The Value First Blueprint To Marketing Your Startup

Making a product that customers want is hard. Finding your first customers is hard. The good news is if you break it down into the steps in this post then it is 100% achievable.

Here’s how.

1 - Build something people want

2 - Identify your ideal customer who resonates with your product

3 - Fish where there are fish

4 - Give your fish some ground bait: value first

5 - Build nurturing assets

6 - Nurture your prospects 

Step 1 - Build something people want

Sounds so simple, hey. But I guarantee that most failing businesses do not do this. 

Here’s how to build something people want.

Hang out with people in your target market. Go and see them, watch what they do. Volunteer to help them in any capacity. By being with and in their business you can quickly identify problems to solve with a new product.

No contacts to start with? No problem, describe what you are hoping to do on your Linkedin profile and start contacting prospects by email and Linkedin message. 

Go to networking events online and in person. 20 years ago I started out by hanging out in webmaster forums and then taking trips to conferences to meet people in person, the same techniques work today.

As you increase your contacts and help people, a picture will start to build for your product. This is what the startup world calls hustle. 

The groundwork of building your network is to help people to get help. If this worries you then start virtually and move in-person as you become more confident. 

Remember: Always add value first with your new contacts.

Don’t make the same mistake that did. I created a software as a service (SAAS) for Q&A websites called Qhub. My idea was on the back of Blurtit, our successful Q&A social network, that others would love to build niche Q&A communities. My first mistake: my thesis was based on what I thought and I spent precisely zero time trying to identify the who and why.  What the problem I was trying to solve and for who. We got some early adopters and worked with them, but not closely. My second mistake: trying to fit our solution to what they wanted rather than build what they needed. 

I should have listened to their problems and made a solution to it. The project never took off and I sold it for less than had been invested in its development. #FAIL

If I had listened closely to our early adopters I would have identified the problems and could have changed Qhub. But I felt desperate to move it forwards fast, grow users and get revenue. I learned scaling is a killer if you haven’t properly reached product market fit.  When you find product market fit you’ll know...

I did not feel this👆 with Qhub

Don’t jump on the first problem you see, there will be many and you need to validate the idea with lots of prospects. 

You know when you have product-market fit as people will start chasing you for your solution, they will be fully engaged and working with you to get this done. You do not have product market fit when your friends say they like the idea, they don’t want to hurt your feelings and make not even your ideal prospect.

If you’re having to push really hard to convince people you probably need to keep going through the process.

This can take months and more likely years. Remember the high growth startups you see in are often “born” when the product comes to market (it looks better to investors) but normally the Founders have often been working behind the scenes on the first version of the product for years. Ask a successful Founder about their overnight success and watch their eyes roll.

OK, so you're thinking now: that all sounds great so how do I fund this period of research? There are six options for you:

  1. Within your current role look for problems in within your business

  2. Research alongside a job or part-time freelance work

  3. Save enough money to pay yourself for 2+ years and go all in

  4. Set up a doing development or project work so your clients bring problems

  5. Friends and family investment

  6. VC/Angel/Crowdfunding/Crypto investment

Options 5 and 6 start to make sense when you feel your product market fit. But, if you’re just starting out then options 1-4 are better. It’s much better to spend your time with prospective customers than VCs. The VCs will just ask you about what your customers think anyway.

Step 2 - Identify your ideal customer who resonates with your product

So now you can sell something that people want - congrats, that’s the hardest part done.

Now you identify who our solution resonates with the most.
You MUST find a niche.

Be really specific here, it doesn’t matter if you feel it can’t scale as the niche is too small.

Four years ago I bought a business called Scribe. Scribe offers software as a service (SAAS) for accounting and facilities like bookings for Town & Parish Councils in the UK.  Scribe is in a very niche market. 

There are around 9000 Town & Parish Councils in the UK with budgets that fit Scribe. Currently Scribe has around 700 customers and realistically it can grow tenfold to 6000 customers in this niche market if everything goes to plan.

Viewing this niche market, we can say it is constrained..

But, if Scribe ends up with 50% of the market, those 4500 happy paying customers would open doors to the next stage. Scribe will be ready to move to adjacent markets. SAAS to run government systems globally is a market worth perhaps more than $100 billion. Scribe doesn’t mind being in a narrow niche for now as it is much easier to gain traction.

Start in a narrow niche but be aware of how it can grow to be huge.

Now we have our niche identifying our ideal customer (or avatar) is super easy. With Scribe our  ideal customer avatar:

  • Town & Parish Clerks in the UK

  • Lives in a village or town (not a city)

  • 80% Female 20% Male, Aged 35-79

  • Normally owns a pet dog

  • eg the famous Jackie Weaver:

Now it’s easy to find that group of people and to resonate with their problems.

Step 3 - Fish where there are fish

Now we know exactly who we are looking for, we can identify how to find them.

Fish where there are fish =  hang out where your prospective customer’s hangout 


I’m going to use Write of Passage as an example, it’s on top my mind as I’m currently on the course. Write of Passage is an intensive five-week program to help people become better writers specially for the internet. My cohort has 100’s of members in a community. My aim is to learn to create ideas through writing and share these ideas to grow an audience and meet new people.

Concurrently and unconnected In the last week I've invested in a writing AI startup which I’m going to call Writer AI. Writer AI helps writers research and document their ideas. You dump all your research documents and web pages into a project and then Writer AI summarises the salient points. Where it comes into its own is with long white papers or academic work which magically get condensed saving hours of reading.

Imagine if the Founder of Writer AI joined the Write of Passage community. It would be the most amazing way to find market product fit and new customers. The Writer AI Founder would learn to communicate his ideas whilst working with his prospects on their problems, the perfect WIN-WIN.

Finding your niche’s community

There are loads of other communities you can join for free on Linkedin, Facebook, Discord, Conferences and Web Forums.

In Crypto each Protocol has its own Discord and anyone can join. In the Discord you can help, listen, chat and you can see what's going on. Each niche has a community somewhere. You just need to find which platform it sits on.

Or you can create your own community, you can create your own community on something like Facebook through Facebook Groups. Your community can become your value first lead magnet (more on that later).

Helping your prospects

In these Communities the aim is for people to use your product as it should be helping them.

Back to Writing AI: Imagine you're a writer spending 120 hours a month writing. Writing AI comes along and it can save you 30 hours per month and your work is actually better. That's going to be worth $10’s if not $100’s of dollars a month to you.

It is not about trying to sell and trying to get your first revenue, when something it's really valuable people are willing to pay down the line.

Step 4 - Give your fish some ground bait 

When fishermen get to a new spot they through a handful of bait in the lake, this is called “ground bait”. The ground bait attracts fish to that area that would otherwise not be there.

Our ground bait is giving some sort of Value First to start the relationship, we don’t try to sell upfront, we try to help. 

When you give value first, people will trust you. In this digital world, this is more important than ever.

Ground bait

  • Lead magnets (resource lists, checklists, tools, freemium SAAS)

  • Zoom training sessions

  • Online conferences

  • Brilliant educational blog posts

By educating we start building relationships and we start building our assets:

  • By giving away something valuable (training and resources) we get emails

  • By publishing amazing content we get retargeting audiences on Facebook & Google via pixels

  • By education, training, and helping we gain trust (build brand)

Asking for Feedback

This is the reverse add value technique, you ask your prospects to add value to you. Many people are happy to give feedback. I’ve seen response rates of 5-10% if done correctly on Linkedin.

Asking for Feedback using Linkedin connection requests:

  1. Set up your Linkedin profile as a sales page. Who you can help and what problem you solve.

  2. Find your ideal customers on Linkedin and connect with them. 

  3. Write a personal connection message asking for feedback.

  4. Follow up with the connections that say yes!

And you'll have it, you'll have Zoom calls booked where you can actually start showing the product and getting feedback. If your product is good and your prospects are targeted you’ll get people asking to use & buy it.

Step 5 - Build Nurturing Assets

“Assets” are ways to keep in contact with prospects you have already identified as ideal customers. Don’t forget these Assets will keep building as more people engage with your lead magnets and visit your website.


  • Email

  • Retargeting Ads - (Facebook & Google)

  • Social Media - Facebook Groups, Twitter, Instagram , Linkedin

I’m going to focus on Email and Retargeting as it’s easier to start.

(Why? Generating a following on social media is hard and there is no guarantee that the platform will show your message or that your audience is engaged. Of course social media really works but there are easier ways to start).


This is your best asset. Period.

If you’ve done Value First marketing in the ground bait step then you will already have a list of opt in emails. We’ll cover how to market to nurture this list in the next section.

If you don’t like the idea of email marketing you’re going to miss out. Re-frame yourself by promising only to send valuable emails that will help. But don’t miss the opportunity.

Retargeting Ads 

Prospects have qualified themselves by being on your website so you know that they're semi-interested and most likely your target customer.

So place Facebook pixel and Google code on your website and start to build audiences.

Using these audiences we can run adverts just to people that have been on your website using the Facebook and Google Ad Platform. The best news is that it’s really cheap, here’s why:

Display ads are bought per 1000 views (called RPM). If it costs you say $20 to advertise to 1000 random people and only 2 are your target prospect, then it costs you $10 per message (ad) per targeted prospect.

But your retargeting audience list is already qualified and maybe 800 of 1000 in your audience are a target prospect, then it costs you $0.025 per message (ad) per targeted prospect. 

Would you pay $0.025 to get your brand/message/content in front of a buyer you know you can help? Of course, you would, all day long.

(Note: You’ll need a few 100’s in your audiences in Facebook and a few 1000’s in Google to get some results).

Step 6 - Nurture your prospects 

Nurture marketing works by taking your prospects down an educational journey. 

(Hint: It's not about sending them sales messages).

It's about sending messages that can help them. It builds trust and keeps your business at the top of their mind.

By nurturing we build the relationship.  Buyers are only ready to buy when they are ready, not when you want..

In any given total market addressable market only approximately 5% of people those who will be looking for a solution at any point in time, the rest will be in different states awareness, see below:

In my Scribe example, that number is 5% of 9000 prospective customers = 450, not many.

Prospects have different stages of awareness:

  • Top of the funnel: People don’t even know they've got a problem

  • Some know they've got a problem but they don't know the solution

  • Some know the problem and have an understanding of the solutions available

  • Some will be actively looking for you or another provider

  • Some will be talking to your competitors

  • Finally, some will be talking to you 🎉🔥

So our job as marketers is to bring them through these stages, so by the time they are ready to buy we are already friends and having a virtual conversation.

The best way to do this is through educational content. Otherwise called as nurturing content. It can be a combination of freebies, video tutorials, videos, articles, blog posts, Zoom training (works a treat) and conferences. Content they want to consume.

We send these messages to our Assets by email and using ads to our retargeting audiences.

The goal is to educate 20 times more people than just your customers, you'll make a huge impact, everyone will know about you in your addressable market.

Spooky Retargeting 

Retargeting is key and it isn't spooky if it's done the right way, which by now you’ll know is Value First, retarget with great content, educational videos and free resources for 95% of the time. Helping people isn’t spooky, normally.

Email (Not spam)

You drip out these messages depending on when they joined and so not everyone gets the same message at the same time. Sure, you'll find that some will unsubscribe straight away, which is what you want, you want the unsubscribe button in your email in a prominent location. BUT if you provide amazingly valuable content out of the gate, you won’t get many unsubscribes.

If your content is amazing, sending an email each week isn’t too much, it’s actually very good. I’m sure if you look in your own inbox you will see emails are doing just this, you don’t always read them but you don’t unsubscribe, just in case you miss something juicy.

Now every week you are at the top of your prospects mind via email and ads to great content. So when they are ready when they want to buy they think of you. You’re not burning through prospects, but engaging with your whole addressable market. You can use your audiences to occasionally ask them if they need help with their problem now they trust you.

Wrapping it all up…

No, it's not easy. The majority of businesses do not do this. That’s why it’s a great opportunity!

1 - Build something people want

2 - Identify your ideal customer who resonates with your product

3 - Fish where there are fish

4 - Give your fish some ground bait: value first

5 - Build nurturing assets

6 - Nurture your prospects 

Don’t forget VALUE FIRST!

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