into the "small business" category?

My friend (no, not Bad Dinosaur, he is just awful) and I were brainstorming how to overcome this hurdle. We've seen a positive member response from virtually all that have come across our start-up's service. However, our biggest challenge has been figuring out viable ways to reach our desired audience. Some of the avenues we thought would be home runs have turned out more like an infield pop-fly with bases loaded, 2 outs. Others that seemed silly to even pursue paid big dividends.

The following few seemed most viable. Please critique, warn against, or suggest others in the comments section:

  • Provide complimentary products - if your initial product or service is a bit avant-garde or depends on gaining a critical member count, provide complimentary products that anyone can use and do not depend on the number of other users

  • Outsourced marketing campaigns - these can be tricky and capital intensive. We have talked about everything from hiring staff and paying up front salaries with commission to running targeted affiliate programs where the top performer either receives a cash bonus or (and this might be a little nutty) is awarded a non-voting equity share in the company

  • Internally run marketing campaigns - basically the same as "Outsourced" but run by us. This saves on capital expenditures but takes away resources from all other operations

  • Pursue partnership with a more established company - obvious downsides are loss of ownership and independence