Thursday, June 19, 2014

My experiences of getting the first customer for entrepreneurship training program

Your customer is like your first love, you can never forget about it. I had newly launched Nurture Talent's entrepreneurship course in Mumbai in January 2010, and was eagerly waiting for that elusive first customer - "bohnee" in local language or "khaata kholna" for cricket lovers!

Getting the first customer was never going to be easy - I knew that already. But it will be SOOOOOOOOOOO...tough, that I had never imagined.

Here are few things that I tried that did not work:

1. I gave an ad in a newspaper which has a circulation of 1.5 lakhs in Mumbai. The morning it came out, I got a call and I was so happy. When I picked up, a friend told me, "Grover, what an ad! Congrats!" Well, it turned out that was the only call I got the whole day. 20000 Rs gone in 1 shot.
2. I ran an online ad campaign on Google and Linkedin. Like any first timers, I forgot to set the end date for both. Traffic started increasing on the website, and as it reached higher on Alexa, I was feeling very happy. Few leads were generated but nobody signed up for the program.
3. Next I went to a popular event which happens on Saturdays across India for startups. The organizers were not so cordial as they saw me as a competitor but due to my past relations with few of them they allowed me to make a 1 minute pitch to the audience. I did that and got few people interested, yet no wins at the end. They kept doubting me...
4. Someone called me and said they have a huge database of emails of SMEs. The charges will be 6000 Rs in cash for sending 2 emails to 30000 people - I thought this was too good to be true. Still I tried to act smart and paid him 3000 in advance (baakee kaam hone ke baad, rest after delivery). First email was shot and no response. That day I decided I will never buy an email database. Next day someone offered me to buy sms package along with mobile nos, and my answer was a straight no.
5. Few people who knew me from my previous job of heading an investment network referred their friends. A couple of very smart people came to me, requesting for personal meeting and they said they want to register for 5 people for my first program. I said great, lets meet and discuss. I expected them to negotiate prices, ask about content, delivery etc. But few minutes later I realized they were only interested in getting VC intros from me. 1 of them was the son of India's most famous fashion designer and an ISB graduate. Another lesson for me not to get too eager at prospects.
6. Few more things that I tried - requested few startup websites to cover the launch of Nurture Talent, gave a free demo mentoring session at IIT Bombay for bplan contest finalists, wrote lots of blogs and shared on social media; most generated leads which did not convert.

Finally, 1 day before the course was scheduled to begin, my friend Pawan, who runs Edupristine (an Accel Partners funded venture), asked me if I will run the course with 1 student. I said it was better than 0. Next day Tushar Gaurav came to our office (which was converted into a classroom), gave me full fees of Rs 20000 as cash (with a 20% discount due to his relationship with Pawan) and said let us start. I ordered 20 Rs jalebi for everyone and that is how the first customer was locked in. The only other time I was as happy when my baby Ashwin was born :-)

When people trust you, they do not ask questions. My first customer did not ask me anything, because he trusted my friend who trusted me. So when you do something, use existing brands to derive trust for yours. Other thing that I decided is we will never give a "free sample". Those who do not value paid things anyways do not value free stuff. Last thing that I learned was that you have to try everything and tell everyone about your products and services - without expectations and without exceptions.

In my next program, I reduced the fees from 25000 Rs to 350 Rs and duration from 1 month to 2 hours. That got me 13 paid customers, and since then it has been a great up and down journey. Today we have done over 450 workshops attended by 30000+ participants across 125 cities.

And if you are wondering what happened to Tushar - well, he resigned from his job to start a venture, had a fight with his parents, got married and then started after 6-7 months during October that year. Today his venture, Data Galaxy, a web hosting venture based in Pune, makes more money than I do, which makes me sad and happy at the same time :-)