By Seyi King
Many entrepreneurs launch and grow their startups by spending tons of money on advertising. However not all founders of startups have the luxury of funds at the initial stage hence they must look for cheaper ways to push their products out to users. While the theory of zero marketing budget is itself a hoax, smart entrepreneurs can still find the best and cheapest ways to grow their startup on a decent budget.
Having access to capital is not a leeway to spending huge sums of money on advertising as it does not guarantee the success of the startup.
In this article, I have outlined steps to build a successful startup with zero marketing budget based on case studies of successful startups. These strategies applies to all businesses both offline and online;
1. Build a great product
One of the secrets of advertising is that a good product would speak for itself. History has shown that companies that focus on solving consumer’s painful experiences go out to win the market. Create a great product or service with a unique business philosophy. A great product is not one that has all the possible features but a simple and effective product that delivers on its promise.
Whatsapp is a good success case. It is a simple and great product that grew without advertising. Whatsapp came during the era of the ubiquitous Blackberry, Facebook, Messenger but its unique selling point what its ability to allow users send text messages without paying for sms fee by operators. Slowly it started growing a user base and in 2011 it became the top 20 most downloaded app and has remained there ever since.
2. Build a lean and resourceful team
Your startup is doomed to fail if members of your team can not think resourcefully to grow the business. Members of your team must be able to multi-task at the initial stage. Members of your team must be able to pick up any skill that is required for the success of your startup.
All these guides become useless if your team members are not ready to work their socks off. As a founder you must be quick spot anyone who isn’t a fit for your start-up and let the person go.
Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos is someone who preaches efficiency and frugality in his workplace. His company is worth over $400 billion but wants all his staff to think and act like a startup eliminating any form of waste and inefficiency.
3. Show your product to power users
Your power users are micro-market for your product or service and comprise small groups of people who will readily adopt your product and recommend it to a larger network.
Ben Silberman of Pinterest leveraged on his power network to grow his user base from 3000 to 75 million active users. Ben Silbermann noticed his users plateaued at 3000 users but instead of spending money on advertising he decided to organise meet-ups at local boutiques. He also created events for community members to attend. These helped spread his photosharing website and enabled it to gain massive popularity. Facebook also leveraged on its power users-students at Harvard- to grow its social network.
4. Get feedback and make changes slowly
One of the mistakes many founders make is trying to please all users quickly. They get really anxious when users start calling for new features soon. In a bid to satisfy users they end up killing their startup.
Experience has shown that many users don’t really know what they want. It takes a smart entrepreneur experience to know the right feature to introduce out of several request from users. When Whatsapp first came out may users saw it as boring because it had no profile photo, status update or music updates.
Rather than go frantic and start adding new features, the founders only added new features slowly. This gradual improvement enabled the founders to see how their app was performing with the new features and hence gave them better insight on how to improve their product.
5. Leverage on cost-effective techniques/existing platform to reach users
Rather than spend money on traditional marketing, entrepreneurs owe it to their startups to look for the most cost-effective ways to grow their startups. One way is by piggybanking on existing platform.
Airbnd piggybanked on craiglist to grow its user base considerably. Stumbleupon piggybanked on Mozilla for early growth. Paypal leveraged on popular aunction site, ebay to become a payment gaint as merchants found it quick and easy to process their payment using paypal on ebay.
Some cost-effective ways to get users include guest blogging, SEO, social media and many more.
6. Create organic virality
Virality is simply the ability of your brand to get lots of talkability using clever marketing campaigns. A simple campaign telling your first customers to bring in friends and families when coming next time in return for a discount is a good way to create organic virality.
Survey monkey was able to save itself from tons of advertising by creating a reference back to its website when surveys were sent to responders. Hence responders ended up creating and sending out their own surveys. Mailchimp and Hotmail also used organic virality for early growth.
In the offline world, companies like Cocacola are expert in creating viral marketing campaigns that allow people to bond with their product. In its famous, ”share a coke’’ campaign, it replaced its coke logo with names of people which created fun and excitement for its fans.
Gopro, the camera maker likes to emphasize in its campaign that its camera isn’t just for recording but for showing adventure and sharing it with friends. These marketing campaigns tagetting organic virality have helped these companies grow and keep a large and loyal user base.
7. Leverage on the power of influencers
Influencer marketing is very powerful for growing brands quickly. Influencers consist of bloggers, celebrities and social media users with large followers.
Filip Tysander is one entrepreneur who neglected traditional maketing to focus on influencers to grow his watch company; Daniel Wellington into a $200 million company within less than 5 years.
Filip worked with thousands of bloggers and celebrities who helped to create buzz around his watch.
8. Get your users before launch of your product
Many bloggers have utilized this technique to launch successful products. Bloggers spend years growing their subscriber’s list such that when they are ready to launch their product they don’t have to spend so much money aquiring users.
Some bloggers that have gone to build successful products are Eric Bandholz of beardbrand, Danielle Morrill of Mattermark and Michelle Phan, the fashion vlogger who built a £320 million beauty empire.
Also multi-billion dollar companies like spotify, fab.com, drop box began acquiring users long before they officially launched.
Having access to huge sums of money for marketing and promotion of your product is good but it does not guarantee the success of your startup. The failure of London-based social app, fling easily calls to mind that the prevalence of capital isn’t enough. Fling famously burnt through $21 million. Entrepreneurs should always look for creative and cost-effective ways to grow their startups at the early stage. This article was culled from my blog, Coffeetimes. Visit to read more.