Previously we looked at generating your startup idea where we identified a way of coming up with a business-to-business startup idea and offered criteria with which to analyse its feasibility.

Once you have decided on your idea and have begun building the product, it’s important to get it out in front of users as soon as possible but the point at which you choose to allow people to start using it can be critical to the product's success.

The feature list that you will have developed the initial product against so far may have been produced primarily from your own thoughts. You may also have analysed other similar products by using market research or even from potential users that you have already identified but until you have actually made the product available, your feature list is really just a best guess and you could potentially be developing features that no one really needs. At this early stage you might be aiming to add only the features that 90% of the product’s users will actually make use of and leaving out all the optional “nice to haves” but the only way you are going to know if you are on the right path is by getting feedback from real users who found your product naturally and the sooner you can start doing this, the less time you will likely waste.

Accept payments from the first day

When your new product is released, you will be under pressure from any early adopters to improve it as quickly as possible.

One of the features people will never ask for is an integration with a payment gateway so they can start paying you. For this reason, it’s probably a good idea if your payment process is one of the features you fully develop before releasing the product. There are many systems such as Recurly and payment gateways such as Braintree or Stripe that make this easy and quick to implement. (Don’t forget to consider things like EU digital services VAT when choosing what system to use. I would suggest that you find a system that handles as much of the compliance functionality as possible.)

By taking this approach you will not only have a revenue stream from day one, but more importantly when someone signs up and provides payment details, you are proving to yourself that someone is willing to part with their cash to use the product that you are producing. This will not only provide you with motivation to carry on but you may also find that people who pay are more likely to provide feedback that is much more informed and thus useful, than that of a free user because they are actually investing in your product.

Listen to your users

The most important contribution to the success of your startup will probably be feedback from your paying users. It’s important that you should want to get to know your users, learn from them and find out what they are trying to achieve.

Releasing your product as early as possible is essential to avoid wasting time on features that no one wants. Ideally, you need feedback from a variety of users who work for different companies.

A number of methods can be used to help you gain this important feedback. Firstly you can encourage people to get in touch by sending a welcome email and making them aware that you welcome their thoughts and messages. Also, let them know that the product is still relatively new and is being improved. You may also want to set up a suggestion forum where people can suggest new ideas or vote against existing ones. It is also important that you try to collect feedback from people who choose to cancel or not continue past free trials, possibly by using surveys.

Soon you will notice trends developing and it’s those problems / features / suggestions that will stick in your mind because you could be getting a lot of comments on them. These will be the areas that you will most likely want to investigate first.

Marketing your early release

There are many people out there who are regular early adopters and are willing to put up with incomplete functionality if they can see that improvements are coming. Saying this, actually gaining this set of early adopters will most likely be the hardest set of users to find.

In the early days, you may receive a lot of negative feedback but this feedback is sometimes of the most utmost value. As such, you should be looking to embrace it, learn from it and be ready to use it to improve your product based on these findings.

If you are bootstrapping your startup and have little money available for marketing, you are going to have to be creative so here are some suggestions of places where you could start.

  • Adwords / Twitter ads / Facebook ads - Maybe the least creative way and also not the cheapest if you are on a budget, but running short campaigns will allow you to quickly gain a set of users to your site.
  • Beta lists sites - There are many sites such as Product Hunt which lists new products that are fresh to the market. These sites again should send a set of users in your direction who you can then communicate with and learn from directly.
  • Community blog owners - Reach out to blog owners who run sites that might be of interest to your target users. Asking them to review your site can provide invaluable feedback. You will most likely find that several of your selected blog owners will be more than willing to help and will appreciate being given the chance to review your product first. By doing this you will also start building relationships with people who you may want to advertise with in the future.
  • Building your own community site / blog - This can be very time consuming so it might not be feasible, but if you do have a blog / mailing list where you can publish some related posts, you will hopefully attract a few people to your site via this content.
  • Submit yourself to App / Business / Startup directories - There are many directories out there and each of these can send a steady stream of targeted users to your site. It is worth getting your startup listed on these from day one.

There are of course many other ways to market your product very cheaply with the aim of gaining those early users. You need to remember that it’s unlikely that you will attract a huge amount of people in the early days, but having just 10-50 businesses using your product will help you validate your idea and gain feedback to improve it further.

By Scott Sherwood, founder of TestLodge