How do you get your first client? The honest answer is, it depends. There is no success formula for turning your company into a brisk honeypot overnight. Each startup’s first client story is different. Businesses find their first clients in their own unique way. Sometimes this means persistence and hard work, sometimes this means luck, often it is a combination of both.
Clients are the lifeblood of any business, and learning how to get them on board is essential for any startup founder. As we know, the best way to learn is to learn from the best. We asked Supermetrics, who was recognised as the most financially successful company in Finland to share their story of getting world famous names as clients. Supermetrics’ client base includes BBC, Red Cross, Greenpeace, Rovio, and since recently, Google. How did they make it happen?
Spot an opportunity
Opportunities are the most crucial steps to the next level in every business. Thus it is extremely important to focus on opportunities and making the most out of them when they appear. Great opportunities can be found everywhere, even in places, you don’t expect them to be.
“In our case, it all started from an online forum” – says Mikael Thuneberg, Supermetrics CEO.
“Back in 2009, years before Supermetrics, the Google Analytics API was brand new. A guy from Google called Nick Mihailovski posted a note on some forum, saying that the first person who manages to connect the Google Analytics API with Excel will get a Google t-shirt. One Swedish guy was the first to reply, but Nick could not get his tool to work, and neither could I. I was working at Sulake doing analytics for Habbo at the time, and I needed some GA data into Excel. So I decided to give it a try, despite not being a developer. It turned out pretty well, so I replied to the forum. Nick sent me the t-shirt, and Google also blogged about it.
Startup founders often believe that all you have to do is build an amazing product, yet most successful companies can track their beginnings to a specific moment when they received direct market feedback or an opportunity.
Even Steve Jobs did not convince his first customer to buy his product right away. He saw an opportunity when Paul Terrell from the Byte Shop said that he would not buy bare circuit boards from Steve, but if they were to make ready-made-computers – he would. This was the start of Apple.
Let’s face it, finding a client and keeping him/her on board are two different things. Lots of work needs to be done in order to convert your early adopters into long-time clients. Email, call, message people, ask for feedback and get them to use your product. Mikael was able to maintain contact with Googlers for years and has been on their radar whenever new analytics tools emerged.
“Based on the Google blog post, lots of people started contacting me, so I started a side-business doing analytics tools for Excel. I kept in touch with Nick and other Googlers through the years and they often blogged about my stuff. The business grew steadily and in 2013, I started doing it full-time and formed Supermetrics.
In 2013, Google started planning to allow add-ons for Google Sheets & Docs. They invited me to be among the few developers to get early access. I released an add-on for Google Sheets in 2014 and it really accelerated the company’s sales growth, and I could also start hiring people.
When Google started considering to open up a Data Studio for outside developers, we were the first they contacted, because we had been working with the Google Analytics for many years, had built a very successful Google Sheets add-on, and had a good reputation among Google partners (digital ad agencies). The product manager for Data Studio is the same Nick who sent me the t-shirt 8 years ago 🙂 “
Your business is an extension of you. Your clients buy from you not only because you have a great product, useful features, save their time etc. They buy from you because you are passionate about your business. Before setting his sails on Supermetrics, Thuneberg had to choose between a stable job position at Sulake and starting his own company.
“Immediately after Google published the post, I started getting emails from people around the world asking me if I could develop something on top of the simple scripts that I had published. I did a few of these for free or very minimal pay (the first payment I got was a gift card for a money clip at https://www.moneyclamp.com/). But after a few months, I decided I want to see if I could make real money with this. I had done some side projects previously for a company called T-Media, so I asked the CEO Harri Leinikka if I could work there part-time while trying out my own business, and we he was open to the idea. So with that arrangement, I could leave Sulake and still rely on some level of income from the other job. After a few years, my own business had grown so well that I left T-Media, made it an OY (eng – LTD), and started doing it full-time. The first employee I hired in 2015, now we’re 12 and growing fast.”
Getting clients for your startup is not hard when you know exactly who is going to buy your product. Mikael Thuneberg started by building a solution for Google, and when he was ready for building his own company, the client was already there. Once there is a reputable client, the rest will follow.