Minimum Viable Products are all the rage these days. It's pretty common for a startup to hole up for a weekend and put together a prototype of a web or mobile application meant to be the starting point for a profitable business.
The problem is Minimum Viable Products are supposed to be about doing the least amount possible to test some hypothesis about whether or not people want the thing you are making.
Writing code rarely helps you find people who want what you are making.
To find people who want what you are making you need at least some rudimentary way to distribute your product.
And if most startups fail because they don't have customers, wouldn't it make sense to find out if you can attract even just one customer before spending a lot of time building a product?
When you have a product in mind you should have a few ways in mind for attracting an auidence. Better yet, have an audience before you have a product built. This lets you build your product with an audience of early adopters in mind.
The smart thing each of these entrepreneurs did was attract an audience that they were able to funnel into a marketing funnel once they had a product ready.
Looking for someone doing this well right now? Check out Nathan Barry who is actively blogging about the difficulty of setting up and running email courses in order to eventually funnel readers into his yet-to-be-built ConvertKit product.
So how can you find your first 1000 true fans?
Write. Write about your domain, your expertise, how you run your company, whatever. Don't be afraid to speak your mind. People will like that.
Create landing pages. Optimize for SEO. Get links to those pages. Drive traffic.
Collect email addresses. Ignore RSS subscribers. Ignore Twitter followers. Ignore Facebook likes. You want to capture your audience in a way that you can most effectively reach back out to them. That means email.
Talk to them as you build your product. Listen to their problems. Keep in mind the words they use to describe their problems.
Then build and launch your MVP. Once you launch your MVP you won't be launching to your 200 twitter followers and 400 facebook friends. You'll be launching to a targeted audience of people who are already interested in you and the specific problem you are solving.
This is Minimal Viable Distrubtion. In a lot of ways it's much harder than building product because you can't just write code. But it's also more valuable.
At Zapier we dropped links in SaaS forums where users were asking for integrations. The links pointed back to a short landing page in the service directory where a visitor could leave their email address. We used these email addresses to learn as much about our users as possible.
By the time we launched we had over 10,000 email addresses of targeted users expressing interest how to automate their work.
Additional reading: Finding Early Customers When You Aren't Internet Famous
Every web application under the sun has to send email too so there’s a huge demand for services who can help developers send email more efficiently.
The thing is, if sending email is hard for developers, guess how hard it is for marketers, support teams and sales guys? If you take a look at the home pages of Mandrill, Sendgrid, and Mailgun you can tell they target developers likely because it would be too hard for a non-developer to use their services. After all a developer has to help them set up whatever email they want to send right?
At Zapier we disagree. Sending transactional or automated email should be just as easy for non-technical people as it is for developers and while that may not be the core target of Mandrill, Mailgun or Sendgrid they seem to think so too (all three have added their services via the Zapier developer platform).
Mandrill recently wrote this excellent post about sending custom automated follow up emails for PayPal purchases so that consumers can have some assurances that their purchase order was indeed recieved by the vendor. This is a way better feedback loop for customers than the standard PayPal purchase email that is sent.
If you look down the list of Zap templates you’ll find hundreds of different use cases for sending high value emails just like the PayPal example above.
Patio11 says you should probably send more email if you want to make more money. Email is the gold standard for social and productivity. Everyone hates sending email. Automating sending email is great for web services. It should be great for other non-technical services too.
Sidenote: could be aruged this adds to the clutter. Read on for more about this.
Many services have email dropboxes ala Posterous or Basecamp. Entire apps can be built without writing a single line of code by patch working email together with other pre-exisitng apps.
Sending email isn’t childs play. In the hands of a trained professional email expert is worth it’s weight in gold. Email in the hands of an amatuer will annoy email recipients, kill sender reputation scores, and cause ungodly migraines for those cleaning up the mess.
If you have never sent large amounts of email before I’d encourage, nay I’d insist, you read up on permission. Make sure whoever the recipient is, is happy the email you send reaches them. And don’t just assume they want your email. Explicitily know they want your email.
Remember tools are just that: tools. It’s how you use them that matters. So make sure you use email for good and not evil.
If you are a developer and your name isn't Patrick McKenzie, odds are marketing isn't your cup of tea.
Most developers I talk to feel like SEO is scammy, social media is snake oil, and generating targetted traffic that will actually convert and pay to use a web app is down right impossible.
For any software business or startup trying to promote their software/app/widget/etc this can be quite disheartening.
So what's a developer to do?
An interesting thing we discovered early on when building Zapier is that lots of companies have products that do one thing great, but could use some help in other areas. If your product can help that company do other things great and in turn help their customers be more awesome, then said company has a vested interest in promoting you.
Usually that means blog posts, announcements on email newsletters, mentions on twitter, and generally all that marketing voodoo that developers aren't nearly as good at when compared to writing code and making useful products.
So the easy thing to do is pick out a company that likes to promote other services and aligns closely with the product you are building and make something that would be both useful to your customers and their customers.
Typically an integration won't send you nearly as much traffic as a front page Hacker News link, but the traffic tends to be much higher quality since the visitor is already using a product that now plays well with your product. In fact, bounce rates from integration links tend to be half of what you see from Twitter, Facebook, Hacker News and the sort and time on site is way higher.
Below is an actually screenshot of our site referrers and you can see the ones labeled integration perform much higher for those two key stats which are generally signs of better traffic.
Other people have found this strategy works well too.
Ruben Gamez mentioned his integration with Highrise as one of the top things he did to increase revenue for BidSketch and in this podcast from minutes 28 to 32 Rob Walling talks about how well integration marketing has worked with his products.
Keep in mind this isn't a magic strategy either. Sometimes getting a marketing or biz dev persons attention can be pretty tricky. Promoting 3rd party apps doesn't always get a lot of attention and tips@company_name.com isn't the most frequently checked email address.
Instead try getting a developers attention. Ask them a question about their API. Propose a new endpoint. Get a conversation going.
Then by the time your integration is good and ready you can simply ask the developer if they'd be willing to put you in touch with someone in charge of promoting 3rd party apps and usually they give you a nice warm juicy intro.
If you are interested in testing the integration waters with Zapier we'd be thrilled to have you as an integration partner. Fill out this quick form and we'll make sure to get in touch with you quickly about how to get started with an integration.
Final Note: We haven't had much luck with integration funds. Instead building something the end users want has helped us out the most. If anyone has had better luck with integration funds and found that a viable strategy leave a note in the comments.
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