How to Get Potential Customers Without a Product and on Zero Marketing Budget

by / ⠀Entrepreneurship Finding Customers Startup Advice / December 23, 2013

“Your product SUCKS.”

He said it to my face.

Cold, objective, but straight to the point.

Yeap, thats exactly what my 13th potential customer told me in 2007.

It was an EDE – ego destruction event. It was a harsh reality check and I was down for the count. Having spent 18 months of my life with my partner building up this prototype for my 1st startup and having pitched to endless people (even social networks in Ireland), I was burnt out.

I was living on top of my friend’s garage (a game room) in Santa Clara, CA with my girlfriend who at the time was full time college student. I was living on barely $1200 a month, eating mostly conference food wherever I can, and of course, stressing 24×7.

Money was running low and my landlord friend wanted me out because he wanted to raise the rent. I was low on money and on patience.. and i was genuinely scared. So i gave up on this startup idea.

I developed a Zynga Farmville like game where people would “build” up their virtual homes and we would monetize with premium virtual goods, or have advertiser sponsored products that we’d give away for free.

This was prior to Facebook platform…prior to Zynga.. prior to OpenSocial…prior to App Store. The only way to get in to their real estate was by asking.

And of course, I didn’t have some insane backings from people with connections, so it was close to impossible for get in as an outsider.

Maybe this was too ahead of its time, maybe I saw too far ahead into the future, or maybe I sucked at convincing people. Maybe I just gave up too easily.

Whatever the reason was.. I just couldn’t make this work. So I had to part ways with the startup.

Does this sound familiar to some of you?

I’m no stats guru, but i’m guessing if you are reading this, you are either going through this right now, or have gone through it.

“Build it and they will come.”

Right. The biggest disservice those Silicon Valley people do to entrepreneurs…tell them this myth.

The only thing that will come is your bills and people trying to sell you outsourced SEO in some country you didn’t know existed till you Googled it.

If you are like the most of us, you have to learn to do online marketing. (And there are quite a few marketing guys who share great stuff on their online marketing & growth hacking blog) Part of that marketing?

Idea validation.

Wouldn’t it be better if you actually got some feedback for your stuff BEFORE you made anything?

If you are reading this blog, I’m guessing you are familiar with the lean startup movement. Then I am sure, the thing you must first build is the MVP, or the minimum viable product.

If you read the actual book “The Lean Startup”, you know that DropBox had a simple squeeze page built with a video explaining what its startup is all about. They ran some traffic to it, and voila! Their initial beta user! (In fact, Ash has a great post about MVP and Landing Pages.)

Yeah, videos are great…and squeeze pages are great, but there’s even a quicker (and dirtier) way to get initial beta users AND some more market data… without having to spend even a dime.


3 steps.

1) Build a survey

2) “Build” a contact list

3) Send the survey to the list

Build a survey

Ok this is the easy step.

No need to pay for those crazy form builders that charge your monthly to build forms (seriously how do those people go to sleep at night charge for HTML forms.. ugh).

Google docs (now called Google drive) has a thing called “Forms”.

It’s free and they give you pretty charts once you collect the results, they give you pretty chart like this

Here are the TRICKS to creating surveys

1) Use PAGES – If you’ve ever taken surveys online, usually they have multiple pages (with each page having a couple of questions)… and every time you complete a page, they give you a percentage complete progress bar on top.

Two reasons – a) You can ask a WHOLE lot more and get more information  b) People are more engaged with this sense accomplishment (i.e. gamification)

2) You pitch your idea in the last page of your survey.. you ask them “if this sounds interesting to you, please enter your email and I will let you know when we launch”.


Market feedback AND initial beta users. Two birds, one stone.

Shameless self plug: Actually, i’m working on a MVP of my own right now. If you’re a startup founder, marketer, or small business  owner, I’d appreciate a feedback on my mobile marketing automation product idea.

“Build” a contact list

Ok, this part is tricky so pay attention.

Case A: You have NO list of potential customers.

Here, you will need to invest time or money

– Money

Quite simply.. you gotta advertise.

Facebook ads.. Google display network ads…  BuySellAds… linkedin ads.. .there’s a billion network options.

Remember to TARGET your ads based on job profile (if you’re B2B) or by demographics (if you’re B2C or C2C).

Yes, this WILL cost you but you can get much faster responses.

– Time

Look for websites with large following of people that YOU want to target by checking their Twitter follower and Facebook fan count.

ASK them to send out the survey, hoping that they will send it out on your behalf. Obviously, if you know the website owner through a friend (this is where linkedin comes in handy)… but if you don’t, you have to go the shotgun approach and ask 100, and maybe 2 will say yes.

When you do approach them, you gotta ask why are they going to do it for you?

Here’s two things I would recommend:

a) Be honest and tell them you need market feedback

b) Give something in return – If you have a budget, tell them that you’re willing to donate $X dollars to a charity of their choice if they do this for them.

Be creative here. That’s all.

Case B: You have some potential customers from your contacts.

This is the ideal case because now, you have their emails! And this is about 400% more effective (based on clicks to finished survey response ratio).

– Build a spreadsheet with their name and email (so we can do mail merge on Gmail)

– Build a template email like this:


I was wondering if I can ask you for your honest feedback on a mobile marketing product idea that I had.

It’s just in conceptual phase and i wanted to reach out to all the business leaders I personally knew.

A quick 30 second survey, I promise. And you get to enter to win $100 Amazon gift certificate card from me.. or if you want, you can choose to donate that to the kids of Syria if you want (assuming you’re keeping up to date with Syria)..


Now, let’s break down the body of this email

1) Who / Why / What

You must answer – Who are you? Why are you writing me? What do you want?

If you know them, you obviously don’t need to explain who you are.

Why – I need a feedback from you.

What – Please fill out this survey

In other words, what is your quick 30 second story pitch?

Remember, if you can’t tell a story, you might as well not be a marketer or an entrepreneur.

This is step #1 – LEARN & MASTER the art of telling a story. (Short and long)

2) Reciprocity

If they give you their time, give them a reward.

People like winning.. but helping kids in Syria is even better.

3) Short & Sweet

People are busy. You are busy. Don’t make me think. Get to the point.

Note: No matter WHAT you do, everything in online marketing (email marketing, PPC, SEO, social media marketing, etc.) WILL be affected by your copywriting. So please, take the time to invest in learning about copywriting. Hell, if you do online dating, you can even use it to improve your dating profile.


Ok, I’m not gonna lie. It’s not like I succeed every time I do this…and sometimes I resort to this last method.

I basically go on forums and online communities and ask.

But remember, you gotta be nice (don’t be douchey) and be relevant… otherwise, you WILL get ignored.

How? Believe it or not.. Google alerts can help you that.

Send the survey to the list

Send. That’s it.

BUT… remember, timing is of the essence.

If you are targeting busy people who receive 500 emails per day, the LAST thing you wanna be is to be pushed to “not important answer sometime in next century” folder.

If you’re new to email marketing, this is called A/B testing with time.

Since you do not have the luxury here, use common sense.

Try to get them when they’re MOST receptive to your emails. For example, here are some patterns I see:

  • People get flooded with emails when they come into work. From 9 to 10 AM.. it’s nothing but emails. If your stuff isn’t important, it won’t get read.

  • Monday mornings and mornings after long weekends are the worst b/c they’re inundated with emails

  • Some people are idle right before lunch…some during lunch.

  • Lots of food coma right after work

  • People are in meetings 1 to 4ish, then basically goof off around the time they get off

  • Their inboxes are relatively empty by the time they’re home

  • People tend to play games and do entertainment-y things if they ride public bus/trains home

So use your common sense when pressing send.

What do you guys think?

Have you tried other methods that were more successful in terms of getting idea feedback?

Leave your thoughts in the comment box


TaeWoo Kim is a growth hacker, online marketer,entrepreneur, and blogger. With over 10 years of experience, he’s helped achieve multi million revenues for various companies. You can follow him on his blog, Twitter, and Google+

About The Author

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.