95 Ways to find your first customers for customer development or your first sale

You can have the best idea in the world, but until you find someone besides yourself that wants it, it’s not really a business.  To find those people, as Paul Graham wrote in a recent essay, you have to “Do Things That Don’t Scale.” The problem is, it is often unclear what those “Things” are.

Fortunately, the internet is full of help. In particular, I was inspired by recent posts on someone going from zero to revenue in 5 weeks using customer development and validation by Melissa Tsang for her new startup Cusoy. I’ve also found the advice for Joel of Buffer about his start and the advice from this post by Jason Cohen of ASmartBear blog to be spot on. With all that advice though I still hadn’t seen anyone tell you where to look.

How to use this post:

Before we get into the massive list of tactics below, I want to be clear on what to do with this list and what to expect when you find a few tactics you want to follow:

  1. Your initial goal should be learning.
    In the immortal words of Lean Godfather, Steve Blank, “No Plan Survives First Contact With Customers.” With that in mind, the last thing you want to do is be hard selling your idea to them. Instead, you want to interview your customers to understand their problems. You can learn how to do customer development interviews here.
  2. Understand you’re going to have a low success rate.
    There is no silver bullet for finding users for your startup, just tactics like the ones below that work to varying degrees depending on your idea and market. Even for good channels, a 10-20% response rate is normal, so don’t get discouraged.
  3. Don’t worry about scaling!
    None of the ideas below are really scalable when taken literally. However, like Paul Graham said in his essaydon’t worry about scaling right now. Just do whatever it takes to find people and the scalable methods will emerge later. If you have a cofounder worried about scaling early, have them read the Paul Graham essay.
  4. Remember your manners and personalize.
    You’re likely asking people to talk to you when you have nothing but an idea and maybe a prototype of some sort. Be respectful in communicating with them. Also realize that no one likes a form note, so the more you personalize it and make it feel like they’re special, the better chance you have of a response. Elizabeth Yin of Launchbit has an awesome slideshare with advice on reaching out to customers effectively.
  5. Don’t get banned.
    If you abuse any of the tactics below, many of the sites and groups will ban or block you. Pay attention to restrictions to how often you can do certain things (like Meetup.com allows you to message 12 users per day). Realize the more times you break a terms of service, the more likely you are to get noticed and banned. On the flip side, it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. Just don’t be egregious.

A special thanks to these people that helped edit & provide ideas for this post: 


I’m writing a book on Building Customer Driven Products.

You can sign up for updates, early access to chapters and help shape the topics I cover by signing up here.

95 Ways to Find Your First Customers for Customer Development and Sales

Linkedin:

1) Use Linkedin Answers: Look for people asking questions around your problem and market or ask your own.

2) Join Linkedin Groups: Join Linkedin Groups for your target market. Engage in discussions there, reach out to people that post relevant ideas or questions, or post looking for help.

3) Use Search + InMail: If you know the kind of person you want to talk to, try searching for them (like VP Marketing at companies between 25-200 employees) and using InMail to message them.

Gabriel Prat InMail example.jpg

4) Check your existing connections: People change careers a lot more than you may expect.  You may have also lost touch with an old classmate that is now in just the right market. Either way, your existing connects are very likely to respond and you’ll have access to their email address, which is better than their LinkedIn inbox.

5) Ask your connections for intros: It’s quite possible the perfect people to talk to aren’t already a connection, but they may be one degree away. Don’t be afraid to ask connections you have a good relationship with for an intro.

6) Post to the Linkedin Social Network: Linkedin now has status updates you can post. It’s a lot less active than other networks, but it can’t hurt to see if anyone notices.

7) Run Linkedin Ads: Linkedin is the network for professionals and their careers. If your startup idea has them as the target customer (say marketers or executives), then an alternative to the high maintenance of Linkedin Groups can be to run ads. Linkedin also has a partner network for a lot of business content sites which can further the reach. There’s a great guide on KISSmetrics for Linkedin Ads here.

Facebook:

8) Look up your friends: For most people, their closest people in their life now and in the past are on Facebook. If you haven’t already exhausted your existing network on Linkedin, definitely look to see if any of your friends are in the market and worth talking to.

9) Ask your friends: There’s also a lot of random people you met in college and other times. You never know who knows who so you have to ask. I just got introduced to another person in tech through someone I was in a beirut league with in college.

10) Look for Fan Pages: There’s fan pages for just about anything you can think of. People that run those pages in your market are great people to talk to both as potential customers and to see if they’ll post something on your behalf on their page. Friends who have leveraged this have found it cheaper than Facebook ads, even when they pay the Fan Page owner. Just click the “message” button on the fan page.

fan page message button

11) Run Targeted Facebook Ads: If you think you really know your audience demographics, then running a small set of Facebook ads to a landing page, can be a great way to garner interest.

12) Try the new Graph Search: I haven’t had a lot of success using it, but it’s worth searching for things related to your market to see if anything else turns up, especially now that you can message people you aren’t friends with. In particular, Facebook has a great geographic filtering ability you won’t find on Twitter or otherwise.

Twitter: (My personal favorite)

13) Ask your followers: If you have any kind of follower base at all, you should definitely tweet about who you want to talk to. If you don’t have a big follower base, ask the people with bigger followings you’re friends with to ReTweet you. As you develop your idea, you may want to tweet different requests, which may be seen by different people since no one sees every tweet of their followers.

14) Ask your followers for referrals: It’s not just about who you know. The bigger benefit is who your network knows so be sure to not just ask people you follow or follow you if they’re a fit, but ask others for referrals.

15) Run Twitter Ads: Twitter ads can be a cheap way to reach people you’d never know otherwise. We got thousands of sign ups for MyAnalytics App at KISSmetrics using them. Like any channel, the more mature it gets, the more expensive it will become, so by 2015, this may not be nearly as economical (like many Adwords today).

16) Ask Twitter Accounts to tweet on your behalf: Just like you can ask Fan Pages on Facebook to talk about you, you can reach out to Twitter accounts in your target market to see if they’ll tweet something for you or ReTweet you. If it makes sense for your business, you can also ask some celebrities via tools like BuySellAds and Sponsored Tweets.

17) Search for relevant Hashtags: Hashtags are a big part of Twitter for many markets. For example, in the analytics market, there’s #Measure. Find accounts using the hashtag and reach out to them and join the conversations happening. Find relevant hashtags by asking others or checking out sites like Hashtags.org

Measure hashtag screenshot

18) Join a Twitter Chat: Many groups have regular chats that can be found based on the group’s hashtag they use. A great example is the Community Manager chat, #cmgrchat. This is a great way to ask questions and engage your target audience if they’re holding Twitter chats.

19) Search Twitter for People Talking about your Problem: Remember that time you were really annoyed at a company? What did you probably do? You tweeted about it. Try searching different ways for people talking about frustrations and you’re bound to find people happy to talk because they’re excited someone is going to make things better. I’ve successfully used this to talk to people about, of all things, email migration.

Email:

20) Email relevant friends/contacts: There’s a right way and wrong way to do this. Yes, you can spam all your contacts in one big dump asking for help. What will yield a better result is if you invest the time to be more targeted in who you reach out to. Close friends and family won’t mind and those actually related to your target industry.

21) Start a personal newsletter: I’ve known some people to start a personal newsletter to have their contacts *opt into* that then regularly updates them on your startup journey and can ask for specific help then repeatedly in the newsletter. This works great for getting mentors and early supporters engage in a small ask (just opt in) and later help more as you have different needs.

Personal Newsletter

22) Use Rapportive to find emails & cold email: Somehow you may have stumbled upon someone you’d *love* to talk to, but you don’t know them. You can use tools like Rapportive to guess the email address and send them a personal note asking to speak with them about what you’re working on. You can find more advice on this tactic here and here.

zuck rapportive

23) Make your GChat status a call for help/intros: This may seem simple and passive, but you’d be surprised who reads your GChat statuses. Adding a note of what you’re looking for and leave it up for a few days and you might just get a few people to help you out. This works for other chat tools as well, of course.

24) Make your signature a call for help/intros: Just like your GChat status is a long tail way to get people’s attention, you can use your email signature the same way. Below your name in your signature  is the perfect place to let people know. Don’t forget to update your mobile app’s signature as well as your computer’s.

Meetup.com:

25) Join & Attend Meetups in your category: Meetup has become an amazing hub of groups around just about any topic you can think of. Whether you’re making an app for LARPers or a hardware startup, there’s a meetup group likely in your area you should join to meet and talk with group members in your target market.

Meetup Group

26) Ask organizers to message the group: Organizers have unique privileges to send messages to their groups. You don’t get what you don’t ask for, so don’t be afraid to reach out to group organizers to talk to them (they may be a great target user) and see if they’ll message the group. They often make no money in running their groups, so you can think of them like the Facebook Fan Page owners previously mentioned.

27) Ask the organizer to allow you to address the audience at a Meetup: Potentially even better than getting into everyone’s cluttered inbox is the opportunity to address the whole group at one of their events. This allows people most interested to immediately approach you. This can be a great consolation ask if they don’t want to message their whole group since this requires no work on their part.

28) Mention in your Meetup profile what you’re looking for: Like the GChat status, this is a passive move that alone won’t get you everyone to talk to, but you’d be surprised how often people read the profiles of other new members in a group. Be sure to include your desired contact method if you want Meetup members to reach out to you.

29) Message users on Meetup.com: Not every member of a Meetup group attends every event and if there’s no upcoming meetups or it’s a group outside your area, you can still reach users by sending them individual messages. Per a great write up by Melissa Tsang, Meetup has a limit of 12 messages per day, which is still enough to get some quality responses as she writes in detail about.

30) Create a Meetup group: Just because a group doesn’t exist, does not mean there would not be interest. Countless people have launched successful businesses based on the idea of organizing a high value group. Just remember that if you do this, not only will you build trust and relationships with all the attendees, you’ll be the organizer who can send all those messages, decide who addresses the audience, etc.

Your Blog:

31) Write a blog post about the problem you’re solving:  If you feel you know some of the key problems that users are facing in your target market, write about it! If it resonates with them, they will share, upvote, tweet, etc it and some will even sign up as long as you remember to have a call to action to sign up at the end. You can see an example here, where 1,000 reads turned into 10 sign ups and a look at some famous companies that started with a blog here.

32) Post your blog to discussion sites in appropriate categories: Sites like Reddit and HackerNews are awesome to access established audiences for your market. Before posting, do your homework so you actually post it somewhere it’s welcome; a baker would not be well served to post their baking innovation on HackerNews, but a marketing startup would do very well posting to Inbound.org. By posting it to these sites you’ll significantly increase the reach of #31 and might also get some interesting commenters there you can reach out to like this example from Vero.

getvero hackernews

33) Update your About Page for what you’re looking for: Just like #23 and #28, it is always beneficial to list what your looking for on your About page. The most engaged people on your blog are likely to click to your about page to see who you are and if they see this, they can help even if they don’t read your specific blog post about your idea.

34) Make a page on your blog just about your market: Depending on your blogging platform, this could be easy or hard, but it can never hurt to organize your information in a way that people can easily navigate it. If you’re writing a whole series of items or have already created a lot of related content, this can be a great way to assert your expertise and act as a honeypot to draw in interested potential customers.

35) Start a blog just to talk about your industry: Don’t already have a blog or don’t want to talk about your startup on your existing blog? Then start a new one. It helps to have more content than just one post, so if you go this route, try to have a few posts you can post over a few weeks. If you know your startup’s domain, you can make this the start of your company’s blog. Especially for blogs like this, try to get users to either sign up for an email list or to explicitly sign up for customer interviews.

Other Blogs:

36) Reach out to other bloggers for interviews: Chances are, there are other people writing about the market and potentially even the problem you’re interested in solving. These people are generally very knowledgable on the market and so they make great customer interview candidates and can also shed a light on more places to look for people in your market.

37) Ask other bloggers to run an ad for you: Many bloggers, like those fan page owners, don’t make a lot of money, so they may be willing to run an ad for you for very cheap or mention you in a relevant post just because they’re nice or like you.

38) Ask other bloggers to write about you: Going beyond an ad (which may be seen on multiple posts) you can see if a blogger is willing to write a whole post about you. If you’ve already interviewed them and they’re excited about your idea, this may be an easier ask than you think (and thus do it for free).

39) Ask to write a guest blog post: If your own blog has no audience, the best thing you can do is get a post you’d write on your market/problem on a blog that does have your desired audience. Bloggers love having more content to share, so if it’s a good post, they’re very likely to be willing to publish it. Look for guidelines and advice on guest blogging on sites you want to write for like on KISSmetrics’s blog.

guest blog post image

40) Use Blog lists to find the right blogs: Not sure who to reach out to? Sites like Technorati, Blog Catalog and AllTop are great for finding out top blogs for things like Top Fashion Blogs or just about any other category. You can also look for other influencers on sites like Klout and PeerIndex.

41) Reach out to commenters: If you see passionate comments on someone else’s blog, follow the link and the profile/name from the comment to find out who they are and reach out to them. People usually will include a link back to their own blog, About.me profile or Twitter account from such a comment. This will give you a more direct, personal way to reach them, and avoid writing a bunch of comments, which the blog owner may then mark as spam and never be seen.

Q&A Sites like Quora, Quibb, & Answers.Onstartups 

42) Reach out to people that ask relevant questions: If you can see who asked a good question related to the problem you’re solving, reach out to them using any methods the site allows to see if they’ll do an interview.

43) Answer questions about your problem/market: If you’re already knowledgable on your market, don’t be afraid to jump in and answer open questions. The people that ask can become great people to talk to and are more likely to be responsive if you already helped them with your answer. Don’t be afraid to drop a mention of what you’re working on right in the answers. Thomas Schranz at Blossom.io has done a great job of doing this in a helpful, non-spammy way.

thomas good answer quora

44) Reach out to great answers: If you see someone who has given some great answers, they are likely very knowledgeable in your market and the problem you’re solving. Reach out to them to do an interview. Obviously, you’ll want to be careful it’s not a competitor. ;)

45) Ask questions to see who answers: There’s no reason not to join the conversation by asking questions as well. Reach out to the authors of any answers you find satisfactory or interesting. The best part of asking your own questions is that virtually every Q&A site will send you alerts when your question gets answered so you can easily keep track of them even if you ask a few.

46) Put Calls to Action in your Profile and Answer Subheadings: Sites like Quora allow you to put whatever subheading you want below an answer, so don’t be afraid to mention something about your startup there. Also, like the other sections, always put in your profile what you’re up to so anyone that checks you out (even for answers you may have written in other areas) can find you and potentially reach out.

IRL (In Real Life), aka “outside the building”

47) Approach people in native environments: Would your target customer be found in a coffee shop, grocery store or mall? Then go there and try talking to people. Like anything this is a skill. This can come off as harassing or creepy (and the store may ask you to leave) or it can work great. The founders of Sincerely have been know to walk over to a nearby mall and offer strangers money and app credits so they can see how a user uses their app.

48) Look for people unhappy with a service: Are you trying to make a real world activity (like finding a locksmith or a good mechanic) better? Then looking for disappointed people near that service may be just the unhappy customers you could delight with your service. After taking a bad cab ride, you’d be the perfect person to explain all the reasons you’d likely prefer to take an Uber next time.

49) Go to conferences for your target audience: Just about every industry has a few conferences related to it. Established businesses get booths, thought leaders speak and many deals get done.  You should be there too as you’ll never find such a concentration of people in your industry. Take advantage of attendee lists to figure out who you want to meet with. Offer to volunteer or just ask for a discount ticket because you’re a startup and you’ll be surprised what you may get.

50) Go to trade organization events: Depending on the business you’re in there may be regularly “Chamber of Commerce” style events where your target customers may be. This would work especially well if you’re targeting people who own brick and mortar stores or provide contract services.

51) Go to places you know they’ll congregate: Have an idea for people that own boats? Then going to your local marina is a *great* place to find boaters to talk to. Golfers might just be at the golf course or driving range, frequent fliers at an airport and teachers at a school. Timing is obviously everything, so be cognizant of when someone looks like they’re approachable and have time to kill versus trying to hurry somewhere else.

52) Ask people on long train rides or airplanes: I’m always amazed by the kinds of people I meet when riding Amtrak or flying. Sometimes serendipity can work in crazy ways, so don’t be afraid to tell random people you meet what you’re working on. They might just be helpful or someone nearby will overhear and jump in.

Your existing user base (even if small)

53) Offer a user Referral Program: You need a great product before you should be trying to aggressively hack your growth, but that shouldn’t stop you from offering an incentive to your existing users to help you get more users. They likely know where to find more of them (their social graph, emailing friends, etc) so a little incentive will get them to help you out. There’s a great Quora thread on the subject here. 

54) Ask your users via email: Especially in the early days, you should regularly talk to your users and be updating your whole user base regularly. As part of those updates for new features, major bug fixes and outreach, don’t be afraid to ask them for referrals to more users or people to talk to.

55) Always ask your users when you talk: Whether you’re doing a customer development interview, usability testing or just talking to a user about a support case, remember that you don’t get what you don’t ask for.  Ask them both if they know anyone specific who might also be interested in your startup as well as places they generally find other people. The latter may turn out to be a meetup, a Twitter chat or something else that is very target rich for you, but you would never have known.

Craigslist

56) Look for relevant postings: Does your startup idea do anything that is relevant to one of the many Craigslist categories? Quite a few companies have had great success building a massive business off just 1 category (see below). Try reaching out to posters to talk to them and later you can potentially scale this. AirBnb is the most famous recent example, which Andrew Chen highlights well here.

57) Make your own post: Just like you can respond to posters, you can also make your own posting in the appropriate category and filter the ensuing responses to find the right people to talk to. A friend working on a startup recently used this to success by making a basic post and then sending all respondents a qualifying survey to make sure they were a match. A small cash incentive in the posting will generally drive a solid response rate.

Forums, Micro Networks & Communities on the web

58) Join in the conversations on the sites: Just about any community exists on the web today. Many of them are in places you would have no idea exists until you dig in.  If you can’t find them initially, ask some of the early users you meet using some of the other tactics listed in this post. Once there, look around for people already talking about your problem you’re solving and join that conversation to learn more. You can also post new discussions specifically on your target subject to see who is interested.

slashdot comments

59) Message individual users of interest: If you see someone talking a lot about the problems or opportunities you’re working on, see if you can send a private message to them on the forum or at worst just reply to one of their comments asking to speak with them. Anyone sufficiently passionate will be excited to share their thoughts.

60) Reach out to moderators: If this is truly a community site (and not another company’s forums) then the moderators are often the most passionate people of all. Reach out to them as great people to talk to and learn from. As a moderator, they’ll be spending as much time as anyone following all the conversations there so they could provide valuable insight beyond their own experiences. If it is a company’s forum, then tread a bit more carefully depending on if your idea is competitive or complimentary.

61) Ask Moderators to post on your behalf or run an ad: Many forums on the web are run with very little revenue and more as a passion project. Therefore, much like some of the previously mentioned Fan Pages, etc, they may be open to posting on your behalf or running an ad for a very small fee. They’ll know the ins and outs of the site, which will give you a better chance of reaching the maximum audience.

Google Adwords & other ad networks

62) Run Adwords with a landing page: An efficient (though at times costly) way to build an early user list is to run a quick, targeted Adwords campaign linking to a sign up landing page. You can learn how to set that up here. There’s also good advice on evaluating the success or failure of such a campaign here and here.  Realize that paying to get a bunch of people on a list doesn’t validate much on its own. It’s then using that list to reach out to users and talk to them and ask them to pay for something that does.

cusoy landing page

63) Run ads on lesser known networks: Google may have the largest audience, but not the cheapest or best targeted. Consider your market and think about if other ad networks would work better. There’s everything to consider from Yahoo and Bing to mobile ad networks or blogger ad networks. You can find a list of alternatives here.

64) Have your SEO basics in order: What’s better than the perfect Adwords campaign? Showing up organically for searches on your problem. Great SEO takes time, but you can make sure to have the basics right from day 1 so that you can at least get a trickle of interested users to your blog or site. There are a lot of great tips on the KISSmetrics blog including this great SEO Guide for Beginners.

Newsletters

65) Talk to newsletter owners: Just like passionate people often run forums simply for the love of it, others will run newsletters. If you already subscribe to them, don’t be afraid to just reply to the newsletter and ask for a few minutes to talk to them. Most people are excited to hear from people who read their work!

66) Buy Ads using a newsletter ad tool: There’s a great newsletter ad network called Launchbit. It can be a great help in both finding out what newsletters exist in a category and allowing you to quickly set up an ad campaign across multiple such newsletters.

67) Ask for mentions in a newsletter: In addition to talking to newsletter owners as potential early adopters, you can also ask them for exposure. Many newsletters have no formal advertising system like Launchbit, so often you can just go direct to them to ask for a mention for little or no cost. The more excited they are for what you’re doing, the less likely it will cost you anything.

newsletter ad

68) Start your own industry newsletter: If you don’t find any newsletters in your category or are think there’s room for another one, then don’t be afraid to start your own! It will take time to build up an audience, but it’s a great way to put to work all those signups you’ve been driving to your landing page.  Often times, it’s easier to first get people on a newsletter and then later convert them to a paying customer.

Complimentary Startups

69) Reach out to complimentary startups: No matter your industry or idea, there will be others in the market you compliment. At KISSmetrics, there were many other SaaS tools we were happy to integrate with and swap customer/mailing lists. In most cases, our analytics was something their users needed and many of our customers could use a support tool, call tracking metrics or track a MailChimp email campaign.  The best case for success with this method is to target companies of similar size (ie- mailing lists and user bases are of similar size) as that assures an equally mutually beneficial relationship.

unbounce kissmetrics landing page deal

70) Ask to guest post on their blog: Just like there are industry blogs run by volunteers and people just generally passionate about the space, there are also companies with prominent blogs. One of the biggest challenges they often have is having enough content. Reach out to someone on the marketing team or any contact info you see on the blog and propose topics that allow you to naturally link to what you’re doing.

71) Find their users and reach out to them directly: If you think your idea would be helpful to that company’s audience, look for people actively engaging and discussing the company on all the platforms I’ve been writing about throughout this post. While it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission, remember again to use tact so as to not be spammy or offend the company.

Your Competition

72) Watch what they do: As the saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Chances are your competition has figured out at least a couple of spots where your customers exist and you can enter the conversation there as well. In more modern terms, if something they do works, then consider Jobs’s favorite quote, “Great artists steal.” Like their Facebook page, and follow the company and key employees on Twitter for some inspiration based on what they link to.

73) Look for social mentions: Especially if you’re trying to disrupt a large incumbent, there’s likely many people talking about your competition. Look for especially people complaining about the product or experience. These are perfect people to reach out to learn from and hopefully convert to giving you a try. This also works for other startups you’re competing with.

Ben Sardella outreach to MixPanel customer

74) Use research tools: Tools like MixRank, which shows the ads a site has been running, and Spyfu, which shows you the expected ad spend and keywords purchased for competition. If you’re looking for inspiration on the kinds of ads to try, those tools will help you get there.

Data Research Tools

75) Use Datanyze: This tool will tell you what apps any of the top 1,000,000+ websites are using as well as what they’ve recently quit. It’s transformed more than one sales team I know and provides priceless information on the state of just about any web SaaS market. Their free demo can help you understand market share, while the pricey version has alerts for specific tools and lets you see what any site is currently using.

Datanize market share tool

76) Leverage tools that tell you contact info for key roles: If you know the persona of your target customer, then a list like Hoover’s or Jigsaw can help you find some of those types of users at especially bigger companies. Note that this lists they have aren’t 100% accurate, nor are they cheap. Try to hustle access via a friend or advisor.

Your College, University or School

77) Ask your professors: Many professors live vicariously through their students, and are happy to help out current students as well as alumni. If you had a professor that you had a particularly strong relationship with that is relevant to your startup, definitely reconnect with them. Also realize that many professors will talk to alumni who they never taught. Most professors have industry contacts they can help you with introductions as well as be a great channel to their students as potential customers or hires whether via emailing them or letting you address the class.

78) Leverage your alumni network: Whether it’s old clubs you belonged to, a fraternity or sorority or simply the alumni group for the city you’re in, you’d be amazed what people may be doing after school regardless of major or study habits. Don’t be afraid to both reach out to old classmates and club members as well as reach out to the clubs themselves for help from current members. Every student group I was in loved to hear from alumni.

79) Use your alumni directory: Many schools have searchable alumni directories that can allow you to track down contacts at some of the most powerful positions in the world. The shared experience of going to the same school is often all you need to mention to get someone who normally would be unreachable to suddenly be accessible to you for a meeting, mentorship or the right introduction.

alumni directories

80) Reach out to student groups: Even if you weren’t a member of the group, student groups are usually excited to hear from alumni. If any student group fits as a target customer for your startup, you should reach out to them. Playing the alumni card often gets you a great response and can often lead to offers to help you in many ways. They can email their list, let you address the group at a meeting or assist in recruiting help.

Leveraging the Physical World

81) Post an offer in public places: Bulletin boards still physically exist in many places and people still put up physical signs for all kinds of things. The stereotype are things like meetings and guitar lessons, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get attention being creative. If you know there are places your target audience will go to or pass by, consider posting something to get their attention. If you’re doing a Concierge MVP for your idea, this is a great way to start.

82) Use handouts, fliers or mailers: If hanging something up and hoping people will read it and respond doesn’t work for you, consider a more 1 to 1 communication through handouts you can give out or mail. One person I met that had a parking ticket app would carry fliers with him and put their flier under the wiper of a car that already had a parking ticket on it as well. It had a massive conversion rate. Get creative!

83) Buy someone’s service: So you want to start a business serving artists, or maybe housecleaners or some other service? Try buying their service and take a few minutes before or after their service to talk to them.  If they care about customer service, they’ll be happy to discuss their problems with you. A friend of mine started his mobile invoicing startup based on the problems his cleaning lady had tracking payments.

Kickstarter & other funding sites

84) Look for products getting funded in your industry: Funding sites are booming which means all kinds of companies and ideas are getting funded. Others in your industry can be incredible sources of knowledge not just on how to run a campaign, but what they’ve learned from interacting with their new customers.

85) Ask complimentary funded projects for help: A fellow crowd-funded project that has finished their funding will be very busy trying to deliver their product to their supporters, but they might just be willing to send a message, tweet or post on your behalf. If their funding is still open, you may be able to swap promotion to your audience and theirs. Remember: You don’t get what you don’t ask for!

kickstarter contact

86) Reach out to users that backed the project: Every Kickstarter has a tab for Backers which includes their profiles, which you can click to see what else they’ve backed. While they have no messaging system (Indiegogo does), with their full names on Kickstarter, you can likely Google or search Twitter or Linkedin for them and message them there.

87) Put your idea on a funding site: If you feel you’ve validated your idea enough, then running your own crowd-funding campaign is a great way to validate interest for your idea. There is tons of information on the web about making the most of a campaign, just search on Google or Quora.

Youtube

88) Talk to Youtube Channel owners: Youtube is filled with creators making content on all kinds of markets. If you go to Youtube’s channel search, you can search for your category and see who has channels and how many subscribers they reach. Just like you can talk to bloggers as experts in a market, you can learn a lot by interviewing channel owners.

Youtube Channe

89) Ask channel owners for promotion: If your idea resonates with the channel owner, there’s a good chance you can get them to talk about you on one of their episodes or maybe even have you as a guest. They may charge you a fee, but if it’s your exact target audience, it might just be worth it.

90) Start your own channel: If you think video is a great medium to communicate with your audience then creating a channel to connect with them may be a great option. Just like starting your own Meetup group, it can initially be hard, but once you’ve built an audience it will have a great, long-term payoff.

91) Run ads on Youtube: Youtube leverages Google’s ad powers to run targeted ads. You only pay for the ads people fully watch (not skip) so if video seems a powerful way to communicate with your audience, it’s worth experimenting. Remember, Dropbox started with nothing but a video and got over 75,000 signups (although they did not run it as a video ad).

Your own Product:

92) Put your name on it: If any part of your product can be seen by a non-customer, make sure your name is on it. This is easy, free marketing that your customers can provide for you simply in using your product. KISSinsights (now Qualaroo) had incredible growth without doing any paid advertising because of a simple link in each of their pop up surveys.

qualaroo powered by93) Make sharing an option for more access: If your product has metered usage, then you will always have customers who are uncomfortable moving up to a new, costlier tier. MixPanel has a free 50,000 events plan that can become a free 175,000 plan if you put their logo on your homepage. I’ve seen countless startups with that logo in their footer for just this reason, so don’t think your users won’t do it until you try.

94) Build a product “worth tweeting about”: In the rush to build MVPs and move fast, it can be easy to end up building a half assed product instead of half a product. If you instead solve a deep pain in a delightful way, people will naturally rave about it. Crashlytics, which was Twitter’s largest acquisition ever, used this strategy to experience viral growth of their app crash reporting tool.

Mobile:

95) Run ads in your side project apps: A number of my friends have built apps as side projects that end up having a few thousand users that never really monetized or amounted to anything. As a free user base you can always insert your own ads into your app. I met one of the founders at QBix that built the Groups App for the iPhone (helping you organize your contacts) and they used this tactic to drive people to their other apps. You can also send them to mobile landing pages to avoid building anything.

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Woah…that was a lot. Thank you for making it to the end.

I hope a few of these have inspired you and point you in the right direction to find those difficult first few users. While some of them are paid options, I hope you see how many alternatives there are to paid acquisition on Day 1.

There are many, many more ways to find your first users, so let your creativity run wild (like making a fake Vodka brand to launch your events site) and just remember to focus on learning and don’t worry about scaling on Day 1.

What are the most clever ways you’ve heard to find your first users?

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The Unscientific Causes and Cure to Burnout

Having recently burned myself out, it feels like it’s the unspoken condition plaguing those working in startups. It’s as debilitating to us as a torn ACL to a pro athlete, but is hard to recognize on the surface and not something you go to the doctor for. My hope is to help you and your team either avoid getting burnt out like I am, or if you are burnt out, help you understand the causes and how to bounce back.

Burnout != Tired

For starters, it’s important to understand this distinction. I’ve been plenty tired before. The kind of tired where you sleep all weekend or you skip an early morning class or meeting because sleep seems more important. In college, I would go with only 20 hours of sleep in a week during midterms or finals where I would be known to duck out of a classroom to do pushups to stay awake (yes, in retrospect, stupid). I continued similar behavior after college when working on my own startups or on the job, but after a good night or two’s sleep I was always ready for more.

Unlike those times, over the past couple of months I fell off the cliff into burnout. I managed to both physically and mentally exhaust myself in a way I never experienced before. So what was the difference? 

What causes burnout?

Simply put, it’s all about Passion.

When you do things you love and are passionate about, they actually renew you instead of taking energy. The problem emerges when that passion you feed on declines and work starts actually feeling like work. This quickly starts a death spiral as you need more and more energy to perform at the same level you’re accustomed. When you use up all of your reserves, you will find yourself burnt out.

As I was on the way down to burnout, this quote from Steve Jobs’s commencement speech really started to hit home:

“If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

It’s important to understand why you would wake up and feel that way. The things most likely to make you feel that way include: (See more on this MayoClinc article on burnout)

  • Your work not feeling important
  • Lack of recognition for your efforts
  • Not seeing the results of your efforts
  • Not working on things you’re excited about
  • Lack of real progress being made on your projects
  • Repeatedly clashing with a coworker, manager or leader
  • A shift in your company’s culture that is unappealing to you
  • Misalignment between your values and the ones exhibited by your employer
  • Feeling like you have no control over your work (i.e.- lack of independence/decision making ability)

If you’re an employer/founder, take a good look at that list. Anyone who you think would answer Yes to more than one of those items is at risk for burnout or leaving your company.

How do you overcome burnout?

After admitting that I was really burnt out, I started talking to a lot of people about it and found that a surprising number of people had experienced it. Thanks to their advice, I learned a lot about how to recover (an ongoing process for me now):

  • Travel: Getting out of your current environment and just enjoying a place you visit can do a lot to recharge you. One friend told me the founder he worked for spent a month on a secluded island in the Caribbean after a stressful acquisition process and “never felt more revitalized” when he returned. The location doesn’t matter as much as the removal of stress and normal day-to-day duties and triggers.
  • Turn off technology: All our apps, social media accounts and email draw energy from us one small bite at a time. Every person I talked to mentioned the importance of turning off push notifications and rationing exposure to these attention-demanding items to really rest the mind.
  • Write down things that really matter to you: It’s easy to never make time to think about big ideas that matter to you. When I spent a week in Santa Monica, I spent a day each on questions like, “What are my personal values?”, “What’s most important to me personally?” and “What do I want professionally?” These can often reveal mismatches in your life that may have led to your burnout and reveal what you should do next.
  • Be ok doing *nothing*: As a confessed workaholic, this was really hard. I love feeling productive and that I accomplished a lot every day. To recover though, you need to let your brain rest, which means doing things like going for a walk or sitting in nature with no purpose in mind. (Joel of Buffer’s nightly walk is a great example of a way to maintain your energy levels)
  • Be honest with yourself and others: For about a month at my job I was in denial of what was happening. I actually pushed myself harder at first and then thought if I eased up a little it would be ok. Both only made it worse. Having now had a few weeks to truly recover and been honest with people has helped tremendously; people are much more understanding of slow responses and postponed meetings when they know why (and can sometimes even help).
  • Confront the problem(s): Often, the trigger for all those feelings that send you on your way to burnout are related to a person or a part of your environment. You absolutely have to bring change to things that are causing the stress or no amount of travel and rest will matter. One of my friends who helped with this post was able to save a strained relationship by finally having a tough conversation on how he and one of his cofounders communicated.
  • Don’t be afraid to move on: If you are unable to confront and resolve the causes of your stressful environment that caused the burnout in the first place, it is best to move on. Lingering will only burn you out further, lengthening the necessary recovery time. It can be scary to consider doing anything but what you’re currently doing, but admitting it’s an option and thinking about what you’d do instead may very well be the push you need to make a choice that’s best for everyone.
  • Realize it’s a marathon: Unfortunately, you don’t wake up one morning and you’re no longer burnt out. Instead, you feel a little better or worse every day depending on how well you’ve taken care of yourself. Use the recovery process as a way to build healthier ongoing habits and watch for the triggers that got you there in the first place so you never return. Most people told me recovery is measured in months not days or weeks.

Why do people let themselves get burnt out?

If you’ve never burnt yourself out, consider yourself lucky. You may wonder why people didn’t do something about this before fully burning out. There are a lot of reasons, but the ones I heard most commonly were:

  • Pride: “I’ll be fine. I always come through.”
  • Money: “The money’s so good, how can I quit this job even if I don’t *love* it?”
  • Loyalty: “I can’t quit. I’d let down [investors, cofounder, manager, teammates].”
  • Denial: “This is nothing. It will pass and I’ll be fine. I just need a good night’s sleep.”
  • Fear: “What would I do if I left?”

This is where you, the manager, founder or friend comes in; sometimes people need help realizing (or admitting) what’s going on. Recognize this and help them resolve it whether they need a vacation, a different role in the company or it’s time for them to move on.

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Why did I write this?

There’s been a lot written on burnout, but I felt like no one really boiled it down to its common, core elements. Hopefully some aspect of this is helpful for you, a friend, a coworker or your team whether you’re avoiding burnout or dealing with it already.

There’s a lot more to be said about burnout, so I hope you can share your experiences and great links to more on the subject in the comments.

Further Reading:

In my process of researching burnout, I came across some helpful links that are worth reading if you have additional interest in the subject (I’ll add any others you share in the comments):

SF Startup Survival Guide: How to help your employee move to San Francisco

Congratulations! You’ve found a new person to join your startup in the Valley. You found them outside the area, so now you’re moving them so they can join your team in your office.

They’ve signed their offer letter and booked their flight, so all you need to do is get their desk ready and a set of keys to the office, right? Wrong. If you really want to help your employee succeed and build a strong relationship with them, you need to understand there are many needs you should try to help them with beyond the office.

The key to understanding what your new employee faces is to follow Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Most people join a startup for Levels 4 and 5, because they bring opportunities for more rewarding and interesting work than you’ll find at a big company. It is likely many of the keys that convinced them to join your company play to those desires.

The problem is, when you move, Maslow’s Hierarchy is flipped on it’s head; your basic life needs of safety, shelter and belonging are all wiped out as you leave those things behind in the last place you lived.  Maslow made his list a hierarchy for a reason; you don’t care about Self-Actualization and Esteem nearly as much when you don’t know where you’re sleeping at night or have no friends.

Having moved to SF just 4 months ago, I’ve had to rebuild those first three levels (to varying degrees of success). I’d like to share my advice for a founder importing talent so their employees can have an easier transition.

Level 1: Physiological

When you move to a new city everything is uncertain. Where will you live? How will you get to work? Where do you buy groceries and other household items? Your most basic needs are up in the air, which will mess with even the strongest individual’s psyche.

If you’re moving as a young adult, chances are you’re going to be moving out here and then starting your search for an apartment. Especially in San Francisco, nothing could be more stressful. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a friend’s place to stay, most people feel uncomfortable putting their friends out and even the best friends are going to be grimacing if a stay with them drags on very long.

What should you do for your employee?

In my last post in the SF Startup Survival Guide, I captured all the advice I learned in finding an apartment in San Francisco. There’s a lot that would blindside even a veteran of living in big cities, so the first thing would be to pass them posts like that and adding any advice from your coworkers. The latter has the bonus of being a great opportunity for a new employee to bond with a coworker.

Also realize that you should have your employee focus on finding their place to live. They will not be able to focus on their jobs while they don’t even know where their bed is going to be. If they’re like I was, I moved because the job was an opportunity to punch above my weight class which made me eager to prove myself. That came in direct conflict to taking time off to look at apartments, but Hiten (CEO of the company I work at, KISSmetrics) wisely encouraged me to, “do whatever you need to.”  It was 10:45am on a Monday that I found my apartment, the second one I had looked at that morning. If you only search on weekends, it will take forever to find anything given how competitive the market is and drag the stress (and productivity loss) on much longer than it needs to.

Level 2: Safety

Once you have the bare essentials of a roof over your head, your concerns shift to figuring out how to start building your life here in town: settling in, building routines and getting the items you may have discarded before moving.

San Francisco is a decently safe city…except where it isn’t.  A newcomer could be fooled by the high end stores on the borders of the Tenderloin and City Hall and Opera in Civic Center. These are not places to be in at night without your wits about you.  It’s also an expensive city that can quickly shrink your bank account.

What should you do for your employee?

Make sure they have what they need and know where to go for things. Don’t assume anything. Showing you care beyond their ability to ship code or execute on marketing plans not only shows you’re not a selfish leader, but it will score major points with them.  Those points matter a lot in the competitive employment environment here; it won’t be long before they’ll be meeting other startupers that would be happy to hire away your talent.

On the financial front, realize it is quite expensive to move. Based on my own experience and talking to others, it appears it costs an average of $5,000 to move an individual and upwards of $10,000 to move a family. This will put a serious dent in anyone’s bank account so if you can offer a relocation package, expect it to need to hit those numbers to cover someone’s costs. If you can’t offer one (I didn’t get one at KISSmetrics), realize the importance of that first paycheck and make sure that they’ll receive it on time and as expected.

Level 3: Love/Belonging

When you move to a new city, you’re leaving behind many of your friends and often much of your family, too. We’re all social creatures and by making a big move, you’re essentially cutting off much of your natural support system. As I’ve talked to others who are also transplants to this city, this seems to be the dirty secret no one wants to talk about; nobody wants to admit they have no life outside work (and not by choice).

I completely underestimated the impact my move from Boston to San Francisco would have on me personally. In Boston, I had spent the last 8 years building more valued friendships than I could count. I played on the same soccer team for 4 years, played Ultimate Frisbee with much of the same group for 6 years, built countless friends in the tech scene and still had great friendships with many classmates at Northeastern. I also had a best friend and roommate (hat tip to David Sonnenshein) who always had my back, was always down for a fun stuff to do and knew when I needed to be told, “Stop working and grab a beer!”

Within my first two weeks of moving out here to SF, my father had a heart attack scare (thankfully a false alarm) and my grandmother (last living grandparent) was diagnosed with terminal cancer (she passed May 15, 2012). Piling on top of all the other things I was dealing with settling into SF and having no one close to talk to, it almost broke me. It didn’t help SF is 3 hours behind the West Coast so I couldn’t talk to friends and family before work (I was asleep) or after (they were asleep).

Luckily, Hiten noticed there was something up and took a more active role and interest in my well being. We got dinner a number of evenings, which helped me have someone to talk to and led to us talking through my challenges. We then worked on some ideas on how I could handle things better, which included visiting my grandmother, taking some time off and being more strategic about how I settle in.

What should you do for your employee?

Your employee has a roof over their head and has started to settle in to the basics of life. Your work here is done, right? Wrong. A depressed or lonely employee will not be nearly as productive and engaged as one who is happy inside and out of the office.  But what can you do? You can’t be their BFF, but you can help.

As Hiten did with me, you should give extra attention to see how your new employee is doing in their first couple of months. Make it okay for them to talk about what they’re struggling with. The Friday off Hiten gave me after I told him about my dying grandmother was exceptionally helpful and built a lot of trust.

Beyond dealing with personal crises, the best thing you can do to help a new employee is have them make a list of all the things they loved most where they lived before. I did this and it helped tremendously. I realized that I really missed playing on sports teams, playing poker with my startup friends, seeing movies in theaters and “Scotch day” with my roommate.

Armed with a list of things I missed, I could start picking off what I missed doing. Your other employees can likely help out with this (I relied mainly on Google) and recommend the sports leagues they know about (I play in Bay Area Disc for Ultimate and Sports4Good for Socccer), sites with things to do (Zach Cole helped me find Sosh) and anyone they know that might share similar interests. SF has much to offer regardless of your interests, which definitely helps.

If you’re at an early stage startup, everyone is likely working long hours. That makes it all the harder to make friends as you don’t have a lot of free time to work on building those relationships. Recognizing this, building a culture of “work hard, play hard” can help, by ensuring all your employees have time to have fun and potentially become friends outside work, which has obvious ancillary benefits.

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Hiring someone new to your team is more than adding an asset like a printer or computer; remember they’re a living, breathing human with hopes, dreams and needs. In this competitive environment, showing the extra effort to care about your employees beyond the work they produce can have a huge impact on your culture and retention.

And if you’re new to the city, know you’re not alone. Life has gotten a lot better than my first few weeks here, but I still have a long way to go to replace all the things I miss most about my life in Boston. If you want to grab coffee or a beer, know any casual poker games or have an affection for good scotch or movies, let me know.

SF Startup Survival Guide: How to Find an Apartment in San Francisco

Congratulations! You’ve taken the plunge and decided to move to San Francisco for your own startup or to join one of the hundreds (thousands?) here. Making the decision to move may have been difficult, but nothing compared to all the hassles and headaches of moving to this city.

Having just gone through this and spent a significant amount of time asking friends for advice on making the move, I’d like to share the best advice I received and what I learned myself.  For reference, most people take months to find a place to live and move in. With the tips below, I found an apartment and moved in within 2 weeks of landing in SF.

How to Find an Apartment in San Francisco

1) Move Yesterday.

When I started looking at rental prices, I was shocked. Prices for real estate in San Francisco are insane. Seriously. Studios in non-prime locations go for anywhere from $1,400-$2,000 per month, while two bedrooms are all in the $2,500-$3,200 range and rising.

I moved into a 2 bedroom in a 20 unit building in Pacific Heights and met a neighbor who moved in just 2 weeks after me and he is paying over $100 a month more than I am. This will only get worse after the Facebook IPO and as major growth companies like Twitter stay in San Francisco as they scale while others add shuttles to take you to and from the city for work. So if you’re going to come, come now or pay later (literally).

  • Pro Tip: A coworker of mine at KISSmetrics spoke with a realtor that says we’re on the same track for real estate prices as the last dot com bubble. When that happened, studios started going for over $3,000 per month. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.

2) Find a roommate.

Realizing the crazy apartment prices made finding a roommate a necessity, I immediately emailed everyone I knew that lived in the Bay area asking if they knew anyone with a spare room or was looking for a roommate. I also blogged, tweeted and posted on Facebook.

While I only got a few responses, they proved invaluable; I got a ton of advice about the city as well as some good leads. Not only did their intros lead to my current roommate, but I was able to find a replacement for myself back in Boston.

It can be extremely competitive in the open market, so use your network. Look up any of your long lost Facebook acquaintances, sorority sisters, old coworkers, etc and let them know you’re looking.  You’ll get a low response rate, but if you stick with it awhile you’ll get some leads. You can also try looking on Craigslist although you’ll find that you’ll be interviewing for any spots posted against 50-100 other people.

  • Pro Tip: Don’t just ask friends who live in the Bay Area. Look for people in your town that know others out there. It was a friend of a friend that helped me find my current roommate.

3) Learn the neighborhoods and narrow your search.

Once my friends started offering to help me look for roommates, their first question was, “where do you want to live?” I really didn’t know, but since San Francisco is a 7 mile by 7 mile city I really had to narrow it down for them to be able to help me.

I soon learned there’s a massive difference between living on the eastern side or western side of the city (it’s foggy and less sunny west of Divisadero St). There’s also huge differences from neighborhood to neighborhood as you are unlikely to find someone interested in the Mission, Marina and Sunset for a variety of reasons from lifestyle to commute to cost.

To narrow it down, I first eliminated everything that wouldn’t be easy to commute to work to; I use public transportation, so I limited my locations to places I could get to work in SoMA (aka- South of Market) in under 30 minutes by Muni or BART (the public transportation lines in SF). Next, I asked everyone who had any knowledge of SF to tell me what neighborhoods were like. In particular Zach Cole deserves a big shout out for giving me a breakdown of virtually every neighborhood.

4) Secure a short term living arrangement.

I knew there was no way I could find an apartment without being there to see it and get a feel for the neighborhood so that meant moving to SF without a place to live.  One of my friends I reached out to about moving out west happened to have a spare bedroom in her & her fiancee’s apartment, and they were kind enough to offer me a stay while I searched.

It was pivotal for me because I knew I didn’t have to worry about the safety of my things when I got to SF and I had two welcoming, friendly faces waiting for me when I landed. The latter cannot be overrated as I had just left all my friends in Boston behind.

If you can’t find any friends or coworkers to crash with, your next best bet is AirBNB. There are quite a few tech people that list their couches and spare rooms on there. You can generally find a couch for about $50/night or a bed for $100-$150 a night.  You can also look for short term Craigslist options, but it’s tough to find something that lines up perfect with your start date.

  • Pro tip: Move mid-month so that you can look for places starting the first of the next month; I moved out on March 14th and moved into an apartment then starting April 1st.

5) Pack your things.

Everything I’ve listed thus far were things I did before moving to San Francisco. With these things in order it was time to figure out how to move my clothes, bedroom and other personal belongings.

To save money, time and keep the peace with my roommate who wasn’t thrilled I was moving, I left virtually everything in my Boston apartment except for some cooking items and items from my bedroom.

You really only have 4 options when moving across the country under these circumstances (ranked in order of most to least expensive):

  1. Moving company – Pay a professional moving company to load up your things and take them out west for you.
  2. Relocation cube – There’s Pods, Door2Door and UPack as options. All will drop a container at your old apartment, then move it across the country and hold it in storage until you tell them when and where to deliver it.
  3. Uhaul – Drive across the country with a truck load of your personal belongings. Don’t forget the cost of gas and lodging for the drive!
  4. Throw away everything – I know a few people that took only what fit in suit cases and bought new stuff when they got to SF (Hello Ikea!).

I ended up going with the ABF UPack and couldn’t have been happier with them. They have great customer service, a sturdy, safe container and are about half the price of a Pod. Door2Door is an awkward wooden box that you have to wonder if it will fall apart or leak in the rain.

  • Pro Tip: If you go for option 1) or 2), get quotes from multiple sources then play them against each other.  I talked the UPack sales person down an additional $200 at the last minute with a Yelp discount and the offer to “Close right now and not call anyone else.” 

6) Scout the neighborhoods.

After getting to San Francisco, I met with my potential roommate, Chris in person. Once we realized we could get along, we agreed to scout the neighborhoods we were both interested in. We met up on a Sunday afternoon and drove around all the neighborhoods on our list and talked about what we liked or disliked.

We found that seeing the neighborhoods brought insight our friends alone couldn’t provide. After the driving, we were able to easily cut our list down from 6 neighborhoods to 3 in one specific section of the city.

  • Pro Tip: Every neighborhood in San Francisco has slightly different architecture, so it’s surprisingly easy to note what neighborhood you are in based on architecture and knowing a few key streets in the city.

7) Get your blood sample ready.

When I was getting ready to move, I noticed the list of paperwork to provide your landlord was pretty absurd compared to what I was used to in Boston. It doesn’t actually include a blood sample, but you do need just about everything else:

  1. Reference from a past Landlord
  2. List of past landlords with contact info for the past 2-3 years
  3. Copy of your full credit report (I used freecredit.com)
  4. Pay stub or offer letter to prove you can afford the apartment
  5. Check in hand to pay for first month, last month and security deposit

Yes, this is a lot, but if you have it in hand, you’ll impress the landlord and avoid getting passed over; there’s apparently a law in San Francisco that says a landlord has to take the first qualified applicant for their place. By having all this paperwork, you’ll be qualified.

  • Pro Tip: My roommate and I put our paperwork in a Dropbox folder we shared. This made it handy if we ever needed to print emergency copies and it allowed both of us to look at the other person’s report and see that both of us pay bills on time and have good jobs.

8) Search like a Pro.

On Sunday Chris and I drove around SF to pick what neighborhoods to focus on in our apartment search. That night, we started looking.  Craigslist is weak compared to the real tools you can use: Padmapper and Lovely. I love Padmapper more because of some of their added search map features, but they’re both great.

These two services let you pick your neighborhoods and most importantly, get alerts when any property is posted to quite a few different rental sites including Craigslist.  This gives you a fighting chance of being one of the first people to see a place (basically the only way to get an apartment). You can also check out walking scores, crime rates and some other cool factors that can help you in your decision making process.

  • Pro Tip: Take your email to the landlords about available apartments seriously. This is a sales pitch you want to nail. Optimize for making you and your roommate sound like attractive tenants without lying.

9) He who hesitates, is lost.

Chris and I had alerts set for Nob Hill, Russian Hill and Pacific Heights. We saw a couple of options that night and emailed to set up showings.  We set the first up for a 10:00am showing Monday morning.

As I was waiting for Chris to meet me that morning, I was accosted 3 different times by crackheads. Not a good start. Once we got in the apartment, we were further unimpressed. Amateur hour on the renovations showed poorly laid carpet and a cabinet where they messed up their dimensions and had cut a giant hole in the back of a cabinet. The landlord also didn’t speak very good English. This was not going to be the place.

As fate would have it, I found a padmapper alert in my inbox while Chris and I were talking about the poor apartment we had just looked at.  The new listing, in a nicer area, had a phone number to call for a showing. We called saying we were 15 minutes away and would love to see it right away. The landlord agreed to meet us and 40 minutes later we were signing the paperwork on our new apartment (while her phone was ringing off the hook with more people interested).

  • Pro Tip: NEVER go to an open house for an apartment. You will be competing against as many as 100 other people.  Some sketcky landlords will even try to get everyone to pay an “application fee” so they can squeeze money out of all the people coming in addition to the rental fee that will invariably be bid up with all the frenzied lookers.

10) Tough Market != Impossible Market.

The important thing to keep in mind is that everyone I know eventually found a place. Many of my friends that have moved here learned hard lessons about avoiding open houses and the need to have all that paper work ready in advance, but now that you have this post, you can avoid those pitfalls. In the end most of my friends are now in places they really like. With a city this size there’s something for everyone and always places coming on the market.

Realize that apartment searching here is a “full contact sport” as one of my friends described it and commit to putting in the effort to find your ideal place. If your employer gets annoyed about missed time looking at apartments, just remind that how much more productive you’ll be when you stop worrying about this and sleep in your own bed at night.

  • Final Pro Tip: Choose a place you could see yourself living in for a few years; with the current tech boom, prices are only going up for the forseeable future. If you’re like me, you can barely afford the rent now, so you won’t be able to afford to move when your lease is up in a year.

What advice do you have for people moving to San Francisco?

The Secret to Getting Any Job You Want: Focus

Whether on the subway, at home with family for the holidays or talking with friends, I often hear the same thing:

     “It’s so hard to find a job right now…”

     “I applied to 100 jobs on Monster.com and heard nothing!”

     “I applied to every job I could find and I couldn’t even get a phone interview!”

In the last 4 years, during a recession that crushed our generation in the employment market (over 17% unemployment for Gen Y) I have landed three different, awesome jobs. What makes it particularly interesting are the following facts:

  1. Each job I applied for was a reach based on my existing skills.
  2. Each job was the only job I applied for at the time.
  3. Each company ended up giving me a different job than I initially applied for, but that was an even better fit than what I started out going after.
No matter how hard you focus on getting a job, there are still only 24 hours a day. I have the same constraints as you. The problem is, when you apply for 100 jobs, you’re spreading your energy across 100 companies, while when I apply for one job, I’m focusing all of my energy on one company. That concentrated energy gets you noticed and gets you the job. How is this possible? In simplest terms, it’s all about focus.

Let’s look closer. I’m sharing all my secrets for getting the perfect job:

Step 1: Choosing the right company.

There are thousands of companies out there and especially as our economy finally recovers, many of them are hiring. For those of you who applied to 100 jobs, you know this is true.  What really matters though is picking one company that you really want to work for.

It’s up to you to decide what matters most to you. Is it location? Company size? The market they work in? You want to choose the two or three most important things and use that to filter the companies you see that are hiring. Then you should dig into the company closer and see who gets you excited. Every company has an “About” page full of information about who they are. Keep searching until one of them stands out for you. If you’re going to put a ton of effort into pursuing one job, then you should make sure it’s a job you really want.

Step 2: Plan your attack.

Applying for a job is a lot more than writing a cover letter and submitting a resume. If you are going all in on one job, you need to do some serious prep.

Start by tearing apart their website. Then Google them. Learn everything you can about them. Pretend you have to give a major presentation for a class about them. Next, research the people you may be working with; if you’re a designer, look up other designers at the company, if you’re in HR or marketing, look at those departments specifically.

Step 3: Fire the first shot.

As you do your research on the company, see if you know anyone who works there or if you have a close friend/mentor/family member who knows someone there. If they do, ask for their help in getting an introduction into the company. Ideally, you want it to be someone in the department you’re applying to (if the company is big enough to have departments), but work with whatever you have.

Completing this step means getting an intro to someone in the right department. The real trick to succeeding in an interview is getting past the mess of general applications.  An intro directly to the person hiring is how the pros get it done; they end up at the top of the proverbial resume stack…unlike the “spray and pray” kids from Monster.com that never get past the inbox.

Step 4: Follow up with value.

Now that you’ve submitted a great resume and cover letter tailored to the company and target job along with that intro to someone in your target department, it’s time to take your game to another level.  You’re now going to create content to add value to your (hopefully) future employer.

The goal with the content you create is to show competence in the job you hope to do for them and also show an understanding of their company and their present challenges. If you’re a designer, perhaps it’s feedback on the design of some of their site or a proposed new design for something they have. If you’re a developer, you could make a small app with their API and include feedback on how they could make the API better.

If you’re on the business side, try submitting feedback on their product from a user perspective or even gather some insights from their market that would be valuable to your target supervisor.

Another great trick I’ve used is to literally tell them what I’d do if I had the job.  I once submitted a 7 page document full of ideas of how a startup could engage its community and build buzz. It made for great conversation fodder in the interview and made me stand out against candidates who had more impressive work experience than I did. Startups love do-ers and this showed I was someone who got things done and had my own initiative.

Step 5: Double down and be persistent.

The great thing about submitting all this content to your target employer is that when you’re following up to find out where you are in the interview process, you’re not just bugging them, you’re sending them something of value. Each time you follow up in the process, try to have something of value to give them along with the ping. It will keep you on their radar and impress them with your persistence.

Do you have time to follow up with potential employers when you submit 100 resumes? Obviously not, which is why your new tactic of following up and adding value will stand out so much.

Step 6: Crush the interview and close.

With all the goodwill you’ve built up by getting a good introduction to someone on the team you want to join and submitting valuable content to them, you’re extremely likely to get brought in for a full interview.  When you do, your goal is to show you’re as good in person as you are in all the electronic interactions you’ve now had.

When you come to the interview, come ready for everything. Find out everyone you’re interviewing with and research all of them like you already did the company you want to work for. Have something interesting to talk to each person about that shows you did your homework on them. Refresh yourself on all the research you’ve already done and be prepared to talk about and build upon the ideas you submitted in the content you’ve produced.

The great thing about all this effort is that on top of impressing everyone at the company, you should have a very clear idea of what the company is like and be ready to contribute in a big way from day one.

Step 7: What if I don’t get the job?!?

So there is is always the chance that despite all your efforts, you won’t get the job, it’s rare, but it does happen. What’s great is that very often when someone puts in this kind of effort a person hiring will do one of two things:

1) Try to find another job for you so the company can still hire you.

2) Refer you to someone in their network that could hire you.

I have personally experienced scenario 1) twice in my career and have friends who have ended up very happy in roles that came from referrals in scenario 2).

If all else fails, brush your shoulders off and move on to the next job. This much hustle is guaranteed to pay off sooner rather than later.

How would you recommend standing out in the job applicant crowd? Have you found a job and have advice to offer? Tell us in the comments!

Fall Accelerator in Boston?

I’ve been helping a friend with his startup recently who shows a lot of promise: early (paying) customers, solid key elements of a product and a logical business model he’s validating.  He’s in a perfect position to join an accelerator and take his company to the next level. The combination of great mentors, a structured program to plan and move the business forward and modest financing represent the things he needs most right now.

Unfortunately, every accelerator program is done this year or currently going on. In fact, unless he had applied by May, he’d have been out of luck for all of 2011.

We have a number of great programs already in place, but they’re all in the spring and summer:

Spring: TechStars

Summer: MassChallenge, Summer at Highland, BetaSpring (Providence)

…but nothing for the Fall or Winter.

This leads me to a few questions:

What would you tell someone in his situation?

Can Boston add another accelerator?

Would TechStars go twice a year like it has in NYC?

Greenhorn Needs a Phone!!! Help!

So I’ve been talking about it for a while and the time has come. Greenhorn needs to enter the 21st century and get a smart phone.

My beautiful, indestructible, it-only-texts-and-calls-but-does-so-better-than-your-iphone LG VX8300 are soon going to end our 2.5 year relationship.  Here’s a loving photo:

My loving phone of 2.5 years

But now the question is…what to get next?

I’ve done a little preliminary research and narrowed it down to 3 possibilities:

AT&T's iPhone

Verizon's Incredible

The Next Great Cell Phone

So I’d love to hear from any of you on what you recommend.

A few final thoughts:

1) I hate AT&T.

I know all about the dropped calls and it really is as close to a dealbreaker as it can get for me. You really gotta sell me on why an iphone is worth it even if I can’t call.

2) I’ve heard that the EVO and Nexus One are both inferior to the Incredible

So that’s why the Incredible is up there. I’ve read from reviews at EnGadget and others that the Incredible fixes a lot of the UI stuff and has a better battery than those other two Droid phones.

3) I haven’t heard anything good about Blackberry.

Blackberry isn’t on the list because I haven’t heard anyone say they “love” their blackberry. I have heard “I can’t wait to get rid of it.”

4) I’m willing to wait.

If there’s something mind blowing coming out this summer, then I’m willing to stick with my old friend the VX8300 another month or two.


Your thoughts on the phone are greatly appreciated! Please leave a comment if you have any thoughts or experiences to share.

The Young Entrepreneur’s Guide, Part V: Making it Official

Many people have written tips, guides and questions for aspiring entrepreneurs.  Many of them are excellent, but I don’t think anyone has captured the essence of the stages a young entrepreneur goes through and specific advice for what they should do at each stage.  As part of our efforts at GreenhornConnect.com, we want to create a central location that provides the information that an aspiring entrepreneur needs to go from starting out (Is this for me? What should I do?) to evaluating an idea (What goes into a business plan? How do I build a team?)  to being a real business (Do I need investment? What tools should I use?).

In the coming weeks, I’ll be writing different sections of this guide in my blog, pulling from my experiences, what I’ve read and advice I’ve heard from others. If you read this and think something is missing or disagree with any of the advice, please comment; I want this to be the best guide possible and will gladly give you credit for your contribution. Thanks.

Thus far: See Part I: Starting from Scratch, Part II: Getting Out There, Part III: Building a Reputation, Network and a Following & Part IV: Working on Your Idea

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Part V: Making it official

You’ve vetted the idea and have a small team, here’s what you do to get serious and launch your business.

1) Get a Name and Social Media set up:

It’s important to have a name for your business. It needs to be simple, memorable and relevant to your area of work.  If it’s hard to spell, people won’t remember it. If they don’t see the connection to your business, it can also be forgettable. There are more tips for naming your business here.   Make sure the URL for your name is available as a “dot com.” If it’s not, either negotiate to buy it (if it’s not in use) or  for another name.

Once you have chosen your name, you need to secure it in social media.  Go grab the name on Twitter, create a fan page on Facebook (you don’t have to publish it yet), and secure other social media usernames you think you might use (Youtube, Flickr, etc).  If you’re finding that many of them aren’t available, you may want to consider looking for a different name.  Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan’s book, Inbound Marketing has a great checklist for startups for this area.  Start using them to build a buzz for your company before you launch. Get involved in the conversation and gather a following.

2) Choose Your Service Providers

When you get started, the first service provider you’re going to need is a lawyer. Ben Hron of VCReady Law wrote a great post about when it’s time to formalize your business.  You definitely do not want to wait too long to do this. Incorporating or forming an LLC not only protects you from personal liability, but it forces you to put in writing your agreements with any partner you have.  You can do online forms to get this done yourself , but as the saying goes, “you wouldn’t do your own surgery, so why would you do your own legal work?”  Facebook started as a Florida LLC and had to have that undone when they moved to Silicon Valley. Do it right the first time and you’ll save yourself a lot of time and money later.

Once you’ve created your business as a legal entity, you’ll need to get a bank account opened and start keeping good financial records for your business.  You can do these yourself, or there are always good bookkeepers and accountants out there to help as your business grows in complexity.

When you’re selecting your service providers, remember that they’re an extension of your business team; choose people you feel comfortable with and who share your vision.  You should feel like they’re on your side and can help your business grow and develop.  If you feel like your service provider doesn’t understand you or that you have to be on the defensive against them, you should keep looking. It’s worth a week or two delay to find the right one.

3) Get an Alpha Out There (aka – Find Customers)

The best way to prove your idea is to get out there and find customers. This can be a splash page for your website simply asking people to give you their email address if they’re interested in your product (have a few fake screenshots or other information explaining what you are).  There’s a lot of great content out there about releasing your Minimum Viable Product (MVP) by Eric Ries and in Steve Blank’s Four Steps to the Epiphany. It’s a lot better to develop your product with your customers giving feedback than trying to prognosticate amongst your team in a bubble.  You’ll also build buzz for your product this way.

In the end, any business is about finding people to pay for what you are providing. The incubator program, Y Combinator, emphasizes this best with their shirts they give to new entrants to their program: “Build Something People Want.” Once you find your first customers, you can adapt your product, remove the warts and account for their feedback.  Be careful! Though you want to listen to your customers, you do not want to use them to create an infinite feature list. “Feature creep” can easily derail a product. Focus on being very good at a few things and deliver that to customers that are looking for those solutions.  This is not easy…we struggle with this at Greenhorn Connect all of the time.

Coming Soon: Part VI: Other Tips for Along the Way

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This is ongoing series to try to build a comprehensive, lasting guide for aspiring entrepreneurs. I would greatly appreciate any input in the comments below to make this the best it can be.  Thanks!

The Young Entrepreneur’s Guide, Part IV: Working on Your Idea

Many people have written tips, guides and questions for aspiring entrepreneurs.  Many of them are excellent, but I don’t think anyone has captured the essence of the stages a young entrepreneur goes through and specific advice for what they should do at each stage.  As part of our efforts at GreenhornConnect.com, we want to create a central location that provides the information that an aspiring entrepreneur needs to go from starting out (Is this for me? What should I do?) to evaluating an idea (What goes into a business plan? How do I build a team?)  to being a real business (Do I need investment? What tools should I use?).

In the coming weeks, I’ll be writing different sections of this guide in my blog, pulling from my experiences, what I’ve read and advice I’ve heard from others. If you read this and think something is missing or disagree with any of the advice, please comment; I want this to be the best guide possible and will gladly give you credit for your contribution. Thanks.

Thus far: See Part I: Starting from Scratch, Part II: Getting Out There & Part III: Building a Reputation, Network and a Following

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PART IV: Working on Your Idea

You’re takin part in the conversation and have built a network. You finally have that great idea you want to pursue. Now what?

1) Vet Your Idea

Just like you did your homework before going out to networking events, you need to again dig in and do some work.  With all of the technology at our fingertips, it has never been easier to research a business.  To get started, you need to consider trying the following:

A) Search using Google and Twitter for key terms related to the problem you’re solving.  This will give you an idea of how many people have the problem you’re solving as well as show you who your competition may be.
B) Search the companies you found that are competition. Are their customers satisfied? Is your idea superior in some way? Industry forums and message boards are great, free focus groups.
C) Consider how your idea creates value both for the user and your business. You need to be able to make more money than it costs to produce.
D) Talk to your target customers! Understand their problems…confirm or disprove your assumptions.
E) Search out additional resources for suggestions for vetting your idea.

The key is to have answered the basic questions of your business: What is the problem you are solving? How are you solving it? Do you have a basic business model that could be profitable? How are you different than the competition?  These are the first questions any fellow entrepreneur you meet will ask you.

2) Build a Team

Everyone remembers having those terrible project groups in school. At times you probably said, “I could do this all myself and it would be done better and faster.”  Well, in the real world, you’d often be wrong.

There is great debate over whether solo entrepreneurs are as likely to succeed as teams, and really the answer is that this is a gray area.  The type of business idea you have will greatly affect the number of people needed to execute your plan.  If it’s a smaller business, it is very likely that you can use consultants and contract work to cover the skills you lack.  It has never been easier to do this thanks to sites like 99designsMFG and Outright.

The best reason for having a team is diversity. You need a variety of skills to run a business as well as the ability to handle many different situations.  It is unlikely that you are great at engineering, sales, finance and management.  By building a team, you bring multiple perspectives to your business and can focus on what you’re best at.  In my experience, just having someone to bounce ideas off of and talk through problems is priceless.

All this being said, if you choose to build a team you have to be very careful in who you choose to be on your team. Choosing a co-founder is like a marriage, only you’ll spend more time with your co-founder than your significant other.  You want this person to be a good business compliment as well as someone you get along with, so they may not be your roommate or best friend.

3) Organize Your Thoughts

There is an ongoing debate over the necessity for writing a business plan, but there is agreement on one concept: you need to think about all the parts that would go into a plan.  When you’re getting started, you don’t need to have all the answers to the questions posed in a business plan, but you do need to start thinking about them.  When you go out and start talking to people about your idea, those are the questions you will most likely be asked.  There are a number of great resources out there to help you with this.

4) Get Out There

The best thing you can do to help your business develop is to get out there. Watch how people react to your pitch and try to refine it. Take note of what questions they have and any issues they raise (try to find some answers).  If you have an issue, don’t be afraid to ask others for assistance; often, even if they can’t help you, they’ll refer you to someone who can. Through this process you may even find a key member of your team.

You’ve got an idea, you’re refining it and building your team…

Coming Soon: Part V: Making it Official

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This is ongoing series to try to build a comprehensive, lasting guide for aspiring entrepreneurs. I would greatly appreciate any input in the comments below to make this the best it can be.  Thanks!

The Young Entrepreneur’s Guide, Part I: Starting from Scratch

Many people have written tips, guides and questions for aspiring entrepreneurs.  Many of them are excellent, but I don’t think anyone has captured the essence of the stages a young entrepreneur goes through and specific advice for what they should do at each stage.  As part of our efforts at GreenhornConnect.com, we want to create a central location that provides the information that an aspiring entrepreneur needs to go from starting out (Is this for me? What should I do?) to evaluating an idea (What goes into a business plan? How do I build a team?)  to being a real business (Do I need investment? What tools should I use?).

In the coming weeks, I’ll be writing different sections of this guide in my blog, pulling from my experiences, what I’ve read and advice I’ve heard from others. If you read this and think something is missing or disagree with any of the advice, please comment; I want this to be the best guide possible and will gladly give you credit for your contribution. Thanks.

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PART I: Starting from Scratch
You recently had the epiphany you want to be an entrepreneur, but really haven’t gotten started yet.  Here’s what to do…

1) Is this for You?

When you first decide you are really interested in entrepreneurship, the key is to get informed.  It’s easy to say you love startups, but it’s another thing to truly understand what you’re saying.  The best way to determine if it is for you is to start reading.  Read inspirational articles written by entrepreneurs like Ken Morse, Paul Graham and Mark Cuban.  Still interested? Talk to family and friends and try to find people who are entrepreneurs that you can talk to about what it’s like.  After hearing about all the challenges, long hours and risk of failure, if you still want to be an entrepreneur, read on…

2) Try EVERYTHING…Be Curious

A key trait of being an entrepreneur is a desire to learn. When you’re getting started, you should try to take in everything you can to learn about different types of startups and roles you can fill in a startup.  Fill your Google Reader with industries you’re interested in and blogs in areas you want to learn more about.  You don’t have to read every article, just the ones that interest you; simply reading the headlines of the other articles can help you to grasp where different industries are technologically.  There are also great websites, magazines, books, and presentations you can check out.  Ask other entrepreneurs what they read.  Add what you like to your list and leave the rest.

3) Overwhelmed? Don’t know where to start?

If you really need a few starting points, here’s a few sites, blogs and items I personally like best (note: This is somewhat Boston biased, because that’s where I live. Find things in your area to get a view of your local entrepreneurship scene):

Websites:  TechCrunch, Venture Beat, Silicon Alley, Gizmodo, Xconomy
Blogs: OnStartups, Innovation Economy, Startup Lessons Learned
Magazines: Inc Magazine, Popular Science, Technology Review

The takeaway from this is not to copy me; instead, notice the diversity. There are newspapers, tech focused media, business sources and established entrepreneur blogs.  The idea is to get as many perspectives as you can. Try to build a similar list based on your passions and location.

4) Study those you Admire

As you immerse yourself in all of this entrepreneurial content, you’ll start to find certain personalities and businesses keep coming up.  Find the ones that resonate most with you and follow them more closely. If the founder of the company has a blog, read it. If they have a book, buy it. If they’re going to be speaking and you have a chance to see them live or on video, watch it. And if you are fortunate enough to have the chance to sit down with them, make the most of it.  Focus on how they got where they are. Learn from their mistakes and try to understand what made them successful and emulate that.

Still in love with entrepreneurship after starting the learning process?

Now Available: Part II: Getting Out There
See Also: Part III: Building a Reputation, Network and Following & Part IV: Working on Your Idea


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This is ongoing series to try to build a comprehensive, lasting guide for aspiring entrepreneurs. I would greatly appreciate any input in the comments below to make this the best it can be.  Thanks!