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Burning cash to acquire customers – most of them have done it. Be it Flipkart, Amazon or Snapdeal. Be it Swiggy, TinyOwl, Zomato. Be it Uber or Ola. Because let’s face it, acquiring customers is not easy, especially if it’s a B2C model.

Speaking at the August fest in Hyderabad, five startups across industries shared their experience on how they went about acquiring customers and what worked for them.

Raj N Phani, founder of restaurant cashback and analytics startup Zaggle says that customer acquisition is like dating. You never know how it’s going to be, how it will turn out and whether the customer will stay on or not.

At every stage, customer acquisition, be it B2B or B2C, is very different and how you do it is an art. And you have to be extra smart to acquire customers at low cost, he adds.

Know your customer

It is very critical to know who your customers are: Who they are, where they are and at what cost do they come.

“If you only attract customer via discounts, they cannot be retained and then the startup will again have to spend money to acquire another customer and even when he comes, will he stay?” asks Raj N Phani.

Free trials

Raghav Hunasgi, director of marketing and head of North America at Cigniti Technologies says you should start adding value for free. “It can be first 20 days, first 500 users – give it for free and tell them that once you are convinced we can talk about contracts,” he says.

Once the customer sees the result, he will start paying. Raghav says that they were very confident of their product, so we asked the customers to decide for themselves.

Show value to customers

Srinivas Madhavam, founder and CEO of hyper local delivery services startup VDeliver, says that the startup didn’t spend any money on marketing for the first one and half years.

Recounting how he acquired customers, Srinivas says, “I went after this popular ‘foodies in Hyderabad’ group which had a lot of members and saw that people were crazy about food from two particular restaurants. I went to these restaurants and told them that I’d deliver on cost to cost basis. So, when people would call to order, they’d be redirected to me. When a customer came to me, after serving them once, I would tell them, hey not just these restaurants, we deliver from others as well.”

This way, Srinivas eventually spread the word that they delivered not just food but anything else. The trick here, he says, was that he showed value to customers and it went viral.

Customer service is key

Raj Neravati, founder and CEO of world’s first gesture control Smart watch startup, Hug Innovations, says that pricing has to be aggressive, but at the same time not too low just so that people buy it.

“Even though we knew we might not make much money in the beginning, we didn’t want to sell at a loss,” he adds.

Also, Raj says where Hug got creative was that they went to colleges to speak to students. At a time when there isn’t much knowledge about artificial intelligence and machine learning, Raj would speak to students about it while explaining what Hug was building. This also helped garner a number of customers on the spot.

And once a customer comes on board, in order to retain him, customer service has to be of utmost priority. Raj says that he prioritised service requests to ensure that the service is top notch. A lot of brand value and recognition comes this way, he adds.

Spend wisely

Here’s some advice from an online dating site.

Ravi Mittal, founder of Quack Quack says that while building his startup, budget constraints taught him to spend money in the right place for it to give you good return of investment (ROI).

And Jugaad was one of them. He recollects how they created dummy profiles on other dating apps to build a customer base. And this helped them get the initial core users.

Another thing Quack Quack did was ‘smart marketing’. It targeted people already using dating apps by advertising on competitor apps and also on social media – again with an eye on those using similar apps such as Tinder. It is much easier to convert these people into paid users.

Another thing that worked for Quack Quack was influencer marketing on Instagram.

This is something Raj N Phani also swears by.

“Influencer marketing is the most influencer tool in my opinion to get customers. They follow the influencer and a network is built. This is a much better and easier way to acquire customers,” he says.

Engage customers

Once a customer comes on to your platform, how long are they going to be there? It is therefore very important to engage with customers. “Think of how you would want someone to engage with you when you visit their site and accordingly engage your customers,” says Raj of Zaggle.

Another point he makes is having strategic partnerships with other companies and startups. This, he says, will give you a large customer base in less time.

This article has been produced with inputs from T-Hub as a part of a partner program.

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