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.
Looking for advice on your specific idea?
I’ve given many people advice on how to get their first 1,000 users. Every month, I make available a few slots to give people advice over the phone or in person (in New York). You can book a slot using this form. The rate is $39 for 30 minutes though if you don’t think you got enough value from the call, I’ll happily refund you the amount.