How to find leads for a bootstrapped SaaS business?


Although Internet is huge and there are millions of users - this fact doesn't mean all of them would suddenly find your site and begin to purchase your product or service. It's an overcrowded megalopolis and your business' starting position is somewhere in the suburbs.
To find some leads you must be as close to the center of the city as possible.

But how can a bootstrapped small SaaS business solve this problem? It took me some time to understand that for SaaS business there are no free marketing channels (marketing through Twitter, Social Networks, Blog etc. takes a significant amount of time to pursue, so it's not free anyway).

And regrettably, I don't know a 'sure fire' way to attract a reasonable number of leads to a site even by the means of aforementioned time-consuming techniques.

At this moment I have found the following techniques (I list them here, because they seem to be working due to the experience/authority of people who mentioned those). I don't list the approaches that were provided without any measured results ("You must write new post twice a week! It can help ").

Check the following:

  1. A blog. A blog with unique and interesting content. No SEO, no Social hacks. Just post interesting essays for about a year or two to get some readers. As Jason Cohen wrote in his blog, it took him more than a year to gain a reasonable amount of readers. So if your content is unique and interesting, there is some probability that someday you'll be noticed and people will begin to read your old posts, comment on them, share, etc.
  2. Niche SEO. A very interesting interview with Patrick McKenzie reveals some real numbers and practices. In two words: find a niche search query (e.g. 'Easter Bingo Cards') that (a) has a very few incumbents in the search results page (first 10) and (b) has unsatisfied demand, e.g. 1000 search queries per month. Create a page on the domain and get listed in the top 10 search query results, because your domain name coincides with the query and your site is all about Easter Bingo Cards. Ah, place a link to your main site there.
  3. Ride a hype: a recent post from a Russian tech blog Habrahabr exemplifies an interesting case. An entrepreneur noted that due to the launch of iPad that uses microSim there would be a demand from users who want to interchange a sim between their iPad and iPhone. Here goes the microSim adapter. He found a manufacturer of these adapters in Germany (500 pcs for 400 Euro), made a simple 5-page site (design template - 12 euro) and added Paypal payment option. Then he started to comment on blogs and forums that are in the top-10 search results page for 'Microsim, Microsim Adapter, Micromsim IPad'. (example: ). He got first order on the first day, the second order a few hours later, and after a couple of days he was mentioned in a blog post by some Brazilian blogger and that was a real start. On the iPad 3g introduction day he processed orders every ten minutes. The result - 15 000 Euro of net profit for the first month. No SEO, no AdWords, just a few comments on blogs.

Another thing that I consider worth mentioning is the notion of a 'missed boat'. As I can see now the most successful blogs (size and quality of audience) were started a long ago. The 37signals example that has already set everybody's teeth on edge was started in 2000 (*/ If we follow Jason Cohen's experience with his own blog we can infer that the more time passes the more quality audience you get.

The same thing about Twitter: those who've started to tweet in 2006 have more tweets, more followers than an average 'belated adopter'.

And above all of this 37signals advise to exploit free marketing channels (blog) instead of paid advertisements.

So, my question is the following: How can one gain a certain audience for his site where one sells some bootstrapped software?

Here are the constraints:

  1. One doesn't need huge traffic. 4000-5000 unique visitors (from target audience) per month is enough for the directly paid (not free) service at the beginning.
  2. One doesn't have much time: about 5-6 months to find those users.
  3. Paradoxically one will prefer to spend time on some marketing activities than to pay for those (yes, the budget is vanishingly small).

Is that possible?

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asked May 15 '10 at 19:27
Kirill Blazhko
393 points
Top digital marketing agency for SEO, content marketing, and PR: Demand Roll
  • Why don't you have more than 5-6 months to find users? – Jeff O 14 years ago
  • Jeff, it's about "ship fast and iterate". It would be bad to know that there is no reasonable demand for a product after a year or more of work. – Kirill Blazhko 14 years ago

3 Answers


We run a listing website where members pay for a place on the site. We 'deliver value' automatically without any effort - we just push publish and they are live in our system. Although this value is delivered automatically, our sales channel in completely un-automated. 90% of our time goes into acquiring customers. This may well be true of many SaaS type services. A good product that will only help build word-of-mouth sales once it actually has a critical mass of users. Getting those users is the hard part.

In our case, the single best way to acquire a customer is to talk to them on the phone. We have taken a leaf out of the information marketing expert's book and provide some useful download or video in return for an email and phone number. We do our best to make sure that piece of information is useful and relevant. We then follow up with a phone call to see if there is anything else we can do for them.

This has two advantages.

  1. In actually conversing with potential customers over the phone we quickly learned where our product was falling short or where there were other areas where we could provide supplementary services.
  2. Talking to customers on the phone, they are FAR FAR FAR more likely to actually buy from you. Genuinely getting to know your customers will help to find 'super fans' who eventually will build that word of mouth to bring a more automated flow of customers. I'd say you get a super fan for every 50 people you acquire as customers. For us, 1 in ten leads become a customer over the phone.

In honesty, the phone will actually only help you convert the customers better. We were still starved of enough leads to convert in the middle of this year. We turned to traditional PR in an effort to start building our list. I read a book giving advice on how to develop a PR strategy, and in our case it turned into nothing more than scheduling out press releases every month until we had built relationships with journalists and television producers. We applied for business reality TV television shows and did anything we could to help the producers behind the scenes in getting their product out. After a while they started to come back to us looking for help with various things. As a result we have probably the highest publicity to profit ratio of anyone in our country ;)

I hope that makes sense. I guess I should just boil down my advice to 'get a book on PR and implement its suggestions'.


answered Aug 23 '10 at 20:03
James Kennedy
76 points


So, my question is the following: How can one gain a certain audience for his site where one sells some bootstrapped software?

Gaining an audience is not that difficult, if you know what your audience is looking for... Just start speaking with them -- best and most efficient way is to blog about stuff they are interested in. Also, join the conversation via twitter too.

You should also attend conferences, use forums such as OnStartups and HackerNews to help gain an audience.

In the end of the day, your product still needs to be helpful and useful for these people.

Regarding your constraints:

  1. 4000-5000 unique and targeted customers is a pretty large amount for a startup with no marketing or advertising budget. You do not need this many people to be successful and it not going to be easy to achieve (without a killer product) in this time.
  2. Start blogging ASAP! Also, spend time networking with bloggers, industry experts and vendors willing to help..
  3. The best part about marketing is that a lot of it can be done inexpensively (blogging and social media) assuming that we define 'inexpensive' in terms of out-of-pocket costs opposed to 'opportunity cost' of your time.

It is possible. I wrote a blog post which may answer some of your questions in more detail about Startup Marketing, which you may find useful.

Good luck, it will not be easy, but I believe you can do it! Feel free to email me if you have specific questions.

answered Sep 7 '10 at 05:14
Jeff Epstein
1,532 points


your proposals (blog, SEO, 'spam') are some of the basic techniques, but they're also the techniques that everybody use. As a consequence, it's still difficult to get noticed.

A few things that really worked for me:

  • partner with one or more bloggers to have external people to 'adverstise' for you. That does not mean "buy posts on blogs": that has a very limited value. Get in touch with bloggers (or journalists) who might be interested in supporting your product; don't ask them to write about you, but ask them for advice. If they give you good suggestions, ask them to be your advisors. If they like you, they will talk about you and be your supporters
  • find partnerships. Integrate with other services who provide APIs; get in contact with their technical people, ask questions (even if integration is easy), establish a relation. Develop the integration and ask them to include your logo among their partners
  • Look out for marketplaces. Many vendors are building SaaS marketplaces. The Google App Marketplace is giving us now more signups than our website. Rackspace, Salesforce, Atlassian, they all offer exposure in their websites to vendors who integrate with them
answered Oct 14 '10 at 12:17
Filippo Diotalevi
2,573 points

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