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How hard is it to get a new user?


Quick Answer: Very!

Long Answer: It depends (doesn’t it always?), and don’t under-estimate inertia.

When you’re starting a new product you start with no customers. You have to go and get your first one. OK, the first one is you, then your colleagues, then your friends, then your family…

Some will try you because they love you, but the real test with this crew is if they stay. That’s when you’ve earned them.

At some point (unless you’re Trib with one million ‘friends’) you have to find some strangers, get them excited and get them to try you out. There are generally two options with potential users: those that have no existing solution or those that have a competitive or substitute existing solution. Both pose problems.

No existing solution

If someone isn’t using anything to solve their problem, then maybe they don’t think the problem is really worth the trouble. Or it’s not worth the cost if there is an expensive or major hassle solution. Just because they look like they have a big need, and even if they say, “Yeah, it really sucks that I can’t ______” doesn’t mean that they care enough to spend money or time to get up off their comfy couch of doing nothing and have it solved.

Time and time again I see new apps on Read/Write Web, try them, like them and know that if I used them my life would be just that little bit better. But I don’t. The little bit better isn’t worth the mental weight of yet another ‘little bit better’ app.

So how much will get someone off the ‘using nothing right now’ couch? We’ll get to that later.

Using competitor/substitute

In a lot of ways, someone using something already is a better prospect. At least they care enough to use something.

But, instead of apathy costs, you’ve got switching costs. Obviously, some types of apps are very easy to switch from because there is nothing invested or locked into it. I can watch videos on any app all day long. I really don’t care as long as it plays. However, uploading my own vids or commenting may form a more long-term relationship/archive, making it worth my while to hang around. Email is the same. Blogging is the same. Feed readers, too.

So how much does it take to get someone to move from one product to another? Let’s look at it now.

Breaking Customer Inertia formula

I’m going to see if we can try and solve this mathematically, just to really mess it up.


Of course, this maths is done in the blink of an eye and the click of a mouse. But it is done.

It’s the reason why you can’t just be better than the existing apps. Or you can’t just be really useful. You have to be insanely, grossly, massively, obviously, simply and wonderfully useful.

It’s why I say to the startups we work with at Pollenizer: Why don’t you start by charging people $100 a year for your app? “$100, no way anyone is paying that?” Well, if no one is going to pay $100 for your app, there is very little chance one million people will use it for free.

I’m serious. Start off aiming to make it $100 worth and worse case, when you offer it for free, people will be lining up in droves. Start off thinking it’s free, and you’ll get what you expect them to pay for it.

So the answer to the question — how hard is it to get a new user? Very easy, if you create seriously significant value. Impossible, if you create marginally good value.

Mick Liubinskas is one of Australia’s leading web strategists, having served in head marketing roles at Kazaa, Zapr and Tangler. He now runs Pollenizer, the business incubator he co-founded with former-Kazaa colleague Phil Morle.

Mick is a panellist at Anthill’s Online Marketing by Design event being held in Sydney on Tuesday February 02 from 6-9pm. For more information, click here.