The Secret to Platform Building for Startups
UPDATE #2: The contest closed with a surprise ending. Due to overwhelming response from newsletter subscribers, Tim agreed to send 10 signed free copies of his book instead of just 3. Huge thanks to Tim and his company Out:think for his generosity and thank you to newsletter subscribers for your interest.
UPDATE: This Thursday (the 13th), Tim Grahl has agreed to give away 3 free signed paperback copies of Your First 1000 Copies to mailing list members of this blog. Sign up at the top or bottom of this page and you will receive instructions on Thursday for how you can get a free signed copy of this book.
How would life be different if you had 5,000 friends you could reach out to tell about your new venture? How would 15,000 fans of You, Inc. change your luck? Would it make it easier to launch a company and get traction with 50,000 person engaged mailing list? Sounds impossible? Most startup founders don’t even try. What if there was a book that gave you step-by-step advice on how to accomplish this feat?
You’re in luck, because just a few months ago, Tim Grahl wrote it: Your First 1000 Copies.
Have you ever read a book that applied so perfectly to your life even though it wasn’t supposed to? Two books that did this to me years ago were Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Zen in the Art of Archery. I have never been very interested in motorcycles or archery, but both of these books shaped my high school years profoundly. Books like this are rare and transformative. I found a new one in Your First 1000 Copies. It apparently teaches writers of fiction and non-fiction books how to sell 1000 copies of their book by building a platform of fans. Or does it?
I originally picked up the book because I have written a few books and am thinking about writing another. But while reading this book, my eyes opened widely. I thought: “What if I used the same techniques to build fans of my startup?”
I realized the strategies and tactics in Your First 1000 Copies lays out an amazingly powerful platform building concept applicable to startup founders and entrepreneurs just as easily as is does for authors.
Overview. Getting attention for your startup in today’s world is difficult. To many founders I talk to, they don’t even know where to start so they don’t even try. Start by reading Your First 1000 Copies. It lays out a simple 4-layer strategy for building a following of fans for whatever you are doing: a startup, a book, a movement, anything.
Permission. The first and primary strategy is permission for email newsletters. Quantifying a fan base is done by counting the people who opt-in to inviting you into their email inboxes. Email is still the #1 sales conversion tool by orders of magnitude. When you tweet 100,000 followers, only a small fraction of them will see it. When you email 100,000 people, a large percentage of them will see it.
Content. How do you create fans? Create fantastic content and distribute it widely and freely to as many people as possible with a call to action to sign up to get more free content on a regular basis. Easy to say, hard to do. What are you passionate about? What do you get obsessed with? What would your spouse or significant other say you can’t stop talking about? Why not blog about that. After you put it on your blog, re-post it on Medium and Quora for even wider distribution.
Outreach. What about Twitter and Facebook? They are great places to deepen your relationship with your fans, but not a place to quantify a fan base. You can’t send multiple email newsletters a day, but you can certainly tweet and post useful updates multiple times a day. Treat your social accounts like mini bite-sized versions of your long form blogs. Keep them helpful and interesting. Use the 20-to-1 rule from another great book I will review soon: Platform by Michael Hyatt. For every 1 tweet to promote your own content, do 20 useful tweets with links and quotes that are not self-promotion.
Sell. After you have cultivated your fan base, you can let them know about your new ventures, whether they are a new novel or a new startup. Once a fan is a fan, they not only won’t mind a tiny bit of sales coming from you, they will want it. Think of your favorite football team. Not only do you expect to see overpriced mugs with their logo for sale at their home stadium, but you want to buy stuff with their logo on it. That’s because you are a fan.
Creating fans is an overlooked and underused startup technique that can pay huge dividends. DigitalOcean has created fans using the same playbook as SliceHost, creating tons of free and useful unix tutorials. Buffer has created fans by posting useful blog posts every day and encouraging users to join their daily newsletter. Even Paul Graham built a powerful personal platform using similar techniques of giving away tons of free content, one of the original entrepreneur advice bloggers. Think you can’t do it? Don’t have enough time? Read another book I will be reviewing soon: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.
About the Author
Lucas Carlson is a hands-on consultant, author and entrepreneur. He helps founders discover opportunities for growth, both for their companies and for themselves. He was the CEO and founder of AppFog, a popular startup acquired in 2013 after signing up over 100,000 developers and raising nearly $10M in venture funding from top angels and VCs.