3 Ways To Build An Audience BEFORE Launching Your Startup

3 Ways To Build An Audience BEFORE Launching Your Startup

Building an audience BEFORE you launch is something that I’ve done for every one of my companies and is a question that I get asked about all of the time.

There’s this misconception that people think that if you can launch a product – then you’re automatically going to have success.

“If you build it, they will come” is NOT true.

Are you familiar with Basecamp (a product from 37signals)?

When they launched it, they went from no traction, to earning $5,000 – $10,000 / month in recurring revenue.

What people don’t remember – or realize – is that they had a blog (Signal vs. Noise) with 25,000 – 50,000 unique visitors every single month – called “Signal vs. Noise.”

That blog was actually the community (or the audience) that they had created way before they ever built the product.

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This is a very important concept to understand and to learn how to do.

It’s also one part of a bigger framework I call “People, Content & Events”.

Startup Audience Building - Dan Martell

Here’s how it works.

People: Build Meaningful Relationships

How do you start getting the right people engaged?

There are actually a bunch of ways to do this.

The first one is forums. Think about all of the different places that your potential customers might be engaging in or asking questions (sites like Quora).

The sites are endless, and you can even search using google by going to their Groups page and searching the discussions.

There are all of these amazing forums for these weird niches all over the internet that you can start participating in, talking to customers, asking them questions and building those relationships to really guide things.

Twitter is another amazing resource (and one I use often), where you can just ask questions around the problem your product solves.

You can even search Twitter for users who might of expressed interest in a problem that you solve… here’s a fun example “Is there an iPhone app that…

When I was building Flowtown, one of the things I did was go on Twitter and ask, “Have you ever searched for a person’s email address plus LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook?” (we had a tool that allowed you to give an email address and get all of the social data).

When people started replying, “Yah, I’ve done that!” then I would ask if we could get on a quick call.
(Funny story, that’s how I met Clay Hebert! It’s was a bromance at first tweet.)

My motivation was obviously to learn why they were searching like that – to find out what the circumstance or situations were– but it was also to build those relationships.

I think that the people (and relationships) are one of the most important parts of the framework.

It allows you to go deeper regarding your solution and many times lead to other introductions of folks who can help you launch.

It’s also the funnest part!

So remember, there are many ways for you to engage people online and to start building those relationships – way before you ever launch your product.

Content: Teaching Sells (& Earns Trust)

There’s this great saying that goes, “Teaching Sells.”

I think that that is the essence of a great blog: teaching information, sharing resources, doing roundups of products in your industry, etc. This builds an audience of the ideal customers that you can then eventually introduce a product to (very much like what 37signals / Basecamp did with Signal vs Noise).

For the most part, every company I’ve ever worked on were solutions for entrepreneurs, so I’ve been blogging on danmartell.com about business and entrepreneurial challenges for what seems like forever. This gives me an unfair advantage because every time I launch a new company, I already have that audience built.

If you don’t already have your audience built, it’s something that you can start doing now. You can start teaching your audience what you know in your industry and build a group of people who are interested in eventually buying the product that you will launch.

Events: Bring People Together Including The Influencers

Events are really this amazing opportunity to get face time with your potential customers and influencers in your market.

Essentially, you are meeting the people in the audience who have the same affinity, interest or passion around your topic (since it will probably be that kind of person that is going to buy your product).

It could be as simple as attending an event or organizing your own event (there are a lot of great products that have been spun out of large events that were created).

Choose from paid events or free events like Meetup.com. Check out all of the different meetups in your location, or around your city that bring together your potential customers. Go there and start talking to them!

Stepping Up Your Game – The Ultimate Audience Builder

The ultimate situation – if you really want to build an audience and you feel confidant enough – is to get on stage.

It accomplishes all 3 steps mentioned above: meeting people, creating content and talking to a group of potential customers.

Recently I was interviewed for a book called “Traction” (I think I’m featured in Chapter 23: Speaking Engagements – check it out!),

I talked about how I have used speaking engagements to really growth hack Flowtown and Clarity customers.  It’s something I did before and after we launched (and continue to do today).

Was it scary? Of course… but I started by doing a simple talk at a co-working space 7 years ago, and now I get paid to travel the world and talk to my ideal customers. It’s a pretty cool gig.

I’m obviously really passionate about building an audience before you launch your product.

It will not only helps you validate your idea, but it also helps you build real momentum so that when you do launch – you get sales (and hopefully enough to quit your day job and really go full force!).

People, content and events. Leave a comment below if you’ve applied any part of this framework. How did it work for you? What was your strategy? Share with the community that we are building below!

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  • http://kellylawson.ca/ Kelly Lawson

    Awesome post Dan! All of your content is so timely.

    I recently started with an online survey to find out, among other things, where my potential customers are hanging out. From there, I learned that 99.9% of them log into facebook more than once per day. Bang. So I started geographically based facebook groups related to my business model to begin the validated learning process. What started a month and a half ago as zero, has now organically grown into almost 2000 users that are actively participating in the community: buying, selling and exchanging dialogue. Also, it’s easy to plan events within facebook, so we did that too! The best part, this all cost $0.00.

    Hoping your next post, or a post in the not too distant future will talk about testing revenue models! hint, hint 🙂

    Thanks Dan!

    • http://twitter.com/danmartell Dan Martell


      So great to hear… you’re doing all the right things.

      I’ll definitely cover revenue models but before that, you can test just by getting anything more than $1 from a customer.

      Just the act of exchanging money (either via a service fee, or price to use/list) is a great step forward.

      Hope that helps.

      Talk soon!


  • arber

    Very well put Dan. I think as entrepreneurs we get too caught up on starting with a product that we neglect the most important part, finding a valid customer base or “community”. I would love to see a diagram showing the rate of success for companies that started building a community and or validating a concept versus those that started with a product and pivoted accordingly.

    • http://twitter.com/danmartell Dan Martell


      Thanks for the comment.

      Truth is, there’s SOOOO many reasons why companies succeed/fail… building an audience before hand is important but isn’t the deciding factor.

      Also, it’s tough to quantify that audience since I’ve seen small groups of person connections (20 ppl) have HUGE impacts on the trajectory of a startup (if they were the right 20 ppl).

      Hope that makes sense.

      At the end of the day, you should do whatever feels right… some people don’t like blogging.. k, cool – then do the events, or speak/teach in person.

      Or don’t… launch, and move fast.

      On that note… it’s another variable, speed of learning.

      Kelly (below) is a FAST learner.

      It’s not necessarily the actions she’s taking, it’s the process she’s following.

      So much to write, not enough time in the day.

      More on that in future posts.

      Thanks for the comment.


  • Scott Henderson

    Thanks Dan…very timely advice.

    • http://twitter.com/danmartell Dan Martell

      Scott, glad you found it helpful!


  • http://www.nickoneill.com/ Nick O’Neill

    Hey Dan,

    Great post! Saw this in my feed and reminded me of something I wrote back in 2012 about the concept of a “minimum viable community” (http://nickoneill.com/minimum-viable-community/). I’m all for building a community first as you build out your product. It also serves as a great platform to test out your ideas.

    • http://twitter.com/danmartell Dan Martell

      Love that term Nick! Thanks for sharing the article.


  • http://joshuadance.com/ Joshua Dance

    Thanks for the great post Dan. The ‘is there an iphone app’ search is awesome. Thanks for sharing.

    • http://twitter.com/danmartell Dan Martell

      Joshua, my pleasure … funny story, I actually invested in a company called OneForty.com (acquired by HubSpot) because she sent me a link to a Twitter search “Is there an app…” showing me there was demand for a Twitter App Store.

      No brainer in my mind.

      Love that she could prove market demand by tapping into the conversation.

      So powerful, yet rarely used.


  • http://www.retailness.com/ Retailness

    Hey Dan,

    I have a couple questions regarding the pre-launch strategy for a two-sided marketplace. I am in the pre-launch phase and I know you are a big proponent on Facebook ads to see an immediate impact.

    Would you recommend experimenting with Facebook to a landing page before starting a content marketing strategy because the speed in which Facebook could me

    When writing content for a two-sided marketplace, do you usually write content for the supply side first, or do you write content to attract both sides right out of the gate?

    Finally, how much time do you spend in the pre-launch mode before going live with your product?

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