How to nail the first sale

The non-negotiable key to a successful business is getting customers

To celebrate National Small Business Week, we’ve put together a four-part series that delivers honest, helpful advice from successful entrepreneurs.

When you’re growing a small business, traction trumps everything. Only a customer or client can prove that people actually want the product, service, or app you’ve created. But as many founders will tell you, the often-believed trope of “if you build it, they will come” doesn’t always hold true. Finding your first customers isn’t always easy—but what they will teach you a lot about your business is invaluable. Here, three founders share the memories of their first sale and the strategies that helped them deliver.

Marsh Mokhtari, co-founder and master distiller, Golden State Distillery LLC
Where: WeWork Manhattan Beach Towers, Manhattan Beach, California
First customer: “We make an ultrapremium Californian gin, and when David Girard, the spirits buyer at K&L Wines, tasted and bought our gin for the first time it was a tremendous feeling. It was a pivotal validation moment to have someone as respected in the industry as David to say our gin was spectacular.”
Total cost: $360. “He bought two cases. Since that initial purchase, K&L Wines has gone on to be one of our best repeat customers.” 
Customer-acquisition strategy: “I contacted David before we even had a product, and was using him as an adviser to make sure we had a market-viable product.”
Memorable moment: “We’d spent the better part of two years getting to the point of selling our gin, and this was make-or-break time. Thankfully, we have sold a huge amount since that first sale, but we never lose that feeling of appreciation for every case we sell.” 

Yael Oppenheim, founder, FitMyTime, a marketplace that connects trainers and trainees from around the world for live online one-on-one fitness and yoga workouts
Where: WeWork Labs at WeWork Derech Ha’atzmaut 45, Haifa, Israel
First customer: “His name was Ron—he was a complete stranger.”
Total cost: $40. He purchased a remote private fitness class with one of our online personal trainers.”
Customer-acquisition strategy: “He booked right after an article was published in the fitness section of Israel’s biggest online news platform, Ynet.”
Memorable moment: “I was very excited, obviously. In addition, I was surprised, because that first customer was nothing like the target audience I thought would use the platform as early adopters. I assumed the platform would attract mainly women who prefer to work out with a personal instructor from the comfort of their home—and he was a 20-something guy who took a cardio class. After a while I found out, completely by chance, that this person was actually a competitor, trying to build a similar solution to FitMyTime, and he wanted to gather some information about us. At first I was upset, but then I realized that having competition and copycats is actually the best thing that can happen to any startup.”

Anne Hyun, founder & CEO, Black Twine, an entertaining content, community, and commerce platform
Where: WeWork 222 Broadway, New York City
First customer: “Our first customer was my brother-in-law, Elliot. At the time, we were selling full party packages that included decorations and food.” 
Total cost: $368. “He purchased a Thanksgiving party package, which included a party tablescape and prime rib meal for eight people.”
Customer-acquisition strategy: “In addition to wanting to help the business, his family was hosting relatives for the holiday, so he liked that the service would save time and energy.”
Memorable moment: “When he received the prime rib, he said that the blood had leaked out and the box was mushy. We were mortified! It made us realize very quickly that we didn’t want to be in the business of shipping food, and we quickly pivoted the concept from there.”

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