The Importance of Your First Alpha Customer
Starting a company because you want to solve a problem you’ve personally experienced can be a great thing. Since you already know what you want, you can get started right away. You’ll have a clear vision of your product and will be able to focus your effort on important, key features instead of being distracted by the bells and whistles that don’t really address the core problem.
Of course, there are downsides. If most of your market isn’t interested in the problem you’re going after, your product will have limited appeal. Also, if you don’t really have to talk to your market, you probably won’t, and you’ll miss out on key connections and relationships that can help get things moving as you try to sell your product for the first time.
Of course, before you sell anything, someone has to try it first…
Your First Alpha Customer
Getting your first alpha customer is a huge milestone in your startup’s life, especially if you haven’t talked to your market very much. It validates your product idea. It shows that you have something to offer, that you are actually solving a problem that someone (other than you) cares about.
Your first alpha customer will give you constructive feedback. They’ll help guide your product development and tell you what’s really important. They’ll identify compelling features that you hadn’t thought to add. They’ll help you validate and revise your positioning matrix. If you solve their problems well, they’ll give you quotes for your website and point you to other potential customers.
Your first alpha customer will help you iron out the wrinkles in your product and help you figure out how to deploy and maintain it. They’ll help take your product across the finish line so it’s really ready to sell.
Getting Your First Alpha Customer
Finding your first alpha customer can be tricky. I think the only way to really approach this is to leverage your relationships. If you’ve worked for another company for a while and left on good terms, they might be an option. Former vendors and suppliers might work. If you have a board of directors/advisors, they may open up their networks to help you get started.
When you do find your first alpha customer, it may feel like you’re doing a lot of taking in the relationship (they’re giving you a chance, they’re spending time to get you going, they trust that you know how to solve their problem, etc.), but it really should be a win-win situation. They get to influence the product while it’s still flexible. They might get a (nearly) custom-built product for free. If your product actually solves an important problem, you will be solving that problem for them. In addition, one of the biggest benefits of this relationships is that they get to deal with you, not a sales rep or a field engineer or a junior consultant. They’re dealing with the guy that knows his stuff. That’s huge.
Treat Your First Alpha Customer Right
Even though your relationship should be a win-win, your alpha customer is taking the initial risk. They’re putting their faith in you. That’s worth a lot. This might be the first tangible, positive, market feedback you’ve gotten so far. Make sure you listen to them. Fix issues quickly. Always deploy high quality product. Make it run well. Streamline their experience.
Practice doing what you should eventually do for all your customers.