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Why your first 1,000 customers are the key to your success 

Des Traynor, COO of IntercomThe cliched image of a tech startup is four guys in a garage making a consumer-focused social app that explodes onto the scene, gets millions of users, and puts hundreds of millions into the founders' pockets. 

But most apps aren't like that. Most apps aren't Instagram. 

Most apps are built to help slices of the population solve specific problems. Typically they compete with established practices that are bloated, expensive, or inconvenient. Like banking. Or storing your stuff

For these apps, the key to success is converting your first 1,000 customers into vocal advocates of your product, says Des Traynor. Traynor is the COO at Intercom and will be a speaker at our upcoming Future of Web Apps conference in London. I got a chance to chat with him last week about why the first 1,000 customers are so important and how to reach them effectively. 

"A customer who loves your product is a really effective marketer for you. A customer who does not have a good experience is a really effective negative marketer. The best way to grow a customer base is through individual passionate advocates."

Too often, Traynor says, creators get bogged down worrying about issues like volume and scale when they should be paying more attention to recruiting and retaining the initial wave of vocal advocates. Users have a difficult time separating different parts of their experience, he says, which means even a small hiccup can ruin what is otherwise a pleasurable experience. Fostering a strong, personal bond with those customers will often buy you time to fix bugs or improve your design. The customer may also feel like a contributor to your effort, which can be the critical link that turns a "customer" into an "evangelist."

This is especially important when your app is competing against established players. "Customer service is the one real advantage the little guy has," says Traynor.

There are several methods by which companies can build strong relationships with the first 1,000. Traynor suggests paying greater attention to the customer's desire to solve a problem than to his or her demographic profile (based on the "jobs-to-be-done" approach piloted by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen). The tone and ease of your onboarding process is also critical, as is the overall user experience of your app's landing page.  

Check out this blog post on the Intercom blog for a more in-depth discussion about customer decision making. Register now for the Future of Web Apps to hear him in person. 

Davin Wilfrid is the content director for Future Insights and editor of the Future Insights blog. Sometimes he barges in unexpectedly. You can email him or follow him on Twitter at your discretion. 

References (1)

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    Everything you design—from slide decks to email newsletters, from marketing sites to company t-shirts—has a goal, and that goal is to get someone to decide to do something that benefits you or your company. To achieve this with a design, you need to understand two variables: who are they, and how do they make their decisions.

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