A typical issue that many early-stage startups struggle with is customer acquisition. Regardless of whether your startup is a B2B or B2C, finding the right customer acquisition strategy is key to the growth of your startup, because your startup can’t grow without customers.
“How I Acquired My First 100 Customers” is a monthly conversation hosted by FirstCheck Africa on Clubhouse. By telling the journey stories of a cross-section of post-seed stage founders, we want to provide relatable guidance for early-stage founders on their customer development, go-to-market and customer acquisition strategies.
For our very first edition in May, we were joined by two-thirds of the Buycoins Africa founding team- Ire Aderinokun (Co-Founder/VP of Engineering/COO) and Tomiwa Laosebikan (Co-Founder/Chief Product Officer)
Buycoins Africa (YCombinator S18) is the easiest place in Nigeria to buy, sell, and manage your cryptocurrency portfolio. Buycoins helps you begin your journey into the open global financial system.
This post is a condensed clubhouse conversation between Odunayo Eweniyi (Co-Founder, FirstCheck Africa), Ire and Tomiwa.
Odun: How did you know that your co-founders were the right people to take this journey with?
Ire: I guess I’m very lucky that Timi (CEO) actually found good people for us to start this journey with. But from my perspective, I honestly wasn’t thinking is this the right person to start a company with? I just knew that myself and Timi had worked together well on other projects, so we might as well do this one.
Odun: Alright, that makes sense. So Tomiwa, how did you know that this was the right team to join- because you are the stranger on the team.
Tomiwa: I think the first time that Timi and I spoke about this was summer 2017. At that point, I was working at Microsoft so I couldn’t fully commit. I guess a few months after V1 was out, I had been talking to Timi and Ire on the side about how it was going, and at that point, there was a good amount of data that showed it made sense for the three of us to commit to solving this problem.
Odun: What were the early steps that you took when it was time to start to build what was essentially Nigeria’s first exchange? What were the first steps that you guys took? What were the early experiments that you performed, like the name was, for instance, Bitcoin Africa, was the plan to focus on just Bitcoin? Or did you know that you will get to expand into other cryptocurrencies?
Tomiwa: We didn’t have a solid roadmap from the beginning, we just made modifications as we went on to solve the problem.
Odun: What are the things you did in the early days that failed? Ire I would like to hear from you
Ire: Laughs. Bitcoin Africa. So our first product was Bitcoin Africa. And it was essentially an improvement on the peer to peer situation with local Bitcoins. So what we hoped to do was to improve that experience by escrowing the funds on both ends, and we thought people would love it but they didn’t. So, our very first product was a failure.
Odun: So, let’s hear about the flip side of that question. What were your early wins?
Ire: I think one of our big wins was that we developed as quickly as possible and released our MVP and that has been our model for everything we have done at Buycoins and let our users tell us what they like or don’t like- so with Getcards, Sendcash we built and released a model within a month, because the truth is the user is always going to use your product in a way that you couldn’t have imagined, so it is best to let them tell you.
Odun: When you finally had a MVP that seemingly worked, how did you handle distribution and demand generation? Did you leverage social media presence? I am also curious about how you managed product awareness as cryptocurrency was relatively still a new concept to Nigerians as at the time Buycoins started.
Tomiwa: The primary thing we did at the beginning was talk to people, and solve one on one problems. That was how we got the first dozen users and then they would go on to refer other people to us after their problem was solved.
On solving the problem of crypto being esoteric, we spent a lot of time on social media sorting through the questions the crypto community was asking and trying to answer them. In the early days, we also had a weekly #AskBitcoin session on Fridays, where people would ask questions about bitcoin and we would answer.
Odun: What advice would you give an early crypto company starting today?
Ire: I would say release your product as early as possible and listen to user feedback, so you know what people want. I think it is also important to educate your customers- but that depends on what stage your market is. For us we had to do a lot of education because people didn’t really know what bitcoin was in the Nigerian market, but if you are in a different stage where maybe you’re launching in Europe or somewhere similar, that kind of market may be a bit more mature. So understanding that, is also really important to knowing how to tailor and cater your product.
Odun: Those are two very good summaries. Now I want to know what the journey to your first 100 customers was- or was this one of those situations where you didn’t notice when you first got to 100 customers?
Tomiwa: I certainly remember when we hit 80 customers, it was sometime around January 2019 and then we hit 300 customers some months after.
Odun: Just to be clear, how long after launching did you hit the 100 customers milestone?
Tomiwa: So, it depends on how you define launching. So, from the moment we launched Bitcoin Africa, which was in October 2013, so 16 months after thereabouts. By the way, when I say 300 customers, I mean 100 contact users.
Odun: Let’s talk about YCombinator, you guys were among the earliest crop of Nigerians to get into YC, so I wanted to dig into that journey, how did YC change how you were thinking about your product?
Ire: We first applied the day we launched Bitcoin Africa, which was October 1 2017, the feedback we got was that the product was interesting but that we were still a bit early. We then applied a few months later showing we had existed for this long and we had x traction, which wasn’t a lot at the time, but I think the major difference with our second application was that the whole team was more involved and invested.
Odun: The follow up is, how did the YC experience change how you felt about the product?
Ire: Okay, well, for us, getting into the programme opened a lot more doors for us in terms of how to make our product work. If we didn’t get into YC we probably wouldn’t have been able to launch Buycoins Africa. The 3 months really forced us to rethink our product. So we went in with Bitcoin Africa, but during that period we realized certain things were not working, and the team at YC really encouraged all of us in the cohort not to be shy to torch whatever we came in with and leave with a different product.
YC gave us access to people we ordinarily wouldn’t have had access to and just forced us to think through our product, I think we rebuilt the app like 5 times during the 3 months at YC.
Odun: Just before we move forward, a lot of founders of early stage startups are also working on their products per-time as Tomiwa was with the team. So, before we go ahead, I want to dig into when you decided that it was time to make the switch from part time to full time and quit your job at Microsoft?
Tomiwa: Shortly before we got into YC, I decided I was going to do it but I didn’t make the move to Lagos until January 2018 as I had some personal obstacles along the way, and that sort of prolonged the journey.
Odun: So, you went from 100 to 500 to 1000 customers. Today Buycoins is at over 50,000 customers, are there any visible shifts in strategies that you employed as you moved from 100 to 500 to 1000 customers? What lessons did you learn as you moved along?
Tomiwa: I would say the first lesson we learnt was to spend a criminal amount of time talking to users and essentially, reorient your mindset. So that you’re not thinking about problems from a perspective of what does Tomiwa want or how does Tomiwa experience using Buycoins but instead what does User1234 want? and what is User 1234’s experience using Buycoins.
The next lesson for us was not to hire as slowly as we did. I think everyone emphasizes that you shouldn’t be too fast in hiring but it is also important to not be too slow with hiring.
Odun: My final question to both of you would be “What do you know now that you wish you knew at the beginning?”
Ire: Laughs, I would say I wish I knew how stressful it would be but the truth is if I knew how stressful it was going to be, I wouldn’t have ventured into it. So I really don’t wish that because ultimately I still find it very fulfilling, but it is definitely a lot of stress and responsibility. I don’t know, let me think about this. To be honest, I think at every point, we really did the best that we could. So, I would say that I wish we started hiring much earlier than we did.
Odun: Tomiwa, how about you?
Tomiwa: I would have paid more attention to US regulation and how we approached that.
Odun: Thank you so much for taking the time to be here and for answering all my questions honestly, I thoroughly enjoyed this session and I hope you did too.