The Bootstrapped Founder Newsletter Episode 31 – June 12th 2020

Dear founder,

One beautiful thing about a niche is that there is a certain similarity between the people in it. They are likely to frequent the same social media, read the same blogs, visit the same websites. They often are organized in communities where word of mouth spreads quickly.

You can leverage the density of these networks by becoming a part of them. Genuinely participate in niche communities. Don’t just use them as a marketing platform. Contribute before you advertise. Better, don’t advertise at all, create meaningful content around your product, and share that in a way that is helpful to people even without engaging with the product directly.

Three components are essential to spreading the word efficiently, and they all interact with each other: tribes, water coolers, and word-of-mouth. And they are all quite affordable.

The Power of Tribes

You want to become part of and eventually lead a tribe. Tribes are communities that long for connection and shared interests, and members of a tribe follow the same community leaders. Facilitate more connection or satisfy people’s interests, and you will be a voice in the community that your potential customers will listen to.

Tribes form around all kinds of topics. Some are obvious in our day-to-day lives, like fans of sports clubs. Others are extremely niche and highly virtual, like some obscure internet forum of carpet aficionados. But they are essentially the same: they all revolve around a central interest, and people talk about it with each other.

This makes tribes a great audience for your product. A very homogenous audience can be marketed to quite easily, as you know exactly where you can reach them and what language they speak.

The Power of the Water Cooler

Find the water cooler. The locations where your customers congregate when they are not hard at work can provide insightful information, as people talk more freely there than in professional circles.

Most of these water coolers are found in social networks like Facebook or Twitter. Reddit is a perfect place to look, as the sheer amount of specific subreddits makes it quite likely that there will be a vibrant community for your niche audience. Tribes are notorious for having very active water coolers, and once you find one, becoming a member is very worthwhile.

Listen to what people ask and complain about and offer your product embedded in more general advice. Shameless promotion is usually frowned upon in these communities, so you will need to provide something helpful and meaningful along with your plug. It is beneficial to become an actual member of the community before doing any intentional marketing. This will help you learn the language of the tribe and give you a chance to communicate with people, establishing yourself as a genuine member of their group.

Water coolers are wonderful for your content marketing in two ways. Initially, you will have the opportunity to see what your audience is interested in because that’s the content they share and engage with. Once you’ve understood what works for them and what does not, you can create content that you can be sure your audience will enjoy. Since you’ve already been a member of the community for a bit, you can provide quality content and market your product at the same time.

The Power of Word of Mouth

Word of mouth is the highest-converting way of spreading the word. Convince people to convince others and give them the tools to do so. Create easy-to-consume and easy-to-share content that existing customers can forward to new prospects. Allow them to mentor their peers into using your product by adding means to connect inside the product. This works particularly well with a referral system.

Word of mouth works mostly for low-touch businesses. Because these companies have a large number of customers and prospects that can take a look at a product through easy and self-service signups, word of mouth can happen without your intervention or encouragement.

In high-touch businesses, word of mouth works differently. Most of the time in B2B industries, your product is not very shareable because it gives an edge to the businesses that use it. Instead of everyone in the industry talking about your product, you want everyone in the businesses you would like as customers to talk about your solution before you reach out through direct sales.

There is one thing about word of mouth that you need to be aware of. You have almost no means to censor or steer the conversation. If there is something negative about your business, communities and tribes will discuss it. For many founders, hearing people complain about their service feels painful, but it’s a normal part of the business. In the end, even a neutral or negative conversation will keep your brand on the minds of your prospects and remind them of the fact that you’re at least trying to help.

Your Most Effective Marketing Strategy: Helping Your Tribe

Unlike large agencies, bootstrapped founders usually don’t want to spend tens of thousands of dollars per month on social media advertisements. That doesn’t mean you can’t leverage social media for your marketing. Quite the opposite: a well-executed social media strategy can outperform pay-per-click ads significantly — it definitely did for us at FeedbackPanda.

We experimented with paid ads, of course. And we didn’t see any additional engagement compared to our existing content marketing and outreach strategies. So we doubled down on that, and it was the right choice for us.

And there was a very basic assumption underpinning all of the marketing efforts: it’s not about us pushing a message into an audience of receivers, hoping for signups conversions. It’s about fostering a community that is eager to spread our messages, building our brand, and giving us recognition and reputation. To accomplish that, you have to focus on building a community first, and on your own messaging second. You need to help your tribe grow stronger, and they will be an amplifier for your messages.

If you’re fortunate enough to sell to a very focused niche that is at best a highly active tribe or at worst a loose community, here are a few ways of how you can help them:

• Facilitate communication. Allow for more connections between the people in your niche. Enable existing communities or build one yourself using community software like or Interview leaders in the community on your blog, giving them more reach and their voices more impact. Interview members of your community, showcasing both their uniqueness and their belonging to the tribe at the same time. Syndicate user-generated content on your blog. Turn regular tribe members into influencers through your outlets.

• Facilitate exchange. From day one, envision your product to have a component where your users can share something. It can be data, insights, best practices, support, frankly anything. Give your users a chance to empower each other, and they will make sure to increase their impact radius by carrying your service to their peers. Offer free resources from inside the community, and share your content with other outlets in the niche.

• Produce and syndicate valuable content. No matter if you’re producing a podcast, regular blog posts, a video series, or you write articles with ratings, reviews, and testimonials: as long as you provide helpful and meaningful content for your niche, you will have followers that spread it. As your content is written for your customers, any new reader will likely be an excellent candidate to become a new customer as well.

All of this generates trust. Trust is the currency of tribes, and with enough trust, people want to listen to you. You don’t need to spend money on marketing, and frankly, you couldn’t buy this kind of relationship with your customers if you wanted to.

Use the fact that you’re selling to a niche audience to your advantage and become a leader in your tribe. Help it grow, help your community members to learn and get ahead. This way, you’ll end up with a never-ending stream of eager customers who trust you and amplify your messages.

You can read more about this on the blog. I also speak about marketing and how we approached it at FeedbackPanda in this weeks’ The Bootstrapped Founder Podcast episode.

Links I Found Interesting

Rosie Sherry shared some insights into her work as the Indie Hackers community manager this week. The article lays out how she does Twitter for Indie Hackers, and it’s a great guide to building, entertaining, and consistently engaging a community on Twitter.

As part of the SaaStr Summit, Godard Abel, CEO and Co-Founder of G2, talks about the Global SaaS Trust Crisis, which he talks about around 17 minutes into the talk. Most buyers don’t trust Sales or Marketing, which means that as a bootstrapped founder, you will need to make sure you’re a peer to your audience. Be part of the tribe, earn the respect and trust of your prospects. Don’t emulate the faceless sales divisions of corporate enterprise.

While Godard is operating in gigantic B2B enterprise markets, he has a lot to say about smaller businesses as well: the number of SaaS products a single Small and Mid-Sized company buys on average is over 90 at this point. That’s a lot of tools, and it gives me great hope that the market for new bootstrapped SaaS business is thriving and capable of supporting many more companies. The unexpected shift to remote work has forced an adoption of new tools here.

I’ve been enjoying the Failory podcast recently. Episode 11 is called “Being Forced to Shut Down a +$1M/year Food Startup, with Steve Long of The Travel Brief” and discusses the story of Steve Long and Chowdy, learning entrepreneurship by jumping right into it, taking failure at face value, and moving on.

Another podcast I listen to every week is Akimbo by Seth Godin. This week, he talks about how Everyone Is Irrational, and how two great ideas he had in the past turned out to be failures due to unvalidated assumptions. If you need to convince yourself to validate more and assume less, listen to Seth—who is arguably the most eloquent expert on marketing—tell you what he got wrong and how this influenced his work.

Bootstrapped Success Stories

Musharof Chowdhury reached $1,500 in MRR with UIdeck this week. He attributes this growth to a change in the Google algorithm and a renewed focus on offering an all-access pass, which encouraged a number of single-purchase users to buy access to all the UIdeck products. A great upselling strategy.

Pete Codes, the founder behind NoCSDegree, NoCSOK, and BootcampIndex, made over $1,100 last week. Depending on where you live, that’s either part of your rent or all you need for the month. Things are looking up for Pete ever since he started implementing time-blocking and using a CRM. Follow Pete to see an Indie Hacker sharing his experiences trying to figure things out.

Thank you for reading this week’s edition of The Bootstrapped Founder. If you like what I wrote about, please forward the newsletter to anyone you think would enjoy it too.

If you want to help me share my thoughts and ideas with the world, please share this episode of the newsletter on Twitter or wherever you like, or reach out on Twitter at @arvidkahl.

See you next week!

Warm Regards from Berlin,