This is the first of many founder interviews to come where we specifically ask for step-by-step marketing, sales, and customer acquisition strategies that they employed to growth-hack their business.
This interview was with Cristina Bunea, co-founder at Listle (YC S19). If you don’t have time to read the whole article, check out “The Take Aways” section at the bottom for a TL;DR.
Have feedback? Please do let us know, we’d love to hear it.
Listle’s (YC S19) zero to 7000+ Users Strategy in <1 year
Have you ever wanted to read an article but not had the sit-down time to do it? You bookmark it, or leave it open in a tab, but never really get around to it? If you’re guilty of these, then Listle is your solution.
Listle is an app that allows you to listen to articles in human voice. Like an Audible, but for articles. You can listen to thought-provoking articles from a large variety of authors, publications, and blogs while getting through your day—commuting to work, shopping for groceries, or doing your dishes. I recently downloaded the app and I already feel smarter. Oh, and it’s free!
Fun fact: None of the 4 co-founders have a sales or marketing background. They’re all technical. Yet, over 7000 people have tried Listle in less than a year.
The “Scrappy MVP”
When Listle applied to Y-Combinator (YC) in March of 2019, they only had an idea. They got invited to a video interview with Michael Seibel, CEO and Partner of YC, who asked them why they hadn’t launched yet and that they needed to launch ASAP. The very next day, Listle launched an MVP.
“We put up a landing page and scrappy web-based MVP that allowed you to drop the link of an article and it would use text-to-speech technology to narrate the article to you. It was super simple and we knew it wasn’t good enough, but sharing the MVP gave us feedback that we wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
Listle quickly realized that users didn’t like the robotic nature of text-to-speech, so they pivoted their app to human recorded voices by real people (which is what the product is today).
“We just needed an MVP out there to iterate from.”
First 100 Users
Listle, like many other everyday applications, first launched to their friends and family who made up their first 20 users. They then took over Reddit and Quora. Specifically, they targeted threads where people were complaining about a competitor app.
Listle messaged these people directly, shared their vision, gathered their feedback, and built an app tailored specifically to solve their problems. Listle knew that if they could build an app for these users, other users would use it too. And that’s exactly what happened.
“It’s very important to get those 100 users that really love your product. We focused on their feedback and retention.”
In addition to launching on online communities, Listle leveraged their network. As part of the program, all YC founders need to read Paul Graham’s essays but they knew first-hand how difficult it was to make time for that amidst everything else. But hey, wasn’t this the exact problem they were trying to solve?! This was an opportunity they couldn’t miss. They narrated all of Paul Graham’s essays and the YC Handbook into audio. As expected, their batch mates also started using Listle.
“Most early adopters of products are likely to be entrepreneurs or people generally in the tech ecosystem. They get it, that it’s not going to be perfect.”
Launch, Iterate, Launch
When Listle had about 100 users, they launched on Product Hunt. They made sure that they had a product that was “good enough” to share on Product Hunt, but not perfect because then they would’ve waited too long. Listle also knew they needed some users first before taking it to Product Hunt, so that their existing users could be their biggest advocates. Notice their concise messaging:
Product Hunt gave them great exposure and more users. They talked to their new users and kept iterating. Listle waited, very anxiously, to launch on Hacker News because they knew how critical the Hacker News community can be. But after a couple months, they launched on Hacker News too.
“The trick is to keep iterating and launching. Even when we release Listle version 3.0, we’ll launch again. It just never stops and nor does the feedback loop. Even today, we have a WhatsApp group with a bunch of users who share feedback on new features and spread Listle’s reach through word of mouth.”
Not a One Size Fits All
The reality is that while there are some tried and tested strategies that work for most products, sometimes, you just gotta invent your own. They already did this by narrating the YC Handbook and Paul Graham’s essays for their YC batch, but they needed something else to get them into the 1000 users club.
“We cold emailed famous bloggers like Benjamin Hardy to leverage their large following. We convinced their agents to copy and paste the code for the embedded Listle player on their website. Not only does it take 5 seconds to do, but audience engagement goes up significantly. And for us, our traffic goes off the roof. It’s win-win.”
Listle also considered how their current target customers were consuming similar content, and podcasts were the obvious answer. They took advantage of podcast channels where they shared snippets of their narrated articles. This not only gave them new users, but also increased user retention because it was attracting the ideal user.
The Take Aways
- Don’t take too long to launch something. Just get something out there.
- Launch, iterate, launch again.
- Focus on solving a problem for a few, then you would have solved the problem for many.
- Have concise messaging.
- The internet is huge! Find online communities to share your product or cold email people before doing any paid marketing if you’re pre-revenue.
- You can’t rely on just one growth-hack strategy. You need to employ a bunch.
- Identify win-win potential and partner with others.