The first people using your product are an amazing breed

Have you ever experienced the “fear of shipping”? It’s when you are about to launch a new product or experience and your lizard brain kicks in.

It starts telling you things such as “it’s not yet good enough” or “everyone will laugh at me for this”. So you go back and work some more, and get it “ready”, when really, you shouldn’t.

Others have written great posts about why you should ship early, the best examples I found are Seth GodinJoel Gascoigne and of course Eric Ries philosophy on creating an MVP (Minimum Viable Product). They all serve to help you achieve one goal: Overcome your lizard brain’s influence on keeping you from shipping and simply launching your first version for all the good things that will come of it.

To put more precisely:

“If you are not embarrassed by your first version of your product, you’ve shipped too late.”

Reid Hoffman, Board Member of Microsoft

One of the good things that come from launching your product early, buggy and with embarrassment is the types of users it will attract.

Know that your first signups are Visionary Customers

A common misconception I found is how first time founders think about the first users that will sign up to their product. Most, seem to believe that this is your one chance to WOW people signing up with a stunning new experience to change their lives forever.

They believe it is regular Joe signing up. He is expecting to build your product into his every day workflow, stomping off angrily if he finds a bug and the product isn’t working as expected. The truth is, regular Joe won’t sign up. He won’t sign up for quite a while. Only after he has seen your product 7-10 times, read articles about you in the press or several of his friends recommended him your product. That’s when he will take a look.

Instead, the kind of people who sign up to use your product when you first launch, are a very different kind. They are fascinated by newly built technology, helpful, friendly and want to give you feedback. They expect bugs, will make feature suggestions and eventually become your raving fans. They are your visionary customers and this is what they do:

“Visionary customers can “fill in the gaps” on missing features, if the product solves a real problem”

Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup

How to work with your Visionary Customers

Once you understand that you don’t present a fully finished product to your first users and rather a hypothesis needing validation, everything changes.

You can adopt a way of thinking, where you actively reach out for feedback to your early signups in every possible form. One amazing example is how Joel approached this. He emailed the first 100 users, that signed up for Buffer. Here is the email:


Thanks showing interest so early in bfffr! I hope to launch the minimum
viable product of the application within one week, and I would love for you
to try out the service.

bfffr will be a service to help you tweet interesting and valuable content
to your Twitter followers more consistently, and therefore ultimately can
improve your results using Twitter by helping you share content of real
value with your followers.

bfffr will be a paid service from day 1. I believe that there will be
significant value in the service and I hope you will find it useful. There
will be a free option, and the paid option will be a monthly subscription
which you can get out of whenever you’d like. There will also be some
interesting ways to go beyond the initial free option limits and ways to
reduce the cost of your paid service.

This is a work in progress and the initial version will not be perfect, so
I’d love your help to shape this into something really great.

This is my real email address :)

Best regards,

As you can imagine, he had dozens of amazing conversations with the first people that signed up. He learnt how much they would pay and which features they needed the most.
Someone, who took Joel’s approach, even further is Michelle Rodriguez, running a mailing list for becoming a professional stylist. And she emails every new email subscriber and also creates a unique personal video for them:

“I write a personal email, to every new subscriber that comes on the list. Then, I also make a personal video, for every single person who subscribes. I do a little bit of research on the email address, person’s name and so forth and that’s what I talk about. Sometimes, I see they have a blog and get to learn a little bit more about them.

So for example I learn, Oh, you are a Jewelry designer in San Francisco, that’s amazing. Here is what I do and how this might be helpful for your particular business.”

Michelle Rodriguez

You quietly build a community of raving fans

Here is the absolutely best part. Whilst you are out there, validating your idea, iterating on your product, getting more feedback and iterating again, something else happens.

Every person you have a long email conversation with, fix a bug for, reply to on Twitter are turning into what will eventually be the community around your startup.

These hardcore early-adopters won’t be many. It might be 20 people, or 50 or 100. But that is all it takes to create a thriving community. They will become your evangelists, telling everyone out there about your product.

Doing this in such a focused way, will easily give you an advantage over any other, more established product. It will give you what Joel called the happiness advantage.

The community your early adopters  create will become part of your product.

How are you feeling about the first people signing up to your product, email list or service? Are you making them part of your product?

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