I build good products, but can't get anyone to use them. What should I do?


74

I am a web developer. In the last year and a half, I've been working on several ideas, one after the other. I found that as much as I enjoy developing them, in the end, I keep bumping my head against a solid brick wall - I can't seem to attract users \ customers.

What tool-sets do I have to attract audience? I know this is a very general question, but I'd like to hear from people who succeeded, what did you do? How did you become known?

Marketing Advertising PR

asked Apr 16 '11 at 17:06
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Vondip
577 points
  • It's possibly too general to answer helpfully ... are you failing to get traffic, or failing to convert the traffic you are getting? Or perhaps failing to get them to step from free to paid? – Matt 6 years ago
  • Failing to get traffic – Vondip 6 years ago
  • You products are good according to who? They should be good for the users. Can you be more specific in you question, what you have done so far to attract customers, what is you conversion rate etc. – Ross 6 years ago
  • Ross has a good point: you (or someone close to you) may find you build good products, but that doesn't mean they _are_. I'm not saying they're not: I've never seen anything from you. – Bart Kiers 6 years ago
  • Start a blog. That was our most successful initiative to drive traffic. If you are not interested in writing regularly then find a partner who is. – B Seven 5 years ago
  • I think you've discovered that building software is easy. Getting customer is hard. Stop building software. Start learning how to acquire customers. -- edit: oops. I just commented on an 18 month old question : \ – Mike Nereson 4 years ago
  • Dont create great products. Create products which are needed. – Aditya Anjoli 3 years ago
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10 Answers


67

MBA here, and web developer.

  1. Are you giving forward? It's the same as giving back, but before you get rich. If lots of people don't know you and like you, this is a good way for them to start.
    • Where's your blog? Are you giving out good, free advice? This is how Joel Spolsky (owner of this site) got his start.
    • YouTube channel? Make some tutorials. Link to your site.
    • Are you teaching classes for free? At the community center, or at your workplace at lunch.
    • Which open source projects are you on?
    • Do you give advice on forums? Link to your site.
    • Did you ask to speak at the last conference in town? Mention your blog.
    • Is your name the number one google hit for your name? You should consider using your real name or company name on your blog, and usernames here and on forums. Then, when people search for your name they will see results on google and have more faith in you.
  2. Are you getting your name in the paper? No one reads the paper anymore, but you know what I mean. Do people know you exist? You need some PR. Not a PR agency, just plain old PR. Here are some ways to get it:
    • Get your ass on Reddit and get good karma points. You get a good rep by submitting interesting articles and making good comments. Don't spam. In a couple months, you'll have a good rep. Submit your project and if you don't get a boatload of hits that day, I'll buy you lunch.
    • Are you being charitable? Can you get your name in the paper by doing amazing computer work for kids or seniors? This would take one day of your time.
    • Can you put on a ridiculous contest?
    • Are you doing something that would make a journalist put your story in the paper? If not, do more.
Also, are you differentiating your product? Here's what I mean:
  • Substantially more expensive or cheaper than similar products (yes, expensive works, ask de Beers).
  • Substantially faster.
  • Substantially smaller or bigger (ask Cloudera).
  • Substantially prettier, or even uglier (worked for craigslist).
  • Substantially simpler (base camp).
  • Something for old people, or young people.
  • Something for rich people, or poor people.

Remember, it's not just about building a better mousetrap. It's also about the breadth and depth of your influence.

  • If people like you (because you're charitable).
  • If people consider you an authority (because you have the #1 blog on widgets).
  • If they feel they owe you something (because you gave them free useful advice).

They are more likely to give you money for your products. It's manipulative yes, but it also adds value to the universe, and it's also likely what your competitors are doing.

Now go read the collected works of Al Ries, Guy Kawasaki, and Seth Godin.

answered Apr 17 '11 at 03:39
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Neil Mc Guigan
444 points
  • Excellent tactics. Thanks. – Warren E. Hart 6 years ago
  • So, half a year later... I've read through all of these wonderful articles (any many more) and started my own email marketing campaign. I now have something like 10,000 monthly active users, and growing. This number isn't perhaps anything earth shattering, but it's a start. Thank you all! :) – Vondip 5 years ago
  • That is wonderful, excellent job. – Tim 5 years ago
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31

You're misunderstanding your problem. It's not that you can't get traffic, it's that you're doing it backwards. This is extremely typical, I've done it myself.

You don't build what you think is a good product, then try to get people to come to it. You first find an audience to validate your assumptions about there being a market for your product, then you build the solution they want/need.

This happens as you open your mouth, share your idea with whom you believe to be your potential customers, then based on the research and validation you get with this process, proceed to build the product they'll buy (assuming there is indeed a market).

It would be awesome if we could just build great stuff and on its own merits people would come and buy, but that's not the reality.

If you're not good at this sort of thing, you may want to partner with someone who is.

answered Apr 17 '11 at 01:55
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Carson McComas
1,023 points
  • There are exceptions to this rule, for example when users do not know of possibilities that they would demand once they do know about it. – Tom 6 years ago
  • Well, but talking to them about it should clear that up. i.e. let them know about it and see if your assumptions about them wanting it once they know are correct. Much better to talk to them about it and tell them of the possibilities and see if they demand it, than spend hundreds of hours building something and then see if they'd demand it. – Carson McComas 6 years ago
  • Yes I've done it backwards myself, and later wished I'd known better. Nevertheless they've built something(s) now, so might as well throw some traffic at these ideas to see if they're on to anything, even if it's just a little pocket money or feedback to make a good product. Your answer is perfect for next time around or the next idea they think about. – Matt 6 years ago
  • Good point Matt, I agree, just thought it was important to address his underlying challenge. – Carson McComas 6 years ago
  • Check out this question... I quoted your answer "How do I promote my business" – Bertrood 5 years ago
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8

The days of simply coming up with something interesting and throwing it on the web are long gone. When you do that, as you and countless small businesses have found, no one knows you're there or visits.

It's akin to asking your phone company to install a business phone line and, three months later, wondering why you have no customers.

You need to give them a reason to visit, and to let them know you're there.

So you need to start marketing, networking and building your site as JBB has mentioned. You need to keep adding content to give the search engines more content to index. Hence the popularity of suggesting adding blogs to startup sites You have to regularly work at all of these, tuning your offer and conversion as you go.

Only once site #1 is getting traffic and conversions and isn't so much of a workload is it time to think about site / service #2, otherwise you're probably just building a portfolio.

answered Apr 17 '11 at 00:16
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Matt
2,552 points

4

What problem are you solving for the target market? What are you doing that makes your solution better than anything else? (Easier, cheaper, faster kinds of things)

If you can't answer these in one sentence, start over.

Everything starts with a client pain point.

It is not "if you build it, they will come". Instead, it's "if you make their lives / jobs significantly easier, they will find you".

answered Apr 17 '11 at 02:54
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Warren E. Hart
2,181 points
  • this answer must have come from a supercentenary. Nowadays businesses do not address "problems". How does Facebook solve any problems ? They just address whims, and they don't last for too long, that's all. – Kellogs 5 years ago
  • Facebook also is not making money, so that would be a poor example. It is also a different business model than I think the OP is pursuing. He is wanting paying customers and not traffic/advertising revenues. – Need A Geek Indy 4 years ago
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3

It takes time, patience and a lot of work. Sorry, there is not a silver bullet for this.

Also, developing and releasing web apps out there in hopes that one of them will be successful is not the answer either, you'll better off by focusing on one application that you know at least 30 people are interested about.

How to do this? Interview with small business owners in your area and ask them about their major pains that can be solved with a web application of some sort. Before you even build it, get at least 30 people who will be interested in actually trying it and willing to pay for it if it solves their problem. This how you want to do this, do not build the application first.

If what you are looking is exposure to a lot of people because you think you have built something great, then sign-up for a startup incubator in your city, these places will help you get your company formed and expose you to potential clients and partners.

Good luck!

answered Apr 17 '11 at 02:37
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Ricardo
4,815 points

2

It's hard to say without knowing more about your situation, but if you have very few customers, then I'd suggest finding 3-10 people who may find the app useful, asking them to use it and making all the improvements they suggest. Not only will your product work for others in their situation, you'll have also gained some strong advocates.

As others have mentioned, blogging, Twitter, etc, are useful if you have a loyal user base which you want to grow.

answered Apr 18 '11 at 16:39
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Saqib
141 points

2

Here are some basics for getting traffic:

  • Work on your SEO (3 letter acronym, but a lot of work. Plenty of information available on the web for SEO tips)
  • Beyond SEO, anything that can draw people to your website is worth exploring (networking, events, ads, etc)
  • Monitor your traffic (Google analytics or other) to figure out the impact your actions on your traffic
  • Keep doing it
answered Apr 16 '11 at 23:56
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Jbb
33 points
  • I see, but my problem is... how do I create the buzz? – Vondip 6 years ago
  • OK, apart of SEO what other tool-sets do I have? – Vondip 6 years ago
  • Search engine traffic is mainly originating from traffic that you already have. Focus on general marketing, do not expect search engines to give you your first visitors. – Tom 6 years ago
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1

The primary tool you should reach for is a marketing-focused co-founder. Your genius is for getting from idea to functioning web app, so find someone whose genius is getting the word out, bringing in new users and engaging them, all that jazz.

Alternatively, find someone like that and ask them to give you thirty minutes worth of advice. (I do this for startups in Cambridge, UK - anyone who's willing to buy me a cappuccino and is willing to go for a time and venue that suits me gets half an hour of my undivided attention!) You don't have to take the advice, but it will get you thinking about the kind of activities you need to get done, by yourself, by hiring service providers or through informal and formal partnerships.

answered Apr 9 '12 at 19:02
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Jeremy Parsons
5,187 points
  • I have always had the same policy, both ways. I used to run a company that we had a policy that if the salespeople did not have one face-to-face a week, they had to buy someone lunch. The thought being, people may not want to meet with a salesperson, but if you cannot find someone to let you buy them lunch....you need to work somewhere else and probably not in sales. – Need A Geek Indy 4 years ago
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1

First the bad: the definition of a good product is a product that people are buying.

Now, maybe you should think of building an affiliate program if all your efforts have been pure loss. Moreover, if you cannot find affiliates, it means that your products are not good, because the good thing with salespeople is that they refuse to sell something which is not worth the effort.

I have a plain notebook full of good ideas that I buried after asking to my friends in sales if they were willing to sell it for me for a commission.

answered Apr 25 '11 at 00:08
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Sylvain Peyronnet
371 points

1

Not to reiterate what everyone else said, but just because you think your product is awesome doesn't mean your end users do.

I don't know if it's relevant to your location, but at Tel Aviv University, they advertise startup events where you can display your product and get feedback from students (who usually are more into tech and likely to be early adopters). Could be a good place to get feedback.

I'm also a big believer in video, create videos that demo why your product is awesome and put it on your site and YT. Even if it takes you all day to create one decent cut, it will be worth it.

answered May 27 '13 at 23:38
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Ben Bernstein
46 points

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