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The Importance of Going Directly to Where Your Customers Are

We live in a very busy and noisy world. There is an endless amount of information to consume, millions of products offered (each promising their own benefit), and advertisements constantly thrown in front of us. Needless to say, it can be quite overwhelming.

tons of ads

Consumable products are often the victims of all this commercialization — another hand soap will inevitably fail unless it’s clearly a better alternative than the incumbents on the market.

With all the hustle and bustle, most consumers don’t take time to research the majority of products they buy. They simply go to their local retail store and pick the product they are most familiar with or the one that fits their buying habits.

And why should consumers research their common, everyday purchases? There are family and friends to be with and good times to be had. Certainly, researching what brand of cotton swabs to buy can and should take a back seat to other activities.

Taking all this into account, how can you, as a savvy startup owner, get your product in front of consumers? Most advertisements, unless repetitively done (requiring a big investment) or especially unique, won’t attract much attention.

This is why it’s so important to go to your customers and early adopters, instead of thinking they’ll come to you. People have busy lives, and unless they are a hobbyist in your industry (e.g., automobiles), they won’t come to you and likely won’t research your industry.

Once you go to your early adopters or prospective customers and get them to try your products, they can become your marketers.

Startups going to consumers right from the start is very common. Let’s take a look at a few examples and the results that were achieved.


When Drew Houston launched Dropbox in 2007, he knew he had to reach the early technology adopters. So he made this video tailored to the Digg audience:

It was, quite literally, an overnight success. According to Houston:

“It drove hundreds of thousands of people to the website. Our beta waiting list went from 5,000 people to 75,000 people literally overnight. It totally blew us away.” He goes on to say, “Within 24 hours, the video had more than 10,000 Diggs.”

In addition to this, Houston also posted his product in a Hacker News post.

Houston has summed up his lessons learned as an entrepreneur in one slide:

what we learned

Note the last bullet point. He has mentioned many times in his talks that it’s important to “go where your users are.” Let’s take a look at another startup that has done this.


Launched in 2007, Airbnb has grown to become a $1 billion company.

When Airbnb launched, they faced a tall task:

How do we get people to learn about and trust our little-known website?

In other words…

How do we acquire users?

So what approach did they take? Post on Craigslist!

In a story posted by Dave Gooden, he finds out that Airbnb would contact people who were offering their homes to rent on Craigslist. The email would come from a random person (who was really from Airbnb) telling them of a “lovely site” known as Airbnb. Here’s a sample email:

Airbnb Craigslist Example

Some people will call it spam; others call it poor business practice. But 16 months after this story broke, has it negatively affected their business? According to their most recent round of financing, no.

Let’s look at another example…


One of the best ways to reach sports fans is through sports radio. Listen to any sports show, and you’ll hear impassioned hosts and fans discuss the day’s sports news.

So what better way to spread your sports business than to talk on the radio shows every week? That’s exactly what Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk (PFT) did. Take a look at his schedule, and you’ll see that radio is his main marketing channel. Interestingly enough, he doesn’t go on the shows to promote his website. He goes on to talk football with the sports host(s). Before and after the discussion, the host(s) mentions the ProFootballTalk website. In this sense, it is not an advertisement like you typically hear on the radio. It simply appears to be one fan’s NFL website.

Florio does precisely what Houston recommends: go to your users and talk to them in an authentic way.

Of course, it’s unlikely that anyone can simply get themselves a spot on a radio show without getting billed. Florio likely started out in small markets and then presented himself to bigger markets with a demo tape for them. A few sports talk show hosts let him on, kept bringing him on, and a few years later PFT was acquired by NBC Sports.

What You Can Do

So how do you reach your early adopters and your target market? The best way is to go where they go. What conferences do they attend? Are they on Twitter? Are there any niche sites, such as Hacker News, that they visit?

To find conferences, check out a tool like Lanyrd or Meetup.

If you’re not aware of any niche sites that your early adopters are in, you probably need to understand your customer a little better. For almost every hobby, there is a site where those hobbyists go. When you find the niche site, reach out and become an active member. Kindly tell them about your product and ask for feedback. As long as you don’t spam, you’ll find that most people are more than happy to help.

Finally, Facebook and Twitter can be excellent ways to reach your customers and spread your product. With Facebook Connect, businesses can have their users register and login via Facebook. Because of Facebook Connect, visitors can also easily share their purchases on your site; and because they likely have friends with the same interests, those friends will also hear about your company. Spotify is a company that largely grew because of Facebook Connect. Most customers hear about Spotify through their friends on Facebook. It doesn’t involve any work for the user — Spotify by default automatically posts what a person is listening to. For more information on Facebook Integration and other growth hacks, check out Lars Lofgren’s blog post.

Going to customers is also a great way to garner feedback on your product. Listening to customers and asking the right questions can get you and your team invaluable data. For more information on getting user feedback, check out Jason Evanish’s blog post.

If your business is stagnant, make a concerted effort to reach out to early adopters or go where you think prospective customers might be. Don’t expect them to find you. Go where they go, be authentic with them, and you might get some business.

About the Author: Zach Bulygo is a blogger for KISSmetrics, you can find him on Twitter here. You can also follow him on Google+.

  1. All very good tips Zach – great case studies! For my company, I actually found off-line advertising works best directly with manufacturers of the machines that cut my site’s designs… so what may work for some people doesn’t for others.

    Founder of

    • Thanks – I try to give a few real-world examples in every blog post I write.

      The key takeaway I’m trying to make is that it’s important to go where your customers are. Not all of them will be online. Some, like in your case, are found offline. There is not one source of advertising that works for every company.

      • Sam Christian Oct 16, 2012 at 6:25 am

        Hey Zach.

        Interesting post, thanks. Airbnb’s Craigslist strategy verges on seeding. What are your thoughts on this? (ie. dating sites seeding their platforms with fake users to generate a network, or YELP seeding their platform – with huge success in Singapore, I hear). Are these underhand tactics, which if uncovered, are highly likely to turn your users off? Or just another mechanism at a marketer’s disposal?

  2. Iris Holidays Oct 15, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    A very good post. You can also learn from the startup called which has amassed 6000+ followers in twitter just by tweeting about recipes and food

  3. This is a very good post, Zach. Thanks for writing it in such an engaging way. As well as Jon, I also really liked the use of real-world case studies – in my opinion, such examples are really important when trying to understand where your customers are and where you should be with them. Thanks again.

    • Thank you for the compliments! I’ve always found real-world examples to be helpful when I read posts. That’s why a lot of my time is spent finding examples.

  4. Fantastic article. Actually email marketing worked for us very well. You just need to know what to write and avoid putting many links in it. Cut to the chase and never send an email to a person more than once. Every 10 email we send, brings in at least 1 lead.

  5. Zach,

    Your “become your marketers” anchor text link results in a 404 error code.

    Thought I’d let you know!

    Great Post!

  6. Jerrywhyte Obamwonyi Oct 26, 2012 at 2:33 am

    Great nuggets for skyrocketing and taking new biz idea(model) to the right audience, one thing that was so frequent through out the paragraphs of this post is “Devising a means to find your target audience and making deliberate effort to find them”

    In a nutshell, its simply means climbing on the shoulders of those that have several years gone ahead of you in the same/similar niche and leverage on them.

    Well Said!

  7. I love the case studies. Great article. The best one for me is the Dropbox reference, and the graphic of the things Drew Houston has learned as an entrepreneur- pure gold.


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