Growing Your Startup One Customer at a Time
By Rithvik Agastya
February 15, 2019
This article was written by Rithvik Agastya, the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of AquaFrame, a company that creates sleek and modern vertical hydroponics systems that fit in perfectly with modern sustainability and design trends. For more information, please refer to www.getaquaframe.com
Starting a business demands patience, drive, creativity, and the ability to learn from a myriad of failures. A successful entrepreneur will recognize that there is a herculean amount of work to complete, and that progress will come steadily.
A majority of ambitious entrepreneurs will fail, not realizing why they have failed. Likely, they will have failed because of a lack of understanding as to what entrepreneurship really is. In truth, entrepreneurship is not work-intensive – it is strategy-intensive. It is not solution-centered – it is problem-centered. Lastly, it is not innovator-oriented – it is customer-oriented. Though all of these points are crucial to success, the last one is perhaps the most important to the long-term growth of a startup.
“Each tiny effort builds on the next, so that brick by brick, magnificent things can be created.”
– Robin Sharma, Writer and Novelist
Those looking to triumphantly commence their own entrepreneurial journey must understand the importance of growing their business steadily – brick by brick, one customer at a time. Part of following this mantra is celebrating incremental wins, understanding the value of early adopters, and recognizing how far you have come when you start to get revenue. Let’s dive into each of these points.
Celebrating the Small Wins
James Watson’s 1968 memoir The Double Helix details the trials and tribulations he and Francis Crick experienced in investigating the structure of DNA, a discovery that ultimately earned them the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962. The memoir discusses the back-and-forth nature of Watson and Crick’s emotions during their work. “Our first minutes with the model…were not joyous,” Watson wrote. This feeling was later followed by a small discovery that “brought back our spirits.” However, when they showed their model to their colleagues, they were informed that it had quite significant flaws. When they finally made their breakthrough, Watson’s “morale skyrocketed.” Watson’s emotional ebb and flow is an example of what not to do as an entrepreneur.
Instead, it is important to celebrate the small victories on the road to success, while also learning from mistakes made along the way. According to Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer of the Harvard Business School, “the more frequently people experience [the] sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run.” The principle of celebrating small wins is known as the Progress Principle, and great leaders will utilize its teachings to foster productivity and success in themselves and their coworkers. Those wishing to learn more about it can refer to the book The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work.
Whether it is in exceeding projected sales or simply acquiring a single new customer, it is important to find joy in small successes in order to be more productive in the future. Understand the importance of these incremental wins and use them to fuel creativity, adaptability, and success in the near future!
The Value of Early Adopters
A company’s first customers, otherwise known as “Early Adopters”, are crucial to the early success of a business and should be strategically utilized to bring more success to the business.
According to the Manitoba Technology Accelerator, “A first customer forces the company to build a product, forces the company to consider service and maintenance issues, logistics, how to secure payment…That of course is in addition to the validation that someone else will give you money for your product or service.” Essentially, a company’s early adopters are not only sources of revenue for a company. They are motivators, validators, and saviors.
As a startup, it is not only important to recognize the importance of these individuals, but it is crucial to strategically utilize and learn from them as well. If early adopters crowd to a product, one may perceive a general need for the product in the marketplace. Similarly, if a company experiences great difficulty in acquiring early customers, it is likely an ideal choice for the company to pivot. If you have a good product, however, don’t worry if it is rather difficult to acquire your first customer. After all, you must gain the trust of an individual to put their money into purchasing your product before they make the decision to buy it. Once you gain this trust and make your first sale, more customers should come. The following is a list of five actions an aspiring entrepreneur can take to get early customers.
1) Use Connections
Though you will have to make many cold calls, it is extremely important to reach out to all of your connections early on in your sales process. Create a spreadsheet of known connections (no matter how slight), make a note of their contact information, and start setting up meetings (regardless of whether they are remote or in-person). Not only will many of these people be willing to put their trust in you and buy your product, but many of them will be happy to share your product with their own relations.
2) Emphasize the Positives
As previously mentioned, when customers buy your product, they are putting their faith in you and your company. As a result, when speaking to potential customers, they may question your company’s track record. Some may ask, “how many other customers do you have?” As an early-stage startup, you may not have acquired many customers. Thus, it is important to highlight other facets of your traction or customer experience to potential customers. How many mailing list sign ups have you gotten? What percentage of your previous customers have been pleased with your product? These are much more helpful points of traction to accentuate.
3) Utilize Partnerships
As an early-stage startup, your company likely does not have the credibility or trust required to gain many customers. However, there are plenty of companies in the marketplace that do have brand credibility. Form a mutually-beneficial partnership with one of these companies in order to acquire your first customers and build up some credibility.
4) Be Active
In this era of technology and networking, it is important to have a strong presence online and on social media. As a result, be active on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as well as other social networking sites that may be strategically useful for your company. Moreover, design an elegant website that you can refer interested individuals to. It will be especially useful if your customers could purchase your product or download your app through your website.
5) Pitch! Pitch! Pitch!
Finally, it is important to develop a short and intriguing pitch for your company’s product. Find a way to engage your audience, describe your product, and tell a story. Ultimately, successful pitches may not only result in more customers for your company, but they may also lead to the formulation of partnerships and sponsorships in the future.
An Additional Tip: While it is crucial to acquire more customers for your product, it is important to do so while also keeping your early adopters happy. You don’t want to lose customers in the process of getting new ones. Develop close relationships with your customers, get consistent feedback, and grow your business one customer at a time.
Recognizing How Far Your Company Has Come When You Start to Get Revenue
As part of your entrepreneurial journey, you have likely gone through ideation, market research, pivoting, marketing, product, development, and sales. This is a lot of work! Celebrate this achievement. Many businesses give up before they make revenue. However, keep in mind that you still have a lot of work to do. It is likely that you are not yet profitable. Continue with cold calling, door-to-door sales, and other promotional techniques. Furthermore, make sure that you are continuing to make revenue. Anticipate times when you may not be able to make as much revenue (e.g. seasonal revenue changes, school, extracurricular activities, another job, etc.) and plan ahead. Finally, maintain close relationships with your customers and constantly improve. This will allow you to maintain a steady stream of revenue and ultimately become profitable as a business.
Overall, it is important to understand that starting a business is an extremely difficult task. There will be a myriad of small successes and failures as part of the grand scheme of things. However, it is important to realize that entrepreneurship is about growing your business brick by brick, one customer at a time.
Visit AquaFrame’s website here: www.getaquaframe.com
Kramer, Teresa AmabileSteven J. “The Power of Small Wins.” Harvard Business Review, Harvard Business Review , 8 June 2016, hbr.org/2011/05/the-power-of-small-wins
Manitoba Technology Accelerator. “The Importance of First Customers.” The Accelerator Program, 21 Dec. 2015, www.mbtechaccelerator.com/uncategorized/the-importance-of-first-customers/