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5 steps to get your first 1,000 users
Your first 1,000 users provide essential feedback to help you refine your product and fuel growth.
The key to getting these early users is to understand who they are, what they struggle with, and how they solve their problems today. It’s only then that you can create a product that meets their needs.
Not sure where to start to acquire your first 1,000 users? This guide takes you through six steps to identify, attract, and retain your first users, including tips on how to create a product that delights and converts them into emotionally engaged product advocates.
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How to get your first 1,000 users in 5 simple steps
Sustainable product growth thrives on three foundational principles—keep these in mind as you work through the steps that follow:
Focus on building relationships with your target users instead of obsessing over customer acquisition: this is essential not only to onboard early users, but also to get their feedback to create a product that meets their needs and offers them a winning experience
Develop deep user empathy to create an engaging product: go beyond performance metrics to really understand your users and how they can use your product to solve their problems. Then, let your understanding of your customer guide product decisions.
Prioritize offering an exceptional product experience (PX): true startup success relies on delighting users by offering them an unparalleled product experience. This is an effective way to encourage users to use your product beyond the initial sign-up and become loyal users who could potentially become brand advocates.
With these principles in mind, here are five steps to getting your first 1,000 users:
1. Identify your ideal users
Before you reach out to your first visitors, determine your ideal user personas. This is crucial to contact people who’ll likely love your product—after all, it’s designed to solve their unique problems—and retain them.
Knowing your ideal users well enough also guides your product positioning and messaging so it speaks directly to them, which helps attract more target users.
Take it from Substack, for example. Their team had a razor-sharp focus on who their product was for: professional writers with an established audience. So, instead of wasting time reaching out to semi-professionals or beginner writers, the Substack team only connected with and convinced professional writers to try their product.
How to start learning about your target users:
Talk to your target users offline
Connect with people in your network who you think will find your product useful. If there’s no one in your network who aligns with your ideal user, ask your friends and colleagues to connect you with others in their network who they think would benefit from your product.
As you interview these folks, ask them about:
Similar products they use
What they like about them
What they dislike about those tools
Ask unbiased, open-ended questions so people can express their thoughts in their own words, without being influenced by your opinion to make the most of the insights from these potential user interviews. Talk less and listen more to give your interviewees the space to share their opinions.
And you don’t need to limit these conversations to the research phase. Continue building your relationships with these users as your product develops, and invite them to try your product in its later stages and share their feedback.
Slack took this approach to get their early users and gather feedback on their product. Team members convinced 6–10 of their friends who worked at other companies to use Slack, which taught them a lot about how their tool worked for large teams.
Leverage on-site surveys to identify your target audience
Launch user surveys on key pages of your website—like product or landing pages—to find out who’s visiting and why, and ask them a mix of closed- and open-ended questions to identify who they are and learn more about them.
Closed-ended questions could be in the form of a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question to help you segment users before you follow up with open-ended questions. You can also give users multiple choices to answer questions like which industry they’re in, their current role, and their company size.
Open-ended questions, on the other hand, ask for visitors’ unique answers in their own words—giving you vital voice-of-the-customer (VoC) data. Some examples of open-ended questions to ask include:
Why are you visiting today?
Where did you hear about us?
What are you currently struggling with?
Bonus: use the Hotjar beta feedback survey template to invite people to try your product:
Pro tip: push Hotjar Survey responses directly to Slack to analyze survey responses with your team to get everyone on the same page about who your ideal user is, while sharing any key insights you may have learned by directly chatting with target users.
2. Determine and highlight your unique value proposition
Just as important as knowing your target users is understanding the value your product offers relative to its competitors—your unique value proposition (UVP)—to help you convince your early users to try your product over competing tools in the market.
Begin by asking yourself: what can we offer, which is 10x better than market alternatives?
For example, one of the reasons for Canva’s astounding success is the clarity they had—from the start—about the value their tool would offer. Their easy-to-use tool makes it simple for non-designers to design compared to tools like Adobe Suite, which dominated the market at the time of Canva's launch.
How to determine the value of your product:
Conduct a SWOT analysis
Studying your competitors’ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) helps you understand how strong their grip is on the market. It also shows you where they’re lacking, so you can capitalize on those weaknesses to offer your users a better solution.
For example, competitors’ tools may not be offering enough integrations that help users create a streamlined workflow, or may have poor customer support service with users complaining about their slow responses on social media and review platforms. Take these learnings into account when designing your product, so you can offer your target users a solution they need.
Study your target audience’s pain points online
Head to online communities, Facebook and LinkedIn groups, specialized directories, and Q&A forums, like Reddit or Quora, to learn about:
User pain points
The issues they’re discussing with their peers
The tools they currently use
Digging into these details helps with product positioning, development, marketing, and sales efforts as you begin to understand which struggles to solve, what language to use, and where to reach out, engage with, and market to your users.
Besides analyzing qualitative data from online platforms, build a strong presence in these communities, yourself. This is one of the most effective ways to cultivate relationships with your ideal users, and it gives you the opportunity to invite them to use your product and offer feedback.
Netflix’s Customer Acquisition Specialist Corey Bridges did the same. Without revealing himself as a Netflix employee, he joined online communities where DVD enthusiasts gathered, and discussed movies with them. Eventually, weeks before launch, he told them about a new movie site called Netflix, and got Netflix their early users.
3. Create a friction-free onboarding experience
Onboarding is the first real hands-on experience users have with your product that convinces them to activate and actually use your tool beyond the initial sign-up.
Your job? Simplify the path to a user’s 'aha! moment'—their first experience of value with your product—that'll leave them thinking, “Well, that was easy! I could use more of it.”
How to create a friction-free onboarding experience:
Educate users about your product
Providing resources that walk your users through the steps to take to accomplish tasks using your product helps turn early users into power users of your product.
Educating customers also helps you fuel growth by empowering individual users with resources that can help them, so they can get buy-in to use your product for their team. To achieve this for Slack, Founder Stewart Bufferfield shares:
We created materials to explain Slack to individuals—what it was for, how it worked, what you’re supposed to do—but we also built resources for team administrators. We wanted to give them ammunition to help convince the team.
Use these five effective customer education methods to start empowering your users:
Create onboarding checklists or give users starter challenges that help them understand which steps to take to accomplish a specific task using your product. Canva, for example, created how-to starter challenges within their tool that encouraged users to take small actions such as changing the color of a circle, helping users learn how to design with their tool.
Create product how-to guides, like these comprehensive Do More With Hotjar guides, to walk early users with a basic grip on your product through advanced ways to use it. By teaching users ways to get more value from your product, you can turn them into loyal users who appreciate how your product helps them grow.
Use native tooltips, which are flickering spotlights that you can launch within specific points in your app’s user interface (UI) to display a short message explaining what a new feature does or what to do if a user is stuck
Create a comprehensive, easy-to-navigate knowledge base packed with resources explaining how to use different features and answering questions users frequently ask
Offer in-app messaging and communication that informs users about product updates, new features, and iterations within your tool
Analyze examples of excellent onboarding processes
As you study different user onboarding experiences, notice how companies limit the number of steps users have to take to realize the value of the product (also known as a 'quick time-to-value'). Pay attention to how the product guides users from one step to another, and try to replicate these practices in your onboarding experience.
Take Calendly, for instance. It hardly takes 60 seconds to set up an account and get your calendar up and running. Similarly, Medium onboards users in three clicks—onboarding takes one minute, and users can publish their first story in roughly three.
If you want to see more examples of brilliant user onboarding, check out this article.
Review and optimize your onboarding process
Use Hotjar Session Recordings to watch how users navigate on your site and interact with your product after they sign up. Observe where they get stuck, which buttons they click on (and which ones they miss or ignore), and how fast they’re reaching their ‘aha! moment’.
Filter recordings to see signs of frustration like rage clicks or u-turns to discover which page or product elements you need to change to improve the user experience.
Use what you learn to eliminate unnecessary steps from your onboarding process, optimize the user experience (UX), and improve time-to-value.
See it in action: ClassHero used Hotjar Recordings to fix their onboarding rate, which had dropped by 48%.
By watching session replays of users going through the onboarding process, ClassHero’s Sales Operations Manager John Gilmore spotted issues that were holding users back. From there, he used Hotjar Highlights to create and share clips demonstrating the problems users faced when signing up, and convinced his stakeholders to make fixing those blockers a priority.
The result? Onboarding completion rates increased to over 75%, from 39% before the fix.
4. Focus on product-led growth
Prioritizing a quick time-to-value when onboarding is just one piece of the puzzle. Because sustainable product growth flourishes on retaining users and gaining their loyalty, you need to continue providing users value and delighting them at each step of the user journey.
This value-first approach, known as product-led growth, helps you appeal to your first 1,000 users, reduce churn, and:
Lower customer acquisition costs, considering your user base grows on the back of product-led growth marketing
Increase customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores, as optimizing UX and front-loading the value of your product helps you achieve customer delight
Promote innovative problem-solving, as you combine expertise across the business by building teams cross-functional collaboration
If you’re interested in exploring product-led growth for your company, use the insights you’ve gathered about your ideal user—and what they want from your product—to focus on building and improving your product according to their needs.
How to drive product-led growth:
Help users achieve their jobs to be done
Jobs to be done (JTBDs) are the tasks or ‘jobs’ users want to complete while using your product. The faster they can accomplish these tasks, the more likely they’ll be to continue using your product and turn into loyal customers over time.
For example, people using Canva want to quickly design something—say a social media graphic or pitch deck. The faster users can create their design with the tool, the more satisfied they are, which encourages them to use and recommend Canva more.
Make sure your product also helps early users achieve their JTBDs, so you can retain them beyond the initial sign-up and eventually convert them into brand advocates.
Prioritize an exceptional user experience
When users enjoy a smooth, bug-free product experience, they can continue accomplishing their JTBDs fast, which increases customer satisfaction and user retention levels.
Returning to our Canva example, the tool retains its users and turns them into product fans by providing an exceptional experience at each step of the product journey. Some ways they do so include providing a host of templates and design elements that make design easier for users and consistently providing new in-demand features such as their ‘Brand Kit’.
To provide a remarkable product experience yourself, watch Session Recordings to see how users interact with your product and gather customer feedback using surveys to optimize users’ product experience by:
Identifying moments of user delight so you can double down on what’s working
Identifying blockers such as broken links and bugs and immediately fixing them for a smooth, frustration-free experience
Try this: host Hotjar watch parties to learn from user behavior, together.
Gather your team to review recordings for an hour, and watch as users reach their ‘aha! moments’—or watch them struggle and exit your product or website without experiencing any value.
Sara, the Customer Knowledge Manager at Spotahome, hosts these parties and says, “After most sessions, developers and product managers would leave the meetings with a crazy amount of bugs to fix.”
Hotjar Watch Parties are a simple way to show your team first-hand how users are interacting with your product or site
5. Take steps to retain your early users
Offering users an excellent product and user experience is crucial for retaining them—especially in the early stages of growth as Product Hunt’s Founder Ryan Hoover puts it:
Engagement and retention is most important at this early stage. If people don’t stick around, press goes to waste. Or worse, founders are fooled into thinking they’re making progress.
Here are three tips to turn new users into loyal customers:
Provide exceptional customer support
Going above and beyond answering your customers’ questions helps cement loyalty and get you referrals.
Set up a team to quickly respond to customer queries if you can. Alternatively, assign the job to someone on your team or split the work among yourselves, so you can efficiently provide support to users.
Ensure each reply thoroughly answers users’ questions; or if you think it’s going to take longer to resolve a query, inform your customer you’re working on their concern and will get back to them in an estimated time frame.
Act on user feedback immediately
Immediately responding to users with a note of appreciation and acting on the feedback that they share with you shows people you value their suggestions and base your product strategy on their success.
But since you can’t prioritize every other request, familiarize yourself with prioritization frameworks like:
The RICE scoring method where you grade feedback requests according to their reach, impact, confidence, and effort
The value/effort matrix where you visualize which feedback suggestions will produce the most impact with the least effort
The MoSCoW method where you divide feature requests into must-have, should-have, could-have, and won’t-have categories
Keep tabs on your customer satisfaction levels
In Hotjar's state of the customer experience survey, we discovered that companies that prioritize providing an outstanding customer experience (CX) increase their retention levels and get more referrals.
Track how satisfied your users are with the product and user experience you offer with CSAT surveys to measure the results of your efforts and improve in areas you’re lacking to reduce churn.
For example, the CX metrics you’re monitoring may show that you aren’t responding fast enough to users’ queries—use this data to implement strategies to respond faster and retain your early users.
Ready to get your first 1,000 users?
Remember that sustainable product growth starts with knowing and understanding your target users and creating a product that solves their problems.
Once you’ve got this foundation in place, maintain it by continually reviewing how your users interact with your product to eliminate blockers, optimize and create features users need, and double down on what works to provide customer delight and gain user loyalty.
Create a product that gets you loyal users
Sign up for Hotjar today to gather user insights using on-site Surveys, Session Recordings, and Heatmaps.