I’ve got a lot of sympathy for the first-time founders: they are ambitious, full of energy, and naive enough to think they’ll change the world. That naivete is usually the main reason why entrepreneurs end up disrupting the industries — they rebuild them from outside, without being settled into a certain way of 'how things were always done'.
One thing that I’ve been observing for years is that entrepreneurs, particularly in tech, believe they need to have a finished product in the market, before providing value to prospective customers or validating their idea.
Let me tell you something: it’s not true.
I know it’s not true — because I was the one believing it, and I was wrong. For the past 5 years, I’ve thought up, prototyped, and launched multiple business ideas into the LegalTech, PropTech, and FinTech markets.
Some of them have crashed and burned. Others have plateaued, and were killed out of mercy. A couple of them are still going strong!
As I’m reflecting on everything I’ve learned in my career as an entrepreneur, one theme stands out: the faster I delivered value to the first client — the sooner I knew if the idea had any potential.
As I’m building my latest venture, I’m vowing to use only the landing page and an email, until we reach any significant traction. Here is why. 👇
Clients care about solving a problem — not using a product
For every venture that I’ve built, my passion was in the product.
I was proud when I got the color scheme right. When all the shapes were perfectly aligned on the screen. When buttons, strategically placed, nudged users to take certain actions.
I was getting the product right, and then I realized: the value was in the solution — not the app that hosts it.
This is why you see websites like Craigslist or eBay work tremendously well, despite their simplistic, some would even say outdated designs. Because it solves the problem of matching buyers and sellers.
On the flip side, dozens of new startup teams overinvest in design and features, building complicated tech products, only to find out that nobody wanted the solution in the first place.
As an entrepreneur working on a novel idea, your job is to validate a problem first, before building a product that would solve it.
You can do it by minimizing the time-to-market, and maximizing the feedback you get from your first couple of clients.
This is why the concept of using a landing page and an email as a validation tool can empower entrepreneurs to move with incredible speed and seize the opportunity with precision.
How to create a startup landing page that converts customers
A landing page is your startup’s most valuable piece of real estate.
Note that the focus is on converting clients, not attracting them. At a very early stage, it is the founder’s responsibility to drive traffic to the website, wielding powers of sales and marketing to build awareness and drum up interest.
Below we’ll discuss how to structure a landing page to help convert the initial web traffic into client inquiries.
1. Have a clear value proposition.
When a new user lands on your website, they should be able to understand what your startup is offering, within the first 5 seconds.
Most landing pages are too vague, and are hard to decipher, unless you read the 'about' section, or have a good context before visiting the website.
Put a subject line in the middle of a screen that makes it easy to understand what your startup plans to offer.
Netflix’s landing page, for example, promotes 'Unlimited movies, TV shows, and more'. It’s very easy to understand their value prop, even for those who come across their website for the first time.
2. Speak directly to your customers’ problem
In addition to informing visitors on what your company does, it should also give potential clients a reason to care.
Perhaps your startup is offering a marketplace that connects tourists with local dentists, while on vacation. So what?
The first question a user would ask is 'why not use Google?'. If you’re not explaining the existing roadblocks of finding a foreign dentist who’s instantly available, licensed, and speaks your language — you leave an impression of solving a problem that doesn’t exist.
For example, Slack makes it clear how its software improves team communications compared to email — by providing a better, easier to follow alternative to email, ability to make calls, share files, and integrate with other apps.
3. Outline your solution
Now that prospective customers are clear on the problem you’re solving, it’s time to give them a sneak peek into your product.
Visitors should be able to gauge the steps they need to take in order to extract value from your product.
Remember, users don’t care about products. They care about getting value or solving their problem.
It helps to have product screenshots with crisp descriptions, or an explainer video, showing your solution in action.
If you’ve ever used a project management app like Asana, their landing page shows different product features in the animated form, which gives users a good grasp of what they are getting, before prompting a sign-up.
4. Provide social proof
Having social validation adds to the credibility of what you’re offering. Everybody wants to feel safe trying a new product for the first time.
Having social validation in a form of customer reviews, featuring case studies of big institutional clients using your product, or adding a logo of a well-known media outlet that wrote an article on your company, puts a stamp of approval on the product you’re offering.
Another way to provide social proof is by sharing real stats about your business: number of clients helped, amount of hours saved across all departments (especially if your product is meant to enhance productivity), or average expected cost savings (as a result of using your product).
You can use social proof early on in your landing page to establish credibility with your prospective clients, as well as a powerful closing technique at the bottom of the page, to give more comfort to those contemplating to try your solution.
5. Indicate pricing
At this point, visitors are genuinely intrigued about your offering, and are ready to find out how much it would cost them to try your product.
Avoid having users email you to inquire about pricing. Nobody wants to 'contact sales', unless the nature of your product is highly customizable and complex.
Here is a great example of the pricing section from Intercom. It breaks pricing down into different tiers based on usage and features, and highlights a subscription option preferred by their clients.
If you’re offering a free trial or a signup credit, consider incorporating it into your pricing description, to improve your chances to successfully convert interested users.
6. Have a clear Call to Action
Last but not least, it’s important to tell visitors what action you expect them to take, after consuming the information from your landing page.
Just because you gave prospective clients all the reasons for trying your product, doesn’t mean they would search for an email address or a signup button somewhere deep down within a footer of your landing page.
First, you need to define the ideal next step you want to prompt. Sign-up for a free trial? Request a demo? Browse all vendors?
Then add a visually distinguishable call to action to each section of your website: in your title section, problem overview section, product section, pricing section, and after testimonials.
At coSquare, we want to connect users with lawyers to help answer their legal questions. That’s why we included 'Ask a Lawyer' call to action in every section of our website.
How to deliver value to consumers without a tech product
Now your landing page is completed, and ready to convert website visitors into customers.
Let’s explore how you can deliver the full value of your product manually, using just your email, and occasionally — an Excel spreadsheet.
Previously we’ve discussed that solving a problem trumps having a product, hence your first step should be to clearly identify how your hypothetical product would go about solving customer pain.
Currently, most of the SaaS and Marketplace-type companies provide one of the two value propositions: solving a customer problem internally, or matching a client with the right service provider, to help with their unique situation.
Netflix 'connects' users to movies, documentaries, and TV series, produced by film studios around the world. They also have original content developed in-house.
Slack offers a communication tool developed internally. It also integrates with external apps.
Etsy matches customers with artisans selling hand-crafted jewelry, fashion items, and home decor. It doesn’t itself produce any handmade products.
If your startup idea is to connect tourists with local dentists, for example, then the value is in knowing the right dentist professional in each geographical area where you’re planning to operate, being able to verify their expertise, and managing client experience from onboarding to payment.
Once you figure out if your value is in solving the problem internally, or in managing a relationship between a client and an external service provider, the next and the final step is to figure out how to deliver that value manually, without building a complex tech platform.
Big companies need automation to deliver value at scale. Because Airbnb manages millions of bookings every year, they invest heavily in their marketplace and the back-end infrastructure to handle every aspect of connecting travelers that are looking for vacant places to stay in.
For a new marketplace that is starting out, the same flow can be replicated and provided manually. Here is how:
- First, a user would fill out a form or send an email explaining what service they are looking for. Say, a tourist from Canada looking for emergency dental work in Barcelona.
- Armed with details, you can reach out to dentists in Barcelona, explain the situation, and request their pricing and availability.
- Upon receiving a response from a variety of dentists, you can make a decision on which options to present to a client.
- If a client agrees to one of the options, you may choose to charge client’s credit card, hold money in escrow until the dental work is completed, and then disburse funds to the service provider, retaining a small fee.
- Finally, you can ask both parties to rate their experience, and provide you with recommendations on how to improve your service.
A marketplace is nothing more than a website that displays data and allows users to take action by clicking on buttons. It’s a way to automate, not create value.
When Instacart — a three-sided marketplace that connects households, with grocers, and people who deliver it — launched, the founder Apoorva Mehta would get shopping lists from his friends via text, go to a local supermarket, buy and deliver those groceries. They only built a marketplace, when he and the team of delivery personnel, who worked mostly part-time, couldn’t keep up with texts anymore.
Doing things manually doesn’t scale. But it allows getting the business off the ground almost instantly, while validating every step of the user flow, and automating/outsourcing bits and pieces of it, as bottlenecks arise.
The same approach works for Software-as-a-Service ideas. A client submits an inquiry through a landing page, you or your team completes the request offline, and sends the results by email.
Payment could be handled through Stripe, Paypal, WeChat Pay, or Facebook Money.
What I’d like to do is to clearly separate starting a tech business from building a tech product. Product is just a vehicle to deliver value to a client in a more automated, efficient way. Providing value manually is the fastest way to test underlying hypotheses, while letting interaction with clients dictate the eventual flow and features to be included into the MVP.