How Successful Startups Acquire Their First Customers & Retain Them

After surviving a plane crash, you awaken surrounded by wild jungle brush on top of damp ground. After gathering your wits, you embark on a journey of survival, looking for the best route to safety. After hacking through the overgrown plants, foraging for food, and avoiding the pitfalls of the jungle, you reach a beach. Realizing that you’re on an island miles from civilization, you stare out at the endless blue mass in front of you, beginning to form a plan of escape. If launching a startup is similar to this story, then adding and preserving the first customers of the company is the image of looking out to sea. There are numerous possibilities for where to go and how to get there.

Some of these may prove more successful than others. There is no tried and true method for how to navigate the treacherous waters of winning over your earliest customers. Co-founder and executive chairman of HubSpot, Brian Hallian, spoke to the challenge of connecting with potential customers, “People shop and learn in a whole new way compared to just a few years ago, so marketers need to adapt or risk extinction.”

How do successful startups acquire their first customers and retain them? We connected with a few business experts to understand their perspectives on this topic. 

Use your feedback

Jim Marggraff is the CEO of Kinoo, a brand offering video chat platforms that the whole family can enjoy. He believes that customer feedback can be one of the most useful items for sparking customer acquisition and retention. 

“Obviously, no company wants to receive a complaint directly from a customer regarding a product defect or poor experience with their brand. But, it’s going to happen because no company is perfect. When it does happen, it’s a great opportunity to analyze every aspect of the situation and see what can be learned from what took place? How can your company better help customers in the future? Are there actions that can be taken to avoid having this issue become a repeated incident? Mistakes and problems are never desired but using the feedback they generate is very prudent.”


Maestro specializes in interactive live-streaming platforms. Their CEO, Ari Evans, suggests searching for, or building, a group of people who are interested in a given industry or product.

“The power of a community of people should never be underestimated. The internet has brought us to a point where extremely niche hobbies or businesses exist because information is readily available through other individuals who hold the same interests and share them online. Regardless of what your business does or hopes to do, I’m sure there is an online community that would be a great match for what you’re doing. Connecting with them in an organic manner is the next step but finding people who have a demonstrated interest in your topic is the first step.”

Make your presence known

Renting out a workspace and designing a website are the easier parts of starting a company. The hard part comes when trying to make others aware of the company’s actual existence. JOI is a business providing plant milk concentrates. Their CEO, Hector Gutierrez, considers working towards awareness to be a fruitful endeavor. 

“Most every startup cannot afford to rent out a billboard next to the highway. Advertising budgets are likely small or even nonexistent due to the financial necessities required to get a startup going. But without advertising, how can you make your presence known? Go meet people. Every industry has a conference or trade show related to their particular interests. The reality is that there’s no stronger bond than that of the human relationship and if others can put a face to a company name, they’re much more likely to not only remember you but also be inclined to work with you.”

Go with who you know

Ray Leon is the CEO of Pet Insurance Review, a brand offering information for pet parents about the importance of pet insurance and all the benefits it offers. He advises entrepreneurs to attempt to connect with those you already have an established relationship with. 

“At the end of the day, one dollar in your bank account spends the same anywhere no matter where it came from. Some may look down their noses at those early businesspeople who make their first sales to friends, family, or acquaintances. But, money is money and the same can be said about a customer’s interest in a product. If what you’re offering has legitimate demand and demonstrable quality, those you know will probably talk about what you’re doing with people in their life. On top of this, those initial people will also return to the point of purchase because of their level of appreciation for the item. Simply put, design something as best as possible then go with who you know.”

Work with your customers

Furnishr specializes in furnishing and handling everything from design to set up of your entire house and office. Their CEO, Michael Van, believes trying to fit within the desires of the customer is far better than attempting to create something abstractly. 

“I will always applaud and appreciate a well-thought out idea for a product as creativity is special. However, not every great idea works outside of the vacuum it was created in. This is where you have to understand what your potential customers want out of their purchase. The idea with the highest public interest will yield the most profit which is the end goal. It’s a good idea to check-in or even survey those who already have experience with you to see what their thoughts or ideas are regarding your company. It may not be the first thought when starting a company, but they should strive to work with their customers.” 

Create interest

It is impossible to force another person to want something. That being said, engaging people in an exciting and compelling manner may influence their thinking. Benable is a business providing platform intended to share recommendations in a curated form. Their CEO, Tony Staehelin, proposes designing interaction opportunities with this in mind. 

“The art of generating interest has been around as long as businesses have been around, the ways of doing so have just changed. Now, we see companies advertising limited product availability at certain launch times in order to make a product seem more desirable due to its limited availability. You can also find companies with unique social media campaigns involving viral videos or account interaction. There’s so many ways to create interest that not doing so would be a misstep.”

Go online

Marcus Hutsen is the Business Development Manager of Patriot Coolers, a brand offering a premium line of coolers and insulated drinkware. He cautions others not to limit themselves by steering clear of the world wide web. 

“The old saying ‘All press is good press’ probably does not hold up in the age of the internet. But it surely does not suggest that one should avoid all ‘press’. From SEO article services, to online advertising, to social media presence, and even website design, the way and frequency you appear online will directly correlate to how shoppers spend their money with you. The world runs on the internet at this point and people are savvy with it to the point where they can spot a company’s lack of technology from pages away. Take the time to do these things well when you go online.”


Vint specializes in wine investments and stocks. Their CEO, Nick King, considers the free product experience to be a potential advantage worth tapping into. 

“If there is one tried and true way of interesting anyone in a company it’s by offering freebies. People love free stuff. On the surface, this may seem counterintuitive to a company trying to make money. Giving away stuff equals financial loss, right? The answer to this question is true but it doesn’t stop there. In return for said free stuff you can request the person give their email address or even a personal review of the item they received. Both of these things can be used to interest people in your company.”

Hopefully, the information above can prove useful. It is no easy business to launch a startup and then not only add customers but keep their interest. Rahul Mirchandani, the senior vice president of product & revenue for Dream11, put it best, “Growth marketing and retention have moved beyond being buzzwords. Digital brands do need to invest in rapidly scaling their user base, but helping customers fall in love with your product and building loyalty through non-intrusive and value-adding engagement is a whole different ball game.”

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Lee Clarke
Lee Clarke
Business And Features Writer


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