At the early stages of a startup one of the hardest obstacles to overcome is what I like to call the chicken and egg customer problem. Initially, you are unable to secure customers because you don’t have data to prove that your product works. On the other hand, you are unable to track any user data, because you do not have customers. Lucky for entrepreneurs, there is a solution to this painstaking problem: early adopters. An early adopter is someone who likes the idea of your product or service so much that they are willing to use it without any proof of concept. Because these initial customers are your base data source and are your most loyal customers starting out, it is essential that you constantly go above and beyond to make your early adopters happy.
As the co-founder of alumni-engagement platform Alumnify, I have had to learn the ins and outs of creating strong relationships. Here are a few words of wisdom.
1. Check In constantly. When your early adopters first use your product it will have bugs or flaws. This is understandable as your initial product is based on a series of hypothesis that have yet to be proven. But it can still be annoying for these early adopters.
The way we have learned to overcome the lack of data is to constantly check in with our initial test schools about how our product is performing and how we can make it better. We ask what’s not working or not helping solve the university’s core problem and then meticulously study all the data and feedback we are getting to make the best iterations possible. Your initial users will appreciate that you understand your product is not perfect and will stick with you through the initial flaws as long as you continuously make improvements.
2. Build a relationship outside of work. If you establish a strong relationship with your early adopters, they will be your most loyal customers through thick and thin.
We constantly look for ways to engage with our university’s alumni staff outside of work. One way we’ve been able to accomplish this is by doing team bonding conferences with our customers. Most startups focus so much on developing a culture within their startup that they neglect the importance of developing a similar relationship with their early adopters. By switching the roles from customer/seller to being team members working for the same cause, you protect yourself from the competition stealing your customers with fancy features and reduced pricing.
3. Make a lack of customers an advantage. A lot of startups become disheartened when they find out a competitor has taken a large share of the market. It’s important for entrepreneurs to understand that while there are disadvantages in only having a few clients, there are ways to turn those disadvantages into key advantages.
One way we do this is by making sure we help out our early adopters outside of what our product offers. For instance, when our first client needs help promoting an event or message, we help spread the word through all of our social-media outlets. If our early adopters are having trouble coming up with ideas for alumni events, we join in on the brainstorming and contribute unique ideas. As we grow, we understand that we will face challenges having this level of involvement with all of our customers, but at the end of the day, we would rather have a small group of loyal customers who will stick with us through the hard times than a large number of customers who will leave the first time they are unhappy with our product.