5 Tips for Signing Up First Customers, the Holy Grail of Startup Success

Anyone in a B2B (business-to-business) startup who thinks it’s going to be easy to sign up first customers, probably hasn’t tried it yet. There’s nothing easy about cracking that egg.

But it’s not impossible either. Month by month, here at Rev1, we witness more and more examples of portfolio companies inking agreements with their first, second, or third “first” customers.

Here are 5 Tips that we’ve seen work—surprising ideas that contribute to sales.

  1. Validate solutions with real customers in real markets before you create a prototype.

If you can’t get customers to validate your concept, you are not going to be able to convince them to buy your product. It’s as clear cut as that. As a startup with no track record, no references, and no history of product service, your learned knowledge of your customers and their needs is the single best tool you have to build credibility when you are ready to close that first customer.

First Customers Logos-01Simple-Fill, a spinout from OSU validated the benefits of its novel gas compression technology with companies including Worthington Industries and Honda R&D Americas which have become strategic partners and future customers.

  1. Take what you learned about customers during validation to create a prototype of the “ideal” customer, the same as you created a product prototype.

Where do you find that “dream” customer? Where do they work? What industries? What types of companies? What do they do? Job titles? Responsibilities and metrics? What problems does that person have to have for them to even be willing to listen to you? What’s the value proposition that will make them say, “yes”?

First Customers Logos-02Clarivoy is a marketing technology firm that solves many of the biggest challenges in advertising today. Clarivoy is helping customers in the automotive industry, such as Germain Motor Company and Andy Mohr Automotive, understand and optimize their TV buy.

  1. Target the industries and companies in your geography where your “dream” customers work.

Central Ohio is home to 15 Fortune 1000 companies and 49 Inc. 5000 firms. Many other top corporations have major facilities here alongside hundreds of medium-sized firms. These businesses have unsolved problems and untapped opportunities—challenges so significant that if you can provide a solution, a big-name corporation might be willing to take a chance on being your startup’s first customer.

First Customers Logos-03T-Pro provides big data solutions that help manufacturers of consumer packaged goods make better decisions and improve ROI. After barely two years in operation, T-Pro’s customer roster includes Kellogg’s, Tree Top, and Sargento.

  1. Use your connections and your connections’ connections to open doors.

Rev1 portfolio companies are thriving because of the unique connections and collaborations that go on here. Through First Connect, Rev1 portfolio companies gain access to 90+ experts and potential customers and 120 advisors. So far, those relationships have produced more than 78 qualified customer leads.

First Customers Logos-04At Rev1’s first open house, MentorcliQ, an enterprise mentoring platform, met a VP from Battelle, one of the nation’s largest research firms. Battelle became a MentorcliQ customer in just a few months.

  1. Build such strong partnerships with your first customers.

Doing this will create a foundation for customers who will stand up and tell friends and strangers how beneficial it is to do business with you.

At Rev1’s 2015 Demo Day Reveal, customers of 11 of our portfolio companies told the world how doing business with these 11 startups had increased ROI, improved business decision-making, or helped tap into new markets.

What’s been your most successful tactic for gaining the confidence of your first customer?