Did I just suck at marketing or did I pick the wrong problem?

My startup is a consumer web app – the kind that’s free and needs to get millions of users to be a success. I built it to address a personal pain point, opened it to users and they love it. But, here’s the thing: it’s not growing. The biggest reason though perhaps is I focused on building on the best product out there and didn’t think much about marketing. And, the common adage, “build it and they’ll come” couldn’t be more wrong. But, same time, lots of other startups have tried addressing the same problem and every single one of them has failed. Previously, I thought that was because their solutions suck but, now I wonder if I was wrong, if there just aren’t enough people interested in this? How do I know for sure? What numbers/data should I look for? Any ideas?

The few (hundred) users that I have, love it and are hooked to it. But, I’m running out of cash so need to decide if I should kill it or somehow (not sure how though) find the money to keep it running.

  • Have you looked into employing the spammy growth hack strategies that apps like Path, Circle, Unrollme et al has employed to great success? Not that we need more of those kinds of shit but it appeared to work for them and it might for you.

      • Short term? Lets see.

        Unroll.me forces users to spam their twitter feed to use their app after a small test. They were basically dead for over two years. Once they turned on their hack, they’ve been growing like gangbusters. I think it has worked out very well for them.

        Flixster tricked users into entering their webmail credentials to “locate” friends who they can spread the word to. When (dumbass) users entered their login, automatically spammed EVERYONE in their address book. Sure they got a ton of flack in the press. But Flixster was an unknown website before the spam and post spam, they grew like a weed and WB bought them for 80M and rolled them into Rotten Tomatoes.

        And we all know how Airbnb spammed Craigslist.

        So no. Its not a short minded strategy. Its a shady and unethical strategy which a lot of well regarded startups employ (unofficially of course) but has worked out well – in the short AND long term.

  • First, talk to (individually) every single one of your users. Find out, who they are and why they love you. Afterwards you should have a pretty specific user profile. Then go out and find those exact type of users. If that means one by one then do it! Your users also have circles of friends that are like them. Figure out how to get them to spread the word for you. They are passionate about your app after all, right?

    • OP here. I have talked to lot of users (though not all). I do have a specific user profile. Except not sure how to find more such people sort of approaching people one by one. More importantly, am running out of cash so, want to get some data/ indication/sign that there does exist a large user base out there. Any ideas?

      • Consumer is a tough nut since by definition anyone is a potential user. If it was a business app, at least you can go to industry events and troll LinkedIn for potential customers.

        If you’re really in dire straits and people really love you, you could do a last ditch hail mary. Send them all an email tell them you need to get more traction or you cannot afford to continue and ask them to reach out to friends on FB, Twitter, Email etc…

        Maybe even craft a short “pitch” they can use so they don’t have to think about it. i.e. “ZZ.com really solves my Z problem for me. You should give it a try if you’ve been looking for a solution!”.

  • I think the wall you are hitting is not related to your product (unless the market size is too small)

    So many people in tech underestimate the real value of good marketing and sales. It’s not a joke- it can be the difference between life and death for your company.

    I suggest consulting some marketing professionals and see what they can offer or get their opinion.

    • Might be the case but, I don’t have marketing co-founder/advisor and couldn’t afford to pay a consultant. And, given how much I’ve already put at stake (everything I had plus some more), I’m scared of hunting for more money before I get some validation that market exists and just marketing failure on my part.

      • Try and see if there are people willing to work for equity or trade. There are a lot of founders with great business skills that would be happy to exchange tech skills for marketing work if you have the bandwidth to take it on.

  • Reach out to your local Universities Marketing and MBA programs. Real life use cases beat hypotheticals any day, and in you can also meet talented students without having to give up cash or equity right away, who may also make great hires after you get traction.

  • Did they have a reason to return? Was it a one trick poney, where if you got it already you don’t need it again?

    U must focus on your customers needs, especially having something new to offer and keep their expectations of your site high. A good idea is to have something which is a cheaper item but a definite sale, just to tide u until great new products/services arrive. keep ur customer transaction rate high as possible, even with frivolous low cost/price items. Sometime u must just break-even to ensure your customer takes a bite.

    If I went a clothes shop last week and bought something and went back the following week looking to be excited again by something new but everything was the same, I wouldn’t bother walking in. Also, my threshold for expecting more from u would also have taken a dive and I wouldn’t go out of my way to go back again in the future.

  • Maybe if you did things that weren’t anonymous?

    Not to be an asshat here, but your marketing probably isn’t great, since you’re asking about it anonymously.

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