How 23 Web & Mobile Startups Got Their First Users


How 23 Web & Mobile Startups Got Their First Users

Everyone launching a new web or mobile app has the same question.  How do I get my first users? The truth is, there’s no one right way. But wouldn’t it be nice if someone could just tell you exactly how they found their first users so you could try it? And not some abstract advice like…make a good product. You want real, actionable, step-by-step advice. The good news is, there are lots of startups willing to share their secrets (we’ll share ours soon) . If you want the exact breakdown of how some of today’s startups went from zero users to kick-ass, read on.

How 16 Web Startups Got Their First Users

Groove – Helpdesk Tool

From 0 users to 1,000

Main user acquisition channels: Twitter, Blogging, and PR

Groove reached out to 40 publications including The Next Web. Their The Next Web feature brought hundreds of signups and created Twitter buzz about their service and company. They also shared a “behind the scenes” blog post about their success and reached #1 on Hacker News for half a day bringing more users. Make sure to check out this must-read post on how they got their users and the other wonderful behind the scenes post about growing a SaaS startup. Just plan on spending a few hours on their blog and get ready to learn.

Read about how Groove got their first users: How a SaaS Startup Got their First 1,000 Users

Realtime Board – An online whiteboard for teams

From 0 users to 100,000 in 10 months

Main user acquisition channels: Offline events, online reviews from users, and Chrome Webstore RealtimeBoard’s growth is just enviable. Few startups are lucky enough to get 100,000 users in such a short period of time, especially with a zero dollar marketing budget. Realtime used offline events catered to their target customers and encouraged early  users to write online reviews which brought more users.

Read about how Realtime found their first users: How to get 100,000 users in 10 months

Invision – Web and Mobile App Prototyping

From 0 users to 118,443

Main user acquisition channels: Free t-shirts, connecting on Twitter, building IRL Relationships Invision is a well-funded startup, but they didn’t spend tons of money on user acquisition. With a few great growth hacks, focus on relationship building, and common sense they got 118K+ users.

Read about how Invision got their first users: Growth Hacking + Lean Marketing = 118K Users

TIP: Remember, getting users is only the beginning. Keeping users around is key and great onboarding can help. Here’s 15 Hacks To Onboard Your Users with Email, SMS, and Push Messages

Front – Shared Inbox

From 0 users to 2,000

Main user acquisition channels: Product Hunt, Beta List, and Layer Vault

Sometimes getting your first users is easier than you think. And Front has proven this. Front used just three websites (Product Hunt, Beta List, and Layer Vault) to get a bulk of their first users. How much simpler can it get?

Read about the simple way Front acquired their first users: The Easiest Way to Get 2,000 Users

Pipedrive – Sales CRM

From 0 users to 1,000

Main user acquisition channels: Networking and Appsumo

Often we get so stuck on getting our first users, we don’t focus on getting our first paying customers. Luckily Pipedrive shares exactly how they pulled it off. After four months of little sales Pipedrive reached out to influencers that spread the word about their app. They also ran a special deal for cost-conscious startups on AppSumo.

Here’s how Pipedrive got their first 1,000 paying customer: How to Get Your First 1,000 Paying Customers

Blueleaf – Financial Advisor Tools

From 0 users to 10,000 before launch

Main user acquisition channels: Paid user acquisition, referral programs, blogging

Can making potential users jump through hoops be the key to getting your first users? It worked for Blueleaf. With a strict referral process and cheap user acquisition costs, Blueleaf got 10,000 users before launch.

Here’s 10 Ways Got Blueleaf got 10,000 user Before Launch: 10,000 Sign Ups Before Launch

Buffer – Social Media Sharing Tool

From 0 users to 70,000

Main user acquisition channels: Guest blogging, behind the scenes details

Buffer is another startup that has made it their business to tell their business. And it’s paid off big time. With a combination of “extreme” guest blogging, a few growth hacks, and sharing every single detail about their company, they’ve earned tons of new users.

How Next Level Guest Blogging Got 70,000 users: First Users with Guest Blogging

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iDoneThis – Team Performance Tool 

From 0 users to 5,000

Main user acquisition channels: Lifehacker, Reddit, Hacker News iDone

This is proof that Hacker News and Reddit can work for startups, if you have a hook. Combine that with “news-jacking” to earn a mention on Lifehacker and you’ve got yourself 5,000 users.  The iDoneThis team posted their tool on Hacker News with the hook that they built it to keep their New Years Resolution. After it was posted it was picked up by The Next Web for their first 150 signups. Then they cross-posted to 3 subreddits and got 400 subscribers. A month later they sent a cold-email to, got covered, and earned 4,500 signups.

Here’s their story: Find Your First 5K Users on Hacker News and Reddit

Mailcloud –  Email App

From 0 users to 10,000 in 2 weeks

Main user acquisition channels: Paid ads and viral sharing

It’s interesting how many users you can get with just $2300, viral sharing, and optimization. But the Mailcloud team found a way to get 10,000 users only these techniques.

How $2,300 and Viral Sharing Got Mailcloud’s First Users: 10,000 Users in First 2 Weeks

Moment Garden – Store and track your baby’s moments

From 0 users to 58

Main user acquisition channels: Facebook Through a lot of testing Moment Garden spent $37 to get 58 new users for their app on Facebook. This may not work for everyone, but the lessons they share could help you get better results.

How Moment Garden Got 58 Users From Facebook for $37: Facebook Ads to Get Users

Vibe – Find out more about your contacts

From 0 users to unknown

Main user acquisition channels: Product Hunt

Vibe doesn’t share the exact number of new users they got from Product Hunt. But their story shows the importance of getting your app shared on Product Hunt to get your first users.

How Vibeapp got users in 30 hours: Get Your First Users in 30 Hours

Brand Yourself – Improve Your Own Search Results

From 0 users to 60,000 in 6 hours

Main user acquisition channels: PR and Virality Brand Yourself found a way to promote one feature to Mashable and it caused a domino effect. Other publications started writing, users starting sharing, and in 6 hours they got 60,000 users. Here’s How Brand Yourself Got 60,000 Users: 60k Users in 60 Hours From 0 users to 3,500 in 6 weeks

Main user acquisition channels: Twitter and Facebook Ads Jumpstarter got sign ups pre-launch but saw little conversion once they released. So they set up a Founding Member program, created tweets for their beta testers to share, and tested Google and Facebook ads to get their first users.

Jumpstarter Gets First 3,500 Users with Tweets and Facebook Ads: How To Get 3,500 Users in 6 Weeks

Plumbr – Find Java app memory leaks

From 0 users to 1,000 in 3 months

Main user acquisition channels: Reddit and Hacker News

Plumbr is another example of a company finding success on Reddit and Hacker News. After their friends share their link on Hacker News and they shared their own news on Reddit they managed to get 1,000 users in 3 months.

How Plumbr Got 1,000 Users on Hacker News and Reddit: First 1,000 Users in 3 Months

Tint – Display Your Social Media Feeds

From 0 users to 10,000

Main user acquisition channels: Partnerships, SEO, Guest blogging

Tint used several channels to bring in new users with lots of success. They developed partnerships with website builders and third-party app stores to get in front of their target audience. They then focused on SEO to cut their customer acquisition costs from $40 per customer to $0 per customer. Tint also used guest blogging to talk to their audience and earn high-quality backlinks to their site. They share every step of how they did it on their blog.

Check it out. How Tint Got 10,000 Users: 9 Ways to Get Your First 10,000 Users

Baremetrics – SaaS Analytics for Stripe

From 0 users to 100

Main user acquisition channels: Twitter

Baremetrics got their first 100 paying customers on Twitter. But Baremetrics shares the secret to their success. It’s not about Twitter, it’s about your marketing message and what makes people want to talk you. How Baremetrics got their first 100 customers: Use Twitter to Get Your First 100 Customers

How 7 Mobile App Startups Got Their First Users

Phone Date – See the date on your photos

From 0 users to 50,000

Main user acquisition channels: Forums, Youtube, Reddit

If you’re a small developer with no marketing budget it can be difficult to get users for your mobile app. For Ben (the developer of Phone Date) he learned quickly that relying on app review sites was a waste of time. By focusing on a few simple tactics, Ben got 50,000 downloads.

Here’s how to get 50,000 app downloads: Get Your First App Users on Forums, Reddit, & Youtube

Dialapp – Kitkat Dialer App

From 0 users to 100,000

Main user acquisition channels: High profile websites, Facebook Ads, and Google Plus

Sometimes you get lucky enough to get covered on a high profile site like Techcrunch. But that only brings your first users. To take advantage of their momentum the developers of Dialapp used Google Plus, Facebook Ads, and discovery apps to help reach 100,000 users.

How to Get 100,000 Mobile App Users: Use Facebook Ads, Google Plus, and App Discovery Apps

Autocad  – Drawings on Your Phone

From 0 users to 10,000,000

Main user acquisition channels: Blogs, SEO, Localization

With no budget, the makers of AutoCAD WS were able to take a “boring” app from 0 to 10 million downloads. After talking to other app developers, the VisualTao team (which was later acquired by Autodesk) decided to target small and medium blogs that were easier to reach instead of large blogs to get better, longer lasting traffic to their site. They also went beyond localized app descriptions and localized their promotional materials which doubled their downloads. Although never featured on Techcrunch or Mashable, they found a few blogs to reach their target market and still get 10 million downloads.

Here’s how to get 10,000,000 people using a “boring” app: Guerilla Marketing For Mobile Apps

Fairshare – Shared Home Management App

From 0 users to 1,000

Main user acquisition channels: Reddit

For small teams with no budgets it can be hard to get users for your mobile app. So the makers of Fairshare studied the Reddit community before participating and got their first 1,000 users from one post.

How Fairshare got 1,000 Users: How To Get Users for Your Mobile App From Reddit

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Bazzart – Social Collage Editor

From 0 users to 500,000

Main user acquisition channels: DIY PR, Localization, and ASO

The Bazzart team proves that you don’t need a PR team to get the press to cover you. In fact, the Bazzart team got 50+ blogs to talk about them.  The Bazzart team made localization a priority from day one translating their app into many languages. This helped them rank well in the Russian App Store. They also researched their chances of ranking for particular keywords and even researched keywords to rank well in other countries. Lastly, they got coverage from a major publication they pitched by creating a collage of the writer’s pins on Pinterest.

How Bazzart got 500,000 users: PR, Localization, and ASO Equal 500,000 Mobile App Users

I Am A Player – Mobile Football Game

From 0 users to 4,000,000

Main user acquisition channels: Cross-Promotion, Paid Facebook Ads, Open Graph

Four million users may sound like a reach, but the I Am Player team made it happen by using  marketing channels small teams rarely use. The I Am Player team used highly targeted Facebook ads based on demographics and psycho-graphics to acquire users for their social game. The team also integrated with Open Graph to have their users’ activity shared on their Facebook feed, which lead to huge numbers of viral installs. Then the team used a cross-promotion tool like Appplifier and MauDau to bring in about 30,000 clicks in 3 days for FREE.

Here’s how to get users with Facebook Ads and Cross Promotion: How to Get 4 Million Users For a Social Game

Languages – Instant Offline Translation

From 0 users to unknown

Main user acquisition channels: Networking and DIY PR

A good looking app plus networking with Apple employees and the press may just make your app launch as successful as Tapity’s. Jeremy (the founder of Tapity) goes into the steps he took  months before launch to make sure Languages reached the top of the charts.

Here’s the post on how Tapity got their first users: Get Your First App Users by Networking

Also, don’t forget to read this post on how Kollecto used this article to get their own first users

Think I missed a story that would help others get their first users? Let me know at [email protected] and I’ll add it.


Article Name
How 23 Web and Mobile Startups Got Their First Users
Wondering how to get your first users for your web or mobile app? Here's the exact tactics 23 startups used to find their first users.