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How to Build an Audience While Building Your Product

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Bootstrapped tech startups have an incredibly high likelihood of failing. This is fairly well known. What isn’t so obvious, however, is why these projects fail.

Most tech projects fail before the entrepreneur is even able to launch.

Some common reasons for this include:

  • The founder wants to remain super secretive about his/her ingenuous, paradigm-shifting idea.
  • The founder doesn’t create any excitement around the project pre-launch.
  • The founder underestimates the scope of the project.
  • The founder never actually intends to finish the project.
  • The founder isn’t solving a personal problem or doesn’t actually understand the problem.

tech-startups-pre-post

It would be impossible to calculate the exact percentage, but let’s say 80% of tech startups fail pre-launch. Because no one sees these startups fail, we get the classic iceberg paradox: we only get to diagnose the 20% of tech startups that we can watch fail.

The result of this is improper or misleading advice for 80% of tech startups.

So, what do founders need to know to get their projects to launch?

A Cautionary Note

Whenever someone offers you entrepreneurial advice, take a moment to reflect on Carl Jung’s musing:

Any theory based on experience is necessarily statistical; that is to say, it formulates an ideal average which abolishes all exceptions at either end of the scale and replaces them by an abstract mean… While reflecting an indisputable aspect of reality, it can falsify the actual truth in a most misleading way. – Carl Jung

In other words, even when advice is good in general, you have to be sensitive to the context in which it’s being applied. (This is why advisors always answer tough questions with the caveat, “Well, it depends…”)

Getting Your Project to Launch

Prior to building Narrow, I wanted to create a website that would connect philanthropic web developers with nonprofits. Before writing any code, I realized that this project was going to end up being a lot bigger than it initially seemed. Before proceeding, I decided it would be a good idea to see if anyone else was interested in the idea.

I had a few fundamental problems to solve: How was I supposed to validate my idea, and, once it was built, how would I inform the people who I hoped would use it?

The Value of Twitter

Twitter seems like an ideal place to start building an audience: it has millions of users, a low barrier to entry and well-defined channels of communication (each hashtag represents a channel of communication, for example).

However, Twitter’s popularity also makes it a difficult platform to gain attention on, especially if you’re just starting out, which is obviously the case if you’re trying to validate an idea and build an audience.

My options were either (1) spend a hell of a lot of time tweeting and interacting directly with users on Twitter or (2) build something that would, in effect, do the same thing automatically. From a time-management perspective, automation was the clear choice.

Building an Audience (Automatically)

The beautiful thing about a text-based platform like Twitter is that it makes it easy to find users that are interested in specific topics, even esoteric ones like the Iditarod or Faroe Islands. The key is to put yourself in your customer’s position and ask yourself what kind of topics you’d be tweeting about.

Make a list of 10 to 15 relevant hashtags. If you’re finding it difficult, check out which hashtags your competitors are using, or try a tool like hashtagify.me to identify related hashtags.

Once you have your list, you’re ready to begin automating your Twitter account.

This will require two tools: Narrow and Twitter Feed.

Use Narrow to automate interactions with your target audience. Sign up and begin entering the list of hashtags that you created. Narrow will target the users who are using these hashtags in their tweets, which will gain your account exposure.

However, you’ll want to be sharing relevant content too. This is where Twitter Feed comes in. Once you’re signed up, find 5 to 10 blogs that consistently publish high-quality content and hook their RSS feeds up to your Twitter account. Twitter Feed checks these blogs for new content and publishes their posts to your feed automatically.

In Summary

When building an automated audience, there are three main objectives:

Build a following on Twitter

Twitter is an essential marketing tool for any tech startup. The earlier you begin building your initial following, the easier it will be to grow later on. It’s also the best way to find beta users once you reach that point. Furthermore, you’ll feel a lot more confident about your ability to get the word out once the product is ready to launch.

Capturing email addresses

Twitter has often been compared to live TV: If you’re not watching, new tweets are, for all practical purposes, gone forever. This makes your Twitter bio an incredibly powerful tool since it doesn’t change over time.

If you catch a user’s interest, they’ll often check out your profile. This is an excellent opportunity to ask them to sign up for project updates. Use a service (like LeadPages) to create a landing page that captures email addresses. Then, link to the landing page from your profile.

Learn about your target audience

Since you’re automating tweets, favorites and follows, you can now spend your time talking to potential users. Jump into existing conversations, answer questions and ask users for feedback. You’re now free to use your Twitter time in the most valuable way possible: talking with your target audience.

Final Words

Intrinsic motivation is one of the best qualities an entrepreneur can possess. Friends, colleagues and family members have a difficult time understanding what you’re working on and why you’re working on it. They may even secretly resent you for your ambitions. To counteract this, it’s imperative that you get some other people on your side, and who better than your future users?

Building an audience early helps remove a lot of the doubt that inevitably swirls around any entrepreneurial endeavor. It doesn’t ensure success but, in most cases, it can ensure that the founder sees their project through to launch. After all, what kind of entrepreneur would leave their audience unserved?

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  • http://hashtagify.me/ Jonah

    Hi Jerad. I’m Jonah from Hashtagify.me. I’ve just read your article and want to thank you very much for mentioning our tool. :)

    • http://blog.narrow.io Jerad Maplethorpe

      Definitely, Jonah! Your tool has been extremely useful for our users. I’m sure we’ll continue recommending it!

      • http://hashtagify.me/ Jonah

        Thank you!:) Have a great weekend Jerad..