You have a great software as a service (SaaS) product, and early feedback for your product is exciting but you have zero marketing budget to help fund distribution. How do you acquire a good number of users without marketing spend?
If you are a tech founder... you need marketing skills. If you build it, they won't come. You have to market it.— Oluyomi Ojo (@OluyomiOjo) November 4, 2016
You are in familiar territory. When we launched Prowork in 2012, the reviews from early users were positive and the market appetite for a solid and easy to use, collaborative project management solution was growing but we had zero marketing budgetand yet we were able to get a stretch of 1000 user signups a day.
Even if your startup has a marketing budget, you'll still find the tips below useful. In your case I would suggest you create two channels, one for your paid user-acquisition channels and another for your unpaid user-acquisition channels, and to track their perfomance against each other over time.
I have noticed while working with other startups and products, that users from unpaid channels are by ratio more organic and sticky than users from paid channels.
users from unpaid channels are by ratio more organic and sticky than users from paid channels. - Francis Onwumere's law
It is normal for bootstrapped startups to struggle in this situation. We also made a number of wrong choices, which I'll share in a future post but this post contains some of our wins that brought us stretches of 1000 signups a day, and could be replicated with zero marketing budgets.
1. Going Mobile
Mobile is a core part of Prowork's value proposition, and this was a big winner for us. Our mobile app made real-time and ubiquituous project management possible. As a business product, it helped us reach inside businesses as if we were a consumer product. Enterprises were coming to terms with 'Bring Your Own Device (BOYD)' reality, but the only device people actually brought was their mobile phones.
Almost every product can be on mobile or have a mobile component. Pushing into this territory could be pivotal for a startup.
2. Get Featured in Mobile App Stores
Mobile App Stores are key for your distribution, but how do you rise to the top so that the millions of apps there don't crowd you out?
We reached out to the local offices of mobile app stores, and made a case for being featured in our target market app stores. Late in 2012 we got featured in the Blackberry App world for South Africa and Nigeria, and this helped Prowork acquire new users.
In 2016 there are even more app stores from different OS owners, Telcommunications companies, and even platforms like Product Hunt to help your discovery of your app.
3. Freemium and Built-in Virality
Collaborative project management is a team sport. Once individuals got Prowork on their phones they were able to draft up to 4 of their team members into their projects on the fly. Team members could also create their own projects and draft other people. We borrowed a leaf from consumer play by tying users around individuals rather than projects or organisations. This made drafting new people into projects much more flexible. For consumer products there are even more use cases and incentives to have an invite feature in your product.
4. Startup Competitions and Product Launch Events
Startup competitions and product launch events provide you with free marketing and help you to hone your pitch. It is also a good opportunity to meet and colloborate other startup founders, and mentors.
In Prowork's first 18 months we took part in 9 major product launch events and competitions.
|1||Mobile Web West Africa Lagos||Apr-12|
|2||CcHub's Showcase Tuesday, Lagos NG||Jun-12|
|3||The Meffys Award, London GB||Aug-12|
|4||DEMO Africa Top 40 Startups in Africa, KE||Oct-12|
|5||Etisalat Innovation Award, Lagos NG||Nov-12|
|6||Apps 4 Africa Business Innovation Award, Kampala UG||Feb-13|
|7||Global Forum Internationalization Workshop , East London SA||Feb-13|
|8||Connect Nigeria Business Fair, Lagos NG||Oct-13|
|9||VentureOut Challenge and Internationalization Workshop. Chisinau, MD||Nov-13|
Events can be a time, money and focus sink, but the benefits of publicity and marketing for your startup would outweigh all that if you are strategic about them.
5. Blog and Content Marketing
There's no better SEO than content, regardless of what anyone tells you. Get a blog and make sure you write about your domain and your product. With Prowork writing about our domain, meant we had to read more about the productivity and collaboration space, the more knowledge we gathered, the easier it became to write original content.
We also blogged about every new product feature. The small ones and the big ones because they all added value to our users. Snippets of the blog post also made their way into the weekly project reports that teams received in Prowork
With one post every 2 weeks, we had over 60 posts at the end of 24 months. As well as other guest posts outside our blog. This increased our search engine visibility organically.
If user signups is a key metric for you then you should definitely grow this at your startup everyday regardless of marketing budget size. One hack to always keep this at the front of everyone's mind on your team is to have a user signup numbers chart hang visibly in your office, and celebrate small and big milestones.
These are just five tips, what else have you done to grow user signups without a marketing budget?