Google now sees more than 3.5 billion searches every day, but the company started with almost zero. Yet, while the idea of having billions of customers is appealing, most of us also realize it’s unrealistic. There’s a flaw in this approach; and it leads many start-ups down a dangerous path. In reality, those thousands or millions of customers aren’t nearly as important as the handful you start out with.

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“Great minds think alike but Fools seldom differ.”Let me walk you through some extra-ordinarily unique strategies that have done wonders in the marketing industry. The aim is to help you make a customer, not a sale.“Know what your customers want most and what your company does best. Focus on where those two meet.”

Airbnb’s Strategy: Localization is king.


Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia rented out three mattresses in their living room to local conference attendees who couldn’t find a hotel to “make a few bucks”.Surprisingly, not only did they harvest emails from Craigslist listers and convince most of them to list their short term rentals on Airbnb, they also made it easy for their users to post listings to Craigslist through Airbnb with one click. They were also able to use these events (and the hotel shortages) as vehicles to continuously direct press attention to AirBnB, which they credit as a key driver of their early success.

Pretty sure you don’t want to find your host to be a psychopathic killer, or your guest to run away with a painting he was admiring. When it comes to AirBnB, there’s a level of trust involved.

Reddit’s Strategy: Fake it till you make it.

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Reddit might seem like a haven for snark and sarcasm, where anonymity runs rampant but symbolizes one thing on the internet that the other sites don’t-Free speech.No one wants to use a silent forum. So Reddit turned this big issue into a non-issue by making tons of fake accounts and using them to interact with each other.It was a straightforward way of solving the chicken and egg, or in this case user and content problem.Interestingly, their logo a.k.a. the cute little alien that cost them about 500 bucks was their only investment.

Ironic that a community which prides itself on authenticity may not be around today if it wasn’t for a few white lies in the beginning.

Etsy’s Strategy: Give the people what they want.

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Etsy is an Internet marketplace where artistically minded people can hawk their hot-glue-and-glitter creations to the world, but buried between the innocuous unicorn hats and soap cupcakes are some legitimately worrisome knickknacks.They extended an accommodating bridge to a pre-existing online community of users looking for a platform to sell their handmade wares, and they jumped aboard happily.Their site did everything they could to support these merchants.

By supporting the sellers in bringing buyers to Etsy, they could fill the dual sided marketplace in a sustainable way.

Uber’s Strategy: Give them such a great experience, they want to talk about it.

File illustration picture showing the logo of car-sharing service app Uber on a smartphone next to the picture of an official German taxi sign in Frankfurt, September 15, 2014. A Frankfurt court earlier this month instituted a temporary injunction against Uber from offering car-sharing services across Germany. San Francisco-based Uber, which allows users to summon taxi-like services on their smartphones, offers two main services, Uber, its classic low-cost, limousine pick-up service, and Uberpop, a newer ride-sharing service, which connects private drivers to passengers - an established practice in Germany that nonetheless operates in a legal grey area of rules governing commercial transportation. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach/Files (GERMANY - Tags: BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT CRIME LAW TRANSPORT)

Garett Camp and Travis Kalanick, were in Paris for the LeWeb conference when they started commiserating about the difficulty of hailing a cab. This was the beginning of UberCab, which was initially a black car service.To get their first drivers, Travis cold called black car drivers and offered to pay them an hourly rate while they tried out the platform. Three of the first 10 drivers that he called, agreed to give it a try.They offered free rides at local events and simply worked hard to make each experience the best.

“When someone sees the ease of use, they inevitably become a brand advocate.”  Uber believed in old school word of mouth.So, Who’s Ubering home?

Tinder’s Strategy: Think like your target users.


The founders of Tinder pinpointed the college market as the most difficult market to convince to use the app, at a time when online dating was significantly more stigmatized than it is now.So, the actual marketing strategy started when Tinder realized that they were serving a dual-sided marketplace all thanks to Whitney Wolfe (their co-founder and Head of Marketing who eventually left to start up Bumble) .She would go to chapters of her sorority, do her presentation, and have all the girls at the meetings install the app. Then she’d go to the corresponding brother fraternity — they’d open the app and see all these cute girls they knew.”

Basically, if cupid isn’t working for you, Tinder might.



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Now Let’s get one thing straight.

The common pattern across all these companies was a relentless drive and the willingness to do whatever they could to interact directly with their end user. In doing so, they were able to build a product, a platform or a community that their users enjoyed being a part of and wanted to share with their friends.

Etsy had thousands of sellers sign up at launch but on the other end, Reddit had to fake their users for months. Uber technically started with three drivers, and Airbnb started with three air mattresses. What mattered more than number of customers was what happened after you had acquired your first few users.

Thank you for reading 🙂