The Cold Start Problem
The property of inertia states that matter exists in its current state of rest or uniform motion unless interfered with by an external force. Put simply, it’s easier to keep an object in motion that’s already in motion than it is to make it move from a standstill – and the same is true for startup momentum. That’s the root of the cold start problem, and there are a few key steps you can take to help your launch be more successful. The goal is to help your SaaS startup reach escape velocity as quickly as possible and in the most sustainable way.
The minimum velocity an object must have to escape the gravitational pull from another object.
Much like rockets need to generate enough velocity to get out of the Earth’s gravitational pull, startups need momentum to break out of early-stage inertia for rapid growth.
One of the common mistakes founders do in order to get early momentum is immediately putting marketing dollars behind standard paid ads. Instead, experimentation with an organic, multi-pronged strategy can drive faster growth. Your organic strategy doesn’t have to be complex or difficult – breaking it down into three key steps can help your startup create momentum sooner.
Step 1 – Messaging: Your Grassroots Ground Game
Everybody has heard the phrase, “Do things that don’t scale,” but this startup strategy really matters for the initial launch. Taking a grassroots approach helps prevent wasteful burn on ad spend before knowing which messages resonate with which audience segments.
Spending too much on ads too soon is a good way to run out of money, and an unscalable, unplanned way to grow. You should be finding out where your target audience spends time and plug it into conversations happening there. Go to online—and even offline—communities and join the discussion. Focus on delivering value and finding organic, easy ways to introduce your solution rather than a sales-focused approach.
From your grassroots conversations, you can start to examine how your messaging is resonating. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and feedback, test and iterate on your messaging and positioning in each community. Refining effective messaging at the grassroots level is one of the first steps you can take to start building your startup’s momentum. Some popular places to begin looking for and engaging with your audience are Reddit, Product Hunt, Quora, Twitter, and LinkedIn groups.
Being present and active in these places is tedious work, but it’s essential. Just like you need a ton of energy to get out of a strong gravitational pull, you need a ton of energy at the beginning of your startup to get participation and traction from these conversations.
The biggest thing that will keep feeding into your energy is to be a part of the conversations where they’re already happening.
Step 2 – Value: Something from the Start
As you’re executing, focus your energy on value creation with the goal to provide value from the start. Ask yourself, what content and resources can help your end customer right now?
One thing to note about this strategy is that it’s not as quick and easy as writing an eBook, dropping it in the comments, and soliciting trials or subscribers from it. Most channels are already too noisy for that to be effective.
What can you provide that will give your customers instant value they can easily translate to their business? Funnel your resources into creating a bank of content that answers that question. Think about your niche and topical industry trends. Start brainstorming and producing content that drives momentum by giving potential customers value from day one.
Step 3 – Support: Partnerships and Awareness
Now it’s time for the fun part: networking and making friends. Think about who you can team up with who’s also selling to your customer. Leverage your online community, or there may even be local businesses in your city or region that you can tap into.
These partnerships can also help you build awareness and in turn, means you can start thinking about potential public relations or local press strategies. You could consider making YouTube videos that cover your customers’ challenges and some starting places for solutions, or spotlight notable businesses or community leaders your solution has helped.
As you give value in step two, you’re also demonstrating how your own product ties in, which helps make forming partnerships easier. New relationships and increased awareness also help you build a brand. Over the long term, brand building outperforms campaign spending, which only gets more expensive and less effective compared to word-of-mouth and organic traffic.
Now that you’ve taken steps to avoid the cold start problem, you can do the last thing that everybody usually wants to do first, which is to give yourself air cover. If you’re spending 80% on paid marketing and advertising, it should actually be closer to 20% in the beginning. Things like cold emails and paid ads are some of the least important tactics in this early stage. Don’t let it take up more than 10% to 20% of your time and resources because it only provides cover and a baseline.
During early liftoff, it’s more important to find out what messaging, taglines, headlines, and creative piece resonates and provides value to your customers than it is to pay for vanity metrics. You may end up getting some subscriptions or trials out of ads, but that’s not really what an initial paid strategy should be about. The earlier you know what’s sticking and what isn’t, the sooner you’ll be able to leverage your product positioning to grow your momentum.
If you want to dig even deeper, you can focus on one channel at a time. Set up tests, run experiments, and tweak your campaigns to see what’s moving the needle. After you fine tune each channel, you’ll be ready to move on to the next one and do the same thing over again.
These three key steps can be used as a foundational guide to help avoid some of the common cold-start mistakes and make a big impact on your business’s early momentum. The growth you want will come from your grassroots efforts, value creation strategies, and community partnerships. Get started early by joining the conversation, giving value, and solving problems for your customers and partners.