April 23, 2017

Building a startup? Build an audience, first.

A few days ago I received an email from someone asking for advice on how to find a technical co-founder for his startup idea. My feedback:

Build an audience yourself first.

You can do this by blogging, podcasting, starting a newsletter, hosting meetups, etc.

Casey Neistat, the co-founder of beme (acquired by CNN last year) and renowned YouTube star, is a great example of this. He started his vlog to build an audience for his company, as he describes at 3:38 of this video:

I originally started the vlog two years ago so I could share with an audience, my company beme. What it meant to start a company, to maybe build an audience that might be excited about what I was doing[…] And that worked and it was awesome.

An audience-first strategy helps with:

  1. Recruiting 💍
    When you’re pre-product + pre-traction, it’s difficult to convince anyone (technical or not) to join.
  2. User Acquisition 👋🏼
    Acquisition is difficult pre AND post-product. Sooner you can de-risk this the better.
  3. Research 🕵🏼
    Audience-building leads to customer development and a better understanding of who you’re building for.

This is the approach I took (unintentionally) building Product Hunt.

A few years before Product Hunt started, I wrote a lot. I blogged about product design, marketing, and startups in general, inspired by observations and conversations while working in tech. I wrote 150 essays in 2013, guest authoring on Fast Company, Pando, The Next Web, and other tech publications. I also hosted small brunches with founders and started an email newsletter with Nathan Bashaw called Startup Edition.

These projects helped build relationships and an audience that became the seed of the Product Hunt community, and while relatively small, it established a platform. Without this, Product Hunt would have been DOA.

Sometimes you just need 1,000 true fans to get started.

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