Going from zero to one...and beyond.

I’ve had a handful of my friends struggle with getting new things started lately. And one of the big questions they’ve been struggling with is just how to get that initial core of users going.

Though I’ve never really had what I would consider a ‘home run hit’ with any of my own projects (yet), I have been able to grow many different things from zero users to at least a few thousand.

So I thought I would share some of the secrets that have worked for me. Here goes:

1. Give before you get.

Become an active community member and avid sharer of your experiences somewhere.

Don’t do it to blow your own horn, do it because it’s something you are passionate talking about and engaging in. Simply get out there and add as much value as you can wherever and whenever it’s relevant.

It will be rewarding and educational in itself, and you’ll develop a lot of meaningful and lifelong friendships. And true friends are where success really grows from.

2. Start really small.

Don’t spend years or even months thinking about and planning your attack. If you’ve got an idea, pair it down to the smallest thing you aren’t embarrassed to share with your friends…then start talking to them about it. Better yet, build something that helps them understand and play with it a bit.

At this stage, the smaller the better. Make it quick and simple for them to 'give it 5 seconds’. The easier you make that, the more of them that will actually do it.

3. Respond and react calmly and very quickly.

This is probably the most time intensive part of starting anything new (it’s not the planning or even the building – it’s the support), and is a major area that people simply fail.

If you’re going to be reaching out and asking friends and others to give your new thing some of their time and attention, you’ve got to show them that you really appreciate and care about what they are giving you. The more you do, the more likely they are to continue to give.

Don’t be defensive or try to explain the rational behind every little detail (nearly impossible for me to avoid myself)…but try to use the feedback and ideas to help you hone your story and your product.

Spend a lot of time thinking about 'why’ they are reacting the way they are (and why they aren’t reacting the way you wanted/expected)…and work tirelessly to tweak your product so as to corral them towards your intended reactions.

4. Focus on the fans.

When you give your insiders group early access to your new thing, at least one or two should reveal themselves as true fans over the early days (if not, evaluate the core idea and start again). These early fans are your single biggest source and potential to help the service grow and flourish.

Feedback and requests from early fans should simply be treated like pure gold.

5. Don’t be pushy.

Your likely obsessed with your new idea, but keep in mind that even your biggest fans likely aren’t (yet). They’ll never respond as quickly as you like, with as much detail as you like, or talk about your stuff as much as you like. That’s OK.

Control your communications and requests. Take what you can get. Be very appreciative about it, and respect that they have their own obsessions and interests to deal with too (see all the above points).

6. Keep active and keep going.

Especially in the very early days, it’s true, nothing happens if you don’t make it happen.

If you spend too much time thinking or planning with out doing, the opportunity will pass you up. If you don’t spend enough time engaging your early users you won’t build true fans. If you don’t tirelessly improve your product, it will never be good enough to attract more fans.

The bottom line is, if your passion and activity fades so will your momentum…and eventually your project. So never rest on what you did yesterday…

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This is the personal blog of Kevin Marshall (a.k.a Falicon) where he often digs into side projects he's working on for digdownlabs.com and other random thoughts he's got on his mind.

Kevin has a day job as CTO of Veritonic and is spending nights & weekends hacking on Share Game Tape. You can also check out some of his open source code on GitHub or connect with him on Twitter @falicon or via email at kevin at falicon.com.

If you have comments, thoughts, or want to respond to something you see here I would encourage you to respond via a post on your own blog (and then let me know about the link via one of the routes mentioned above).