How To Make It as a
First-Time Entrepreneur

How to Make it as a First-Time Entrepreneur

Vinicius Vacanti is co-founder and CEO of Yipit. Next posts on how to acquire users for free and how to raise a Series A. Don’t miss them by subscribing via email or via twitter.

The good news is that it’s easier than you think to get 1,000 people to try your site.

The bad news is that it’s really hard to get those people to turn into users, users that create an account, users that come back repeatedly and users that tell their friends about your site.

This post is about how to get 1,000 people to try your site so you can find out what isn’t working, iterate and keep trying to build a site that people, other than your mom, actually come back to. I’ll write a future post on how to retain those users.

Get Yourself a Domain Name and a Splash Page

You should set up your splash page today. Not tomorrow, today. In terms of the domain name, it’s okay if you don’t love your domain name; you can change it later though it’s always easier to pick a good one from the start.

Once you get your domain name, you should use a service like unbounce to create a simple splash page. You don’t need a programming background to create this page.

The goal of the splash page is to collect email addresses from visitors. How do you do that? The splash page tells a user very clearly what problem your site will solve for them. If the user submit their email address, you’ll give them early access to the site when it’s ready. For Yipit, the splash page said: “Get All the Best Daily Deals in Your City”. For Tumblr, it’s “The Easiest Way To Blog”.

Those email addresses become your early test users. When your prototype is ready to be tested, you’ll email a portion of these users and get them to test-drive your prototype. You’ll iterate and invite more users from your list till the product works.

Now, how do you get people to visit your splash page?

How To Drive People to Your Splash Page

There is no shortage of ways to get people to your splash page. The following are things we at Yipit did and things we’ve seen our friends do:

  • Add Link to Your Email Signature. Seems obvious, but most people don’t do this. You should have your value proposition at the bottom of your email with a link to your splash page. For us, it was: “Get All the Best Daily Deals in Your City: http://yipit.com”
  • Add Link to All Your Web Profiles. Add a link to your splash page on your Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and every other account you have. Now you might see why it helps to be a high profile social media user.
  • Create a Demo Video. Even if your prototype isn’t ready, create a demo video of what your prototype will be doing. Dropbox did this and their video appeared at the top of Digg giving them 100,000 email addresses wanting access to their site. You can also add this video to your splash page to help increase conversion of people submitting their email addresses
  • Be Full Entrepreneur. When I went to tech events, friend’s drinks, family gatherings, I would pitch everyone on Yipit. Painful, yes. But, it got me good at pitching Yipit and those people would go home and sign-up to check it out.
  • TechCrunch and other tech blogs. It will be hard to get press for your site if you can’t give the blogger a prototype to use. But, if you do have a working prototype, this the easiest way to get people to your splash page. For all three of our projects, 140it.com, UnHub.com and Yipit.com, we were able to get TechCrunch to write about us just by submitting it to through their news submission form. If you can give the bloggers some beta codes for their readers, that makes it more likely they’ll write about your site. Just make sure you’re ready for it. If you have a very good demo video, they might be willing to write about you without the prototype.
  • HackerNews. HackerNews is a great community of entrepreneurs who are willing to give you good advice on your startup. You need to have a working prototype and let them look at the site directly, though. Here’s some great advice on how to submit to HackerNews.
  • Facebook Ads and Google Adwords. This is actually really hard and often pretty expensive. We were never able to really pull this off despite several attempts.
  • Start a company blog. The blog should be focused on providing helpful advice on the problem you are helping consumers solve. Kissmetrics, a startup focused on helping websites with analytics, runs an excellent blog on helping startups think through user acquisition. This strategy involves a lot of work so only do it if you have a really good idea for the content you want to create and think that users will appreciate it.

Some final tips and notes:

  • Your list will get stale. The longer you wait to invite people to your prototype, the smaller the percentage that will respond to your invite email. You can try to keep the list active by sending them occasional updates on the product.
  • I recommend you give the users a survey after they submit their email address where you collect information from them regarding what they are hoping your site will accomplish for them. I have heard good things about surveymonkey
  • Encourage users to tweet, share on facebook, or email your site to their friends. One way people have done this successfully is to promise the user earlier access to the prototype if they invite 3 friends.

Now that you know how to get people to your site, I’ll write a future post on what you need to do to make sure those 1,000 people actually stay on your site.

If you have employed any other techniques that have worked well, comment below and I’ll add them to the list.

Like working with big data sets?

We’re aggressively expanding YipitData and looking for:

  • Data analysts (consultants, financial analysts)
  • Data product managers (technical and can work with analysts and engineers to build a system)
  • Data engineers (can build complicated systems to collect and process very large data sets)

Email me personally and we’ll meet up! I’m at vacanti at gmail dot com

Vinicius Vacanti is co-founder and CEO of Yipit. Next posts on how to acquire users for free and how to raise a Series A. Don’t miss them by subscribing via email or via twitter.

  • http://www.quintenfarmer.com Quinten Farmer

    Its interesting to me that you had difficulties with Adwords/Facebook ads. They can be a very powerful tool, but people seem to run into frustration when using them pretty often. I wonder if there is a market for an Adwords management tool designed specifically for people doing customer discovery?

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      Interesting. Challenge would be making it a product and not a consulting service.

  • http://www.quintenfarmer.com Quinten Farmer

    Its interesting to me that you had difficulties with Adwords/Facebook ads. They can be a very powerful tool, but people seem to run into frustration when using them pretty often. I wonder if there is a market for an Adwords management tool designed specifically for people doing customer discovery?

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      Interesting. Challenge would be making it a product and not a consulting service.

  • Rob

    Re: techcrunch et al. – do you recommend a concentrated media blitz for max coverage across multiple sites at the same time, or a measured approach that gains publicity over a couple weeks?

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      It’s hard to have a “media blitz” if you are an unknown entrepreneur and your startup unproven. We tried to get a “blitz” going but ended up just getting a few blogs to write about us.

    • Anonymous

      Getting any attention from Techcrunch is very difficult if you don’t have the right connections. They are very biased as you might know if you’ve ever tried to contact them. Luckily social media allows startups to bypass them and http://facebook.getmorepopular.com and other similar sites allow you to get a large number of Facebook fans very quickly. Growing this way allows you to get around wasting your time trying to jump through the ridiculous hoops required to court Techcrunch.

      • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

        We didn’t have the right connections but got in TechCrunch through their story submission policy. Will write a future post on how we did that.

  • Rob

    Re: techcrunch et al. – do you recommend a concentrated media blitz for max coverage across multiple sites at the same time, or a measured approach that gains publicity over a couple weeks?

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      It’s hard to have a “media blitz” if you are an unknown entrepreneur and your startup unproven. We tried to get a “blitz” going but ended up just getting a few blogs to write about us.

    • Anonymous

      Getting any attention from Techcrunch is very difficult if you don’t have the right connections. They are very biased as you might know if you’ve ever tried to contact them. Luckily social media allows startups to bypass them and http://facebook.getmorepopular.com and other similar sites allow you to get a large number of Facebook fans very quickly. Growing this way allows you to get around wasting your time trying to jump through the ridiculous hoops required to court Techcrunch.

      • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

        We didn’t have the right connections but got in TechCrunch through their story submission policy. Will write a future post on how we did that.

  • Anonymous

    Awesome article – interesting comment about demo video’s. 45-70 seconds of animated value proposition is wonderfully powerful, we’ve got the data to prove it! We could create a pretty awesome follow up post..

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      Write it up! We never did demo video but it’s worked for a bunch of people.

  • http://twitter.com/michaelrlitt Michael Litt

    Awesome article – interesting comment about demo video’s. 45-70 seconds of animated value proposition is wonderfully powerful, we’ve got the data to prove it! We could create a pretty awesome follow up post..

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      Write it up! We never did demo video but it’s worked for a bunch of people.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sachinag Sachin Agarwal

    There are also a couple of e-mail lists. I run one called AlphaList that’s positioned to get feedback (although it’s proven to be a good way to get early users): http://alphalist.co and there’s BetaList, which is positioned to give e-mail subscribers deals on new startups: http://betali.st

  • http://www.facebook.com/sachinag Sachin Agarwal

    There are also a couple of e-mail lists. I run one called AlphaList that’s positioned to get feedback (although it’s proven to be a good way to get early users): http://alphalist.co and there’s BetaList, which is positioned to give e-mail subscribers deals on new startups: http://betali.st

  • http://twitter.com/hacker_hustler Hackers and Hustlers

    How about:
    - making a list of bloggers in your space and inviting them to test drive the product before it is released to the general public
    - pinging directly relevant people in your LinkedIn network and DM’ing relevant followers on Twitter
    - sending a targeted press release to relevant print publications – seemed to have worked very well for inDinero

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      agree with all three.

  • http://twitter.com/hacker_hustler Hackers and Hustlers

    How about:
    - making a list of bloggers in your space and inviting them to test drive the product before it is released to the general public
    - pinging directly relevant people in your LinkedIn network and DM’ing relevant followers on Twitter
    - sending a targeted press release to relevant print publications – seemed to have worked very well for inDinero

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      agree with all three.

  • http://www.gsharma.com Gaurav

    I would add measuring how and where users came from to identify what is working and what not. If 400 out of your first 500 users came from Twitter, you know where to put more effort to get the next set of users. Using free, basic tools like Google Analytics should do the job. Perhaps Unbounce takes care of that. You should also use A/B split testing on headlines/titles. I have seen huge increase/decrease of signups just by changing a couple of words in the headlines.

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      great advice. should definitely set up google analytics account.

  • http://www.gsharma.com Gaurav

    I would add measuring how and where users came from to identify what is working and what not. If 400 out of your first 500 users came from Twitter, you know where to put more effort to get the next set of users. Using free, basic tools like Google Analytics should do the job. Perhaps Unbounce takes care of that. You should also use A/B split testing on headlines/titles. I have seen huge increase/decrease of signups just by changing a couple of words in the headlines.

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      great advice. should definitely set up google analytics account.

  • http://betacandy.com Eric Ingram

    Good advice, also, you can pitch early adopters using http://betacandy.com

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      interesting idea. signed up

      • http://betacandy.com Eric Ingram

        Thanks Vinicius! Open signup is CLOSING today, BetaCandy mockups to follow. First offer should come out this week or next.

        Thanks again for sharing your wisdom with the startup community.

    • http://twitter.com/ossamaweb ossama benallouch

      Hello, Eric
      I really need to use your product. Can you please send me an invitation?

    • http://www.facebook.com/melisasinghnyc Melisa Singh

      Hi. The site link seems to be down. Are you up and running and if so, how can we find you?

  • http://collaborable.com Eric Ingram

    Good advice, also, you can pitch early adopters using http://betacandy.com

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      interesting idea. signed up

      • http://collaborable.com Eric Ingram

        Thanks Vinicius! Open signup is CLOSING today, BetaCandy mockups to follow. First offer should come out this week or next.

        Thanks again for sharing your wisdom with the startup community.

  • http://www.marketing-startups.com Conrad Egusa

    Hey Vin,

    Nice article. I definitely agree with your point of having the URL in the email signature and on your web profiles. It seems that in many cases first users (or early adopters) are either going to be peers or people from your community (often 2 degrees separation.) Particularly in the tech scene this is important, because a lot of people you meet tend to be connectors and will lend a helping hand to promote your message.

    Best of luck at Yipit Vin! Cheers.

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      It’s surprising how many people will sign-up via email signatures and via your linkedin profile.

  • http://www.marketing-startups.com Conrad Egusa

    Hey Vin,

    Nice article. I definitely agree with your point of having the URL in the email signature and on your web profiles. It seems that in many cases first users (or early adopters) are either going to be peers or people from your community (often 2 degrees separation.) Particularly in the tech scene this is important, because a lot of people you meet tend to be connectors and will lend a helping hand to promote your message.

    Best of luck at Yipit Vin! Cheers.

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      It’s surprising how many people will sign-up via email signatures and via your linkedin profile.

  • http://www.carshrine.com Shane

    Really good list of things to do. I will be trying FB ads and AdWords to gain more users. My main concern with FB ads is that if I get someone to like my page, does it actually result in them signing up for my service. Just wondering what the conversion rate would be..

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      Your FB ad can send them to your splash page to collect their email.

  • http://www.carshrine.com Shane

    Really good list of things to do. I will be trying FB ads and AdWords to gain more users. My main concern with FB ads is that if I get someone to like my page, does it actually result in them signing up for my service. Just wondering what the conversion rate would be..

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      Your FB ad can send them to your splash page to collect their email.

  • Deena

    Excellent post – thanks so much for the advice! We just did a soft launch in San Francisco last week and some of the same tactics you described have definitely helped!

    Since we’re a deals site, one additional way for us to get new users would be to get listed on a deal aggregation service, like Yipit :). We’re focused on beauty and wellness deals only, and you can take a look at http://www.BeautyBloc.com for more info.

    If there’s someone at Yipit that we could talk to about getting listed, please let me know!

  • Deena

    Excellent post – thanks so much for the advice! We just did a soft launch in San Francisco last week and some of the same tactics you described have definitely helped!

    Since we’re a deals site, one additional way for us to get new users would be to get listed on a deal aggregation service, like Yipit :). We’re focused on beauty and wellness deals only, and you can take a look at http://www.BeautyBloc.com for more info.

    If there’s someone at Yipit that we could talk to about getting listed, please let me know!

  • http://www.lokwan.com LokWan

    How do you use all these mediums without looking like you’re spamming them?

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      you’re not spamming them and don’t recommend you do that. most of these are people coming to you. others are you pitching PR (which you shouldn’t spam).

  • http://lokwan.com/ LokWan

    How do you use all these mediums without looking like you’re spamming them?

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      you’re not spamming them and don’t recommend you do that. most of these are people coming to you. others are you pitching PR (which you shouldn’t spam).

  • http://www.enterthegroup.com Sal Pellettieri

    What do you think it was that got TechCrunch to write about you? I have tried them and Mashable a few times with no response. I did a submission of my company, sent them my press release on the launch and tried contacting individual reporters over the course of a few weeks and not a peep. Maybe my website isn’t sexy, funny or controversial enough. Any suggestions?

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      Going to write a blog post on our experience with our various projects.

  • http://www.enterthegroup.com Sal Pellettieri

    What do you think it was that got TechCrunch to write about you? I have tried them and Mashable a few times with no response. I did a submission of my company, sent them my press release on the launch and tried contacting individual reporters over the course of a few weeks and not a peep. Maybe my website isn’t sexy, funny or controversial enough. Any suggestions?

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      Going to write a blog post on our experience with our various projects.

  • http://twitter.com/badib badib

    Great post, saving it as fav!

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/badib badib

    Great post, saving it as fav!

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      Thanks!

  • http://www.Spidvid.com Jeremy Campbell

    Amazing post, love the splash page idea, I’m looking into it now on Unbounce, thanks for the referral!

  • http://www.Spidvid.com Jeremy Campbell

    Amazing post, love the splash page idea, I’m looking into it now on Unbounce, thanks for the referral!

  • Dhruv Khaderia

    Its simply amazing……

  • Dhruv Khaderia

    Its simply amazing……

  • http://www.monicashaw.com Monica

    Lots of great advice here, not just for software companies but for anyone marketing a service over the web. We’re currently putting together a splash page and demo video for our screencasting service. And in the spirit of being full-on entrepreneur, if any of you kind folk want help putting together a demo video, get in touch with me. I’ll give you an early-adopter discount. ;)

  • http://www.monicashaw.com Monica

    Lots of great advice here, not just for software companies but for anyone marketing a service over the web. We’re currently putting together a splash page and demo video for our screencasting service. And in the spirit of being full-on entrepreneur, if any of you kind folk want help putting together a demo video, get in touch with me. I’ll give you an early-adopter discount. ;)

  • http://victoriasong.me Victoria Song

    Great post! Have you checked out LaunchRock? Another great way to get 1,000+ email signups & RTs.

  • http://victoriasong.me Victoria Song

    Great post! Have you checked out LaunchRock? Another great way to get 1,000+ email signups & RTs.

  • http://businessbeware.biz/ Ashley

    Great post and info!

  • http://businessbeware.biz/ Ashley

    Great post and info!

  • http://www.facebook.com/mrhmmm Jacek Greber

    this is what I was looking for last few days, thanks!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/mrhmmm Jacek Greber

    this is what I was looking for last few days, thanks!!

  • http://www.conceptfeedback.com/ Andrew Follett

    A short, intriguing demo video is always a great idea. Without a live site, it can be difficult, but you can get creative with mockups and stock images/video. Screenflow and Camtasia work well if you want to do-it-yourself, otherwise Demo Duck is a nice service that builds custom screencasts for startups and small businesses.

  • http://www.conceptfeedback.com/ Andrew Follett

    A short, intriguing demo video is always a great idea. Without a live site, it can be difficult, but you can get creative with mockups and stock images/video. Screenflow and Camtasia work well if you want to do-it-yourself, otherwise Demo Duck is a nice service that builds custom screencasts for startups and small businesses.

  • http://cub.io Adrian Stone

    I’m a bit late to the comment party but we used launchrock.com to build splash pages for both our new venture accelerator (angelcube.com) and for our first project (cub.io … a new way to win prizes with friends).

    DISCLAIMER: I have since become an investor in launchrock because it … well … rocks!

  • http://cub.io Adrian Stone

    I’m a bit late to the comment party but we used launchrock.com to build splash pages for both our new venture accelerator (angelcube.com) and for our first project (cub.io … a new way to win prizes with friends).

    DISCLAIMER: I have since become an investor in launchrock because it … well … rocks!

  • BtoBcity

    Awesome advice! Any additional for a B2B Launch? We are a B2B online group buying site. I waited until the site was done to start gathering membership – that was a mistake. We have used facebook and linked in ads – and facebook has been about a .03% CTR but only 1 in 10 are signing up. Linked In was not effective at all.

    Any suggestions to reach small business owners, entrepreneurs and non profits?

    Thanks for sharing!

  • BtoBcity

    Awesome advice! Any additional for a B2B Launch? We are a B2B online group buying site. I waited until the site was done to start gathering membership – that was a mistake. We have used facebook and linked in ads – and facebook has been about a .03% CTR but only 1 in 10 are signing up. Linked In was not effective at all.

    Any suggestions to reach small business owners, entrepreneurs and non profits?

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Anonymous

    A much more interesting post would have been “How to get your first 1,000 paying customers”.

  • Anonymous

    A much more interesting post would have been “How to get your first 1,000 paying customers”.

  • Anonymous

    Good advice, also can you write about how to get businesses registered for a homestay portal like http://www.myriadgetaways.com/ … a B2B site

  • http://rmsql.info/weblib/lbmain.php Fbf1959

    very useful and practical ideas  Web Library

  • Papermillsurplus
  • http://brentongieser.com/ Brenton Gieser

    Did you find that the tech crowd as the best early adopters for YipIt?

  • http://www.facebook.com/burt.lancaster Burton Bonafide Lancaster

    Yikes, sorry but these traffic driving methods are futile. Adding an incentivised email opt-in with an increased reward for social shares will get a good idea going fast. 

  • Admin
  • http://www.unitoweb.com/ unitoweb.com

    well, everybody is trying everything, so I will do that too :)

  • Julien

    Some people use gamma-tester.com. There is a good community of early adopters ready to try your new webapp

  • http://www.facebook.com/rayshawn.mcarthur Rayshawn Mcarthur
  • Carniechris96

    http://www.cashle.com/?ref=dxtbattousai really good survey site could also pay them to advertise your site as well :)  

  • http://www.sitetoaster.com/ Nikizwan

    Good advice. I really need it. Its very hard to get my first 1000 customers or even 100 customers

  • Mycardboardcollection

    mysportfans.net

  • http://www.Unittus.com/bigbiz1 Home Based Job

    Get paid to build your business! 
    Extra revenue stream while you network
    Need more prospects?
    Freelance & get more cash!
    Get paid to expand your business network

  • Richard Tattory

    Good advice http://instasocialize.webs.com could you tell me if its any good?

  • Amitavc

    I have tried some of this ideas and able to get 1st 1000 users within 3days. Visit http://www.zaranga.com

  • Test

    try asking here.. http://www.goanswered.com !!

  • http://www.facebook.com/endysriauka Endys Riauka

    http://magegame.ru/?rf=caeeece0f2f1f32    the best my website juwst trayed presset 

  • Njdevils15

    check out http://WWW.SPORTSTREET.COM! Awesome new sports social networking website

  • Abauserman

    Would love it if you checked out a new personalized social discovery site:  http://www.tiptap.com  :)

  • Twenty20 gigs

    earn money with http://www.2020gigs.com

  • puhcc

    nice one.check this link as well
    http://www.boltapak.com/

  • http://www.facebook.com/dschmader14 David Schmader

    Hello, another way to drive traffic to at site is using a traffic exchange http://glacierhits.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/temala.ridha Temala Ridha

    Nice to read. but when i try to get to yipit.com it tell me bad request. try to get out of this problem cause if a user try to access and he can’t he will never get back again. ;)

  • Listacker

    http://www.listacker.com – Social Bookmarking, how would you suggest I market this?

  • websofindia

    Thanks to get more and more visitors only website http://www.websofindia.com, thanks

  • Ravi

    Very helpful article and much more interesting topic. Thanks

  • Ravi

    I agree with all it. This article is grate. Thanks for share it.

  • Ravi

    Grate suggestion . i will be very helpful. Thanks for share this.

  • Telecom Uncovered

    Good Information. Like it.

  • Jonathan Zacharias

    Holding a contest is the best way I have found to get users.

  • ami

    add your announcement for free without inscription

    http://foryouonline.net/

  • Sasha Demidov

    It real works8) just see fb counter peekmeapp.com

  • collins

    Pioneering a new approach to online shopping http://www.slamwin.com

  • Infomaniac

    Real good information over here. TechCrunch submission link is dead. Can you please provide the right one?

    Infomaniac
    http://www.infomaniac.co.in

  • John

    to see profiles with artistic interests you can go to http://www.artisttag.com

  • erik
  • Lamya

    i registered on a website http://www.innwan.com its a social website for neighbors. Currently it seems to be available in limited countries (middle east and north africa) they are new so the user generated content is still low. However i often wonder how much of the website success is based on the content generated by the first few subscribers. you might get 1000 registered users, but what if their content is not good enough to attract more users to subscribe. if you think of website like twitter, before news website, bloggers and celebratese started producing good content, what content was there. I use twitter all the time for news, but i would of never used twitter had it simply been a few random people posting about their day.

  • John

    Good read. I just released http://www.knotlink.com and this tip helped me a lot.

  • GPSMeet

    Hackernews sounds interesting… gonna try that :)