How to Get Your First Users (1/3)
June 2013 by Julian Rothkamp

How to Get Your First Users (1/3)

In order to live, a product needs users. And you’ll rarely have the luxury of users “just being there”. You have to go out and find them - even before your product is on the market.
In this first post of our three-part series, we'll talk about how we found early users for our own product, Tower, before we launched.

Finding the right users

We've all read the stories of products that had been developed sealed off from the outside world and once they launched nobody cared, used, and - most importantly - was willing to pay for them. There are always excuses to postpone the moment you send out your first build to a group of testers. Let go of the thought of shipping a perfect first version as it won't happen and take this very important step. It's essential that you get your product into the hands of real users as early as possible. This will not only give you valuable feedback, but can also be a big boost for your future launch.

Who to contact

The easiest way to find your first users is within your own network. While this can be a good starting point, you have to make sure that you both receive honest & objective feedback and that you reach out to your future target group. For both cases, family and friends might not be the first choice. Especially if you have a fairly technical product as ours.

When we invited the first users to test our app Tower three things were important for us:

  1. First of all we wanted to have a mixed group of users regarding their expertise with version control and Git. We made sure that we had a range from beginners to experts that tested our app.

  2. Most of the testers had to be opinion leaders in some sort. This can mean that they have a frequented blog, many followers on Twitter, or are very active in the developer community.

  3. Last but not least, we invited testers from every country that we considered critical for a successful launch.

Where to find them

Second degree contacts of your own network are a great start for your search. The easiest way to locate them is through LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

Once you went through your contacts, extend your search with the next step. Ask yourself where your target group is spending its time on- and offline. Are there any Facebook or Linkedin groups on your topic? Are there any special websites and forums? As we address developers and designers with our app, great sites to find early adopters and opinion leaders include Stack Overflow and GitHub. Make use of sites like Eventbrite to find conference speakers on your topic. Once you have assembled a group of interesting candidates, try to learn as much as possible about them before you contact them.

How to approach them

We found email to be the best way to get in touch. Invest the time to personalize each email. People will notice and it's worth the effort. In the email make sure to include the following:

Explain the reasons for getting in touch. By now you should have a cliffhanger for an intro such as a blog post or a tutorial they wrote, a talk they gave, or anything else related to your product. Briefly describe your product and why you think it's relevant to them. The goal is to convince them to invest their time in testing a product that is most likely still buggy. Let them know what their benefits are (e.g. free product), but also what you expect (e.g. feedback, bug reports, and actual usage of your product).

If you've spent enough time doing your research and contact the right people you will be amazed by the amount of positive responses. From everyone we contacted for our first private beta only one person did not reply. Everybody else was eager to join.

Most of the learning will happen after your product is in the hands of real users. Don't wait too long.

In the second part of this series, we talk about the beta phase itself. We share our learnings on how to best plan and scale a beta up to tens of thousands of users.

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