10 Bitter Lessons in Getting Customers in Sribu’s Early Journey
Developing an online start-up is not easy, as what we have told you in this article. After the product launching, it does not mean that the entrepreneur’s work is done. Quite the contrary, it will be the most important and hectic moments for the entrepreneur, because after a product enters the market, it’s time for them to sell it to support their company’s life. Indeed, many new challenges are waiting already when the entrepreneur has reached that point.
As explained in the article that I read in KissMetric’s blog, an entrepreneur has to make sure about a few things so that the business can be a solution that meets the needs of the target market. Especially if we start to talk about, “How do I get thousands of customers?”
As we all have already known, thousands of customers will not just appear out of nowhere. Thousands of customers will come from one first customer that continues on to other customers. The problem for entrepreneurs who just started their business would be, “How do I get the first customer?”
Starting from push marketing to pull marketing, there are many things an entrepreneur can do to get customers. The story of the early efforts to get customers is the most unforgettable stories for every entrepreneur. Both in terms of the struggle to get it, to the first time experiencing how to address the customer’s needs. I myself, as an entrepreneur, felt the same way. The experience of getting the first customer was very unique. Emotional when getting the first customer, it was a bitter journey.
Sribu’s First Customer!
Sribu’s first customer is Raja Elektronik which changed its name into Arjuna Elektronik the following year. Raja Elektronik is a company that sells electronic products such as washing machines, televisions, vacuum cleaner and more, with a credit or installment system.
Due to the fact that the concept of crowdsourcing was still new at that time, many people still don’t understand how crowdsourcing works and Sribu’s products, including this first customer. At that time, Ronald, owner of Raja Elektronik needed a new brochure design and after I tried to explain about Sribu by phone, we finally agreed to meet.
We met in a cafe around Daan Mogot. I brought my IPad and notebook to take notes of the requirements and brochure design brief. After explaining how Sribu works, Ronald was quite impressed with the system and also the number of designers that we have at that time (we have 2,000 designers at that time). After the meeting, Ronald did not put his order right away, but we had to follow him up through phone several times before he was finally convinced to order a brochure design through Sribu.
When the order—or “contest” as you are more familiar with—was held, I felt very very scared. What if the results didn’t meet the expectations? What if the entries were not that many? What if the process was too difficult?
To my relief after the contest was over, the design produced by our designer community reached up to 106 entries! To see the contest you can go straight to Raja Elektronik Brochure contest page.
“In the business world, everyone is paid in two coins: cash and experience. Take the experience first; the cash will come later.” – Harold S. Geneen
I strongly agree with Harold S. Geneen’s statement above. Even though I did not gain any material benefit from the first Sribu contest, but I felt that the experience was a baby step or a very valuable first step and it becomes the first step to Sribu’s progress.
10 Bitter Lessons I Gained
We got our first customer (Arjuna Elektronik) 3 month after Sribu run, and the next 30 customers were within the next 6 months. The nominal is considered to be very small for an online business where making business scaling is the main focus. What happened? What made it very hard to get customers? What are the bitter lessons we went through?
At that time, I was not focused to get customers because I was afraid that the designers who already joined will get bored if there’s no activity in Sribu. So at that time we spent a lot of time to “keep the designers happy” by making dummy contests with personal budget or social media contents posts.
Though in fact I did not need to do that. All I needed to do was focusing to get customers. If I did that, I’m sure I could have gotten Sribu’s first customer in a shorter time.
2. Started from Strangers
Sribu got our first customer in the third month after we launched. A very long time, is not it? Yes, this happened not only because I was not focused on looking for customers, but also because I use an ineffective marketing strategy.
What I did to get the first customer in those 3 first months was trying to approach people I do not know through online marketing activities.
However, after Ronald closed the first Sribu contest, I thought, why didn’t I call out to people who are close to me? And when I tried to contact friends and relatives, I actually got better results than when I was still trying to reach customers that I did not know personally.
3. Didn’t Do a Research
Research is the first thing an entrepreneur should do before everything else, especially for marketing activities. We all know, the cost to conduct marketing activities is not just a little. But at that time, I did not do any research and just tried all marketing channels instead. Like shooting with closed eyes in hope of hitting the target, but the result was a huge zero. None of the marketing activities was successful at that time.
Actually, conducting a research is not as complicated as you might think. You can do a little research by observing another business marketing strategy that you consider successful, or conduct surveys.
4. Run Online Marketing Event which was Not Suitable for Sribu
At that time, I didn’t understand a thing. I was just doing what I just knew. At that time I tried to push online marketing using Google Display and Facebook Ads, which both ended without any conversion. This is not just a matter of money, but also the amount of time spent to work and wait for the results of this ad.
For those of you who don’t understand what a push marketing is, push marketing is a marketing activity that brings the company closer directly to customers and tend to be more aggressive.
The service offered by Sribu is the type of services that will only be used when needed. So there are several types of online marketing activities that would not be suitable for Sribu.
5. Tried Every Offline Marketing Activity
Sribu is a pioneer in the crowdsourcing business in Indonesia, therefore I tried every marketing channels existed. One of the marketing activities that we tried was canvassing, distributing Sribu’s flyers on the road. By doing so, we finally understood how difficult it is to convert offline users into online customers.
6. Rushed in Finding Big Customers
Who in their right minds would not want to handle famous brand as a customer? By having a well-known brand as a customer, companies can increase the level of trust, the company could also become increasingly known due to the publicity gained from the big brands customers. Unfortunately, getting a well-known brand as a customer is not easy. Sribu succeeded in getting Rice Bowl as a customer after 6 months since the first launch through pitching which took a considerable amount of time.
7. Unpreparedness in Giving Explanation
The terms of “crowdsourcing” are still very new. Of course, it’s very difficult for me to explain to inexperienced public. At that time I explained all the details and it took a lot of time. After a few months, I thought that I really just need to explain that Sribu is a company that provides design services.
Give an explanation to the laymen about the business is really not easy. However, the unpreparedness to explain something (especially a presentation about the company) would make it even more difficult.
8. Spent a lot of time to Convince Prospects
As a new company that didn’t have a portfolio and customers yet, I had to convince prospective customers to use Sribu’s design services. I spent a lot of time to explain a lot of things so that prospective customers would be convinced that they will get the design they want.
This experience made me realize the importance of product knowledge. In addition, patience and precision in answering any questions posed by potential customers are necessary so that your potential customers can entrust their money to you to get what they want.
9. Doing (Almost) Anything to Get The First Customer
As a follow-up story on the previous point, I was desperate to do anything to get the first customer for Sribu. When we reached Ronald’s office of Ronald and discussed, it turned out that the budget prepared was only Rp.600,000 while the minimum order for brochure design at that time was Rp 1,500,000 (Rp.1,200,000 for the winning designer and 300,000 for Sribu’s profit). So I had to spend Rp 600,000 to get the first customer and without profit :).
10. High Patience in Starting Up the Start-up
Ronald’s office was located in Daan Mogot West Jakarta, while I myself is in Gandaria, South Jakarta. To make the trip it takes about 2 hours, so I spent most of my working hours to present a Sribu’s product that worth Rp.1,500,000. In addition, I also had to keep running the first Sribu’s contest which I bear some of the costs.
All that would require extra patience. However I am sure that everything will change for the better if an entrepreneur can be patient in going through each milestones there is.
This is of course not only experienced by me, but also by other entrepreneurs who have business in a different fields. But I believe that every experience certainly has a positive value that can be teach entrepreneurs to develop their businesses.
~ Don’t stop and keep learning.