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by • October 25, 2011 • Best of, Founders, ListeningComments (61)6289

It’s the CEO’s job to email the first 1000 signups

Until you’ve passed a thousand signups, the CEO should be personally emailing every new user. I’m going to cover:

  1. Practicalities
  2. How to mess it up
  3. Common objections
  4. Goals, perks & benefits

The signup thank you note

It’s not a big message. Mine look like this:

Hey Jackie,

Thanks for taking the time to check out STK. Give me a shout if you have any questions or if there’s anything else I can help with.

Stay well,
Rob
Founder | +44 7940435340 | @robfitz

The specifics (like the footer) are just my personal preference[1].

What I hope you’ll extract from the example is the casual tone and brevity.

How to mess this up

There are only two ways to mess this up and they’re both easy to avoid.

The first is to be demanding. I don’t even like to ask any questions at this point. Your users owe you nothing.

You’re just politely putting your hand up and saying:

Hey, here I am. You aren’t alone.

The second way to mess up is by forgetting common courtesy. They took the time to sign up, you can take the time to try to parse a first name out of their email address and send them a personal one line email.

Also, make sure you do it every day. Set up your website to show you a list of new signups at the beginning or end of each day.

I’ve seen some intros come through with a survey, which I [personally] find to be fairly disrespectful toward your new users’ time (aka my time). If it’s mass-mailed and arriving a week later, then we’re really not starting out on the right foot.

Common objections

This is an easy list to make because I rattled it off to my investors practically every Friday for a year.

The number one objection and/or excuse is that you don’t want to annoy people. But there’s seriously nothing to worry about if you aren’t being demanding, respect their time by keeping it brief, and reach out both promptly and personally.

Also, since you’re sending the emails personally and every day, the maximum number of people you can offend is just a day’s worth of sign ups. It will only take a week or two to find a voice you’re comfortable with.

How this will help you

First, it ferrets out earlyvangelists. They’ll respond to your one line email with a book of suggestions and use cases. Treasure them.

Second, a non-negligible percent of your otherwise silent cancellations will get in touch with dealbreaker feature requests and support crises.

Third, your users with sales-potential will identify themselves by reaching out. If you email all your trial users, the ones who are seriously considering a purchase will jump at the chance to talk directly to the CEO or founder.

More than once, I’ve said hello to a user with an email like “meredith@gmail.com” and received a reply from “meredith@mtv.com” with a title like “VP of digital entertainment” in the footer.

Fourth, and arguably most importantly, it’s just polite. Someone took the time to read about and try your startup: that’s awesome!

You would never think to host a dinner party and then refuse to say hello to anyone who walked through the door. You’ve invited people into your website. Introduce yourself and make them feel welcome.

[1] Very few people will actually make unannounced calls to phone numbers in a footer, but I happily answer when they do: free customer development meeting. Also, relegating the title of “founder” or “ceo” to the footer saves you from having to waste a sentence in the body on awkward self-aggrandisement.

[Image] by Jon Ashcroft

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61 Responses to It’s the CEO’s job to email the first 1000 signups

  1. [...] via:It’s the CEO’s job to email the first 1000 signups Cancel reply [...]

    • Eric Watson says:

      Rob,

      Thanks for sharing!

      I just implemented this with really cool results so far!

      One suggestion I have is using a tool like Rapportive in gmail to help collect information about the person that signed up so you can better personalize each email. It may just be a first name or you may find out that you have a mutual connection you can mention.

  2. Krista says:

    Thanks Rob!
    My co-founders and I have been doing this for the last month and have had incredible results. We haven’t launched yet and we’re finding that the people who take the time to sign up anyways are all genuinely excited about the product and want to help us out. Probably about 15% of our e-mails out have resulted in sales, business development, recruitment, or press leads.

  3. Mike Grace says:

    Great advice. I plan on doing this when I release my next piece of software.

  4. Wade says:

    Rob,

    Would you do the same thing if you are just collecting emails and haven’t launched yet? Sounds like Krista has with some success.

    If you would, is there anything you would change in your template?

    • robfitz says:

      My gut feeling is that I wouldn’t reach out to someone before they can play with the product themselves.

      I’m a little bit paranoid about annoying people, so I wouldn’t want to double-ping them, and if I’m only doing it once I’d rather wait until they’ve got real feedback for me.

      That being said, if you simply need to learn something, it can make sense to split the group up.. For example, reaching out to 50 or 100 of the pre-launch signups to get a sense of what they’re excited about, and then saving the rest of the contact for post-launch.

      Plus, it IS working for Krista, so don’t take my word for it ;)

    • Tim M says:

      I send an email to people when they pre-register, if only to tell people that yes, I’ve got their request, and how I’ll handle their data – they haven’t at this point got an account or access to the site so I want to give them some sort of handle to their action so far.

      Sample below, a little more wordy than I’d like perhaps, but I’d be interested to know if people think it’s too much or too soon etc.


      Tim

      Thanks for registering your interest in mysparebrain.com
      Please keep this message for future reference.

      We’ll contact you when we’re in a position to give more people access,
      until then we’re holding your details in accordance with our privacy
      policy [... link ...]

      We will NEVER share your information with other companies unless you
      have given us specific permission to do so, and we won’t spam you -
      unless you contact us then we’ll only send you email to see if you’re
      still interested in receiving access.

      Until then you can follow us for updates [... twitter details and blog ...]

      And if you want to contact us (perhaps to ask to be bumped up the
      queue for access), you can use this email address or any of the above.

      If you have any further questions, please contact us – this email may have been sent automatically but it is a genuine email account, and is monitored by real human readers…

  5. Jon Lim says:

    Hey Rob,

    Thanks for posting this – I’m not the founding CEO of PostageApp, our product, but I do take the time to reach out to almost every new sign up that we receive.

    So far, the efforts have resulted in many sales, unexpected relationships, and great product champions that support us and give us plenty of feedback.

    Definitely recommend this for everyone running a product!

    • robfitz says:

      Great example, thanks!

      I agree that other people can take the lead on this. Often however, if one of the founders doesn’t do it themselves, it doesn’t get done at all until there’s a dedicated support staff, at which point the moment of greatest need has passed.

  6. Rishi says:

    Totally agree with your post!

    What are your thoughts on automating this process once you find your voice?

    • robfitz says:

      OpenTrader put it really well in the Hacker News comments:

      “But what they’re missing is that when you’re first starting a company that’s when the fragile young plant needs the greatest care and nurture. In my opinion you should actually go out of your way to do things that you KNOW won’t be possible to do manually or personally later because this not only increases the chances of getting off the ground successfully, but one day you’re going to miss the early days when it was just you and those precious few people that valued your product enough to use it before it became a hit. So enjoy connecting with them and don’t think of it as a chore.”

      Someone else also pointed out that as soon as you automate, you’ll end up sending a fake-personal automated email to someone you’ve already got a relationship with. It can be both awkward and damaging to an in-progress sale.

      I used gmail templates to speed things up, but I still sent every email by hand. You don’t do this for the whole life of the company, and automated emails *certainly* have their place, but for the specific benefits and goals I mention in the post I think it’s something that ought to be done by hand.

  7. Vijay Nathan says:

    Hey Rob,

    Awesome post and something that needed to be made obvious to many entrepreneurs. We’ve been doing this since day 1 over at MyReci. We apply the same principle to any piece of feedback that is received – the user gets a personal response from me with my thoughts on what they’ve said, we log their comment, and then send them another personal email when we take action on their feedback.

    My theory: If we can’t make 100 people insanely happy and show them that we care, how are we going to do it for 1000 or 10,000 people?

    Keep it up,
    Vijay
    Co-founder & CEO, MyReci

  8. Phil Drolet says:

    Hey Rob,

    I’d been toying with the idea of changing my auto-email to sending a personal note, and this post was just the kick in the ass I needed.

    I think it’s also a good thing because it forces us to take a second to appreciate the people who are supporting our work… Easy to forget in the online world!

    Cheers,
    Phil

  9. Erin Bury says:

    Rob – the part about Gmail users replying with a super-fancy title is so true. I read a post by the guys at Yipit about how their startup got featured on CNN, and it was the same idea. Thought you might want to have a read: http://viniciusvacanti.com/2010/10/11/how-our-startup-got-featured-on-cnn/ (in their case, it was following up with unsubscribers that got them attention).

    Great advice for founders – takes time in the early days, but we’ve gotten some of our best feedback thanks to a welcoming welcome email (a novel concept).

    Erin

    • robfitz says:

      Thanks for the link — serendipity is powerful stuff. It’s always so much easier to reach out to an existing user than to go find a new stranger to convert.

  10. Rob… Great post! We have been selectively emailing our “power users” while we are in beta right now but why not email all of them… Great idea, thanks!

    • robfitz says:

      Hey Don, good stuff. Depending on how long ago people signed up, you might choose to begin emailing all future new users and to ignore the ones who have already signed up previously — it can be a little jarring to receive an email for a service you checked out a couple weeks ago. Depends a lot on the situation though.. good luck!

  11. Steven Verbeek says:

    You know what I’m extremely tired of?

    Signing up for a beta product and having them email me every 2 days asking if there is anything they can improve. If I want to share my wealth of knowledge I will do so at my own leisure, spamming my inbox with requests for it will not make me do it, in fact it will just make me leave because it is bluntly annoying.

    • robfitz says:

      Hey Steven — you’re completely right and this is an important distinction. You don’t want to bludgeon your entire email list into submission — you just want to politely make yourself available so those who have questions/concerns can come to you. Those are the people who are most useful to talk to anyway, so it’s win/win.

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  13. Paul DeJoe says:

    Cool stuff. It seems like common sense but some just don’t do this. One piece of advice that works really well for me is that I do research on the person as well and often times even try out their own products or read something they put time into. It’s why I think we have a bunch of customers that would have otherwise left when we were at the beginning of development.

    • robfitz says:

      Great suggestion, especially if you’re just starting out or have a nice high price point. A lot of founders (myself included) are terrible at managing a CRM and keeping track of individuals and there’s a lot to gain there.

  14. Adam says:

    Rob – awesome article. Honestly, I’m ashamed that we haven’t done this yet, so we’re going to start today. Thanks for the tip!

    Adam

  15. Adam says:

    One more quick question – what subject line(s) did you use for the email?

    • robfitz says:

      “Howdy” or “Quick hello from founder of X” or “Thanks for checking out X” or “Thanks!”

      Part of the benefit of the manual process is that it lets you figure these things out over time without making a fool of yourself in front of too many people at once ;)

      I found that I pretty quickly zeroed in on language that felt comfortable. Occasionally I’d happen across sent mail and cringe a bit at the wording of some of the older ones, but it’s not something you can do too much harm to yourself with.

  16. Great article followed by great comments… We’re still in early stage client development and could definitely utilize this. The only difference is we may let a few days pass so they can log in and use their new service account with us.

    New sign-ups also get 3 emails on the day they sign-up (account registration, copy of receipt, & Intro from their Account Rep). Does anyone else send out that many emails on the 1st day? I’m thinking on day 3 or 4 our Founder should touch base.

  17. Ariel says:

    Pretty good suggestions here, Rob. Cheers for the post!

  18. [...] users and still interact with most of them in some small way. i recently sent out a tweet about how the CEO should interact with his first 1,000 users with a custom e-mail. i liked it, and thought it could be mostly [...]

  19. [...] with other startup founders about how to initiate customer development. Rob Fitzpatrick’s post about reaching out personally to your first customers was flying around the PIE email list, and and [...]

  20. [...] The CEO should personally email the first 1000 signups – Rob Fitzpatrick [...]

  21. [...] Tweet Every entrepreneur who comes to Whinot to get advice on their business issue gets a personal email from the owner. I started this last fall after learning that it’s the CEO’s job to personally email the first 1000 users. [...]

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  23. [...] it’s the CEOs job to decide on the metrics you care about[1]. It’s one of the most important things [...]

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  26. [...] those users activated their accounts. I followed the advice of the folks over at Bufferapp and Startup Toolkit and contacted every single early user. People liked the App. Or so they said. We even built in a [...]

  27. Fantastic advice, Rob. In the early days of our site, I was good at reaching out to our new users personally, but we’re closing in on 100,000 members on our platform and I haven’t done it in a long time — at least this kind of reach out.

    I’m going to make sure to send at least a few of these a day going forward . . . it only takes a few minutes, but the feedback (and fans) you get in return are absolutely essential to long-term success.

    This is my first time here . . . I’m going to be doing a little more digging around.

    Thanks again for the post and reminder!

    Josh

  28. [...] you’ve started a new product, it’s your job to make first contact with your users. People buy a product because of the relationship they have with it, not the specs that define it. [...]

  29. [...] first, second, and third cohort." The first thing I would recommend is to read this blog post: http://thestartuptoolkit.com/blo…After reaching out personally to all of these people, the next step is choosing who is going to make [...]

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  36. [...] customers, and should render some invaluable honest feedback.  Rob Fitz has a great post about emailing early customers that every founder should [...]

  37. [...] think that, going a step further than emailing your first 1000 users, the job of the founding team is to onboard manually the first 1000 users. Especially for a SaaS [...]

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