Getting to 1,000

February 22, 2019 • #

I saw this tweet a couple of days back that I thought was interesting:

The topic of “how we got to 1000 users” is an interesting one I thought I could take a stab at…

Fulcrum’s first lines of code were written in the summer of 2011. Initially we put together a basic drag-and-drop form builder interface, the simplest possible authentication system, and a simple iPhone app that let you collect records. There was no concept of multiuser membership within accounts, and we only had a free version. The idea (with little to no planning at all) was to cut loose a free app for basic data collection and see what the traction looked like. We did have in our heads the idea that when we had “Group” account capability, that would be the time to monetize. “Fulcrum Pro”, as we called it then. That launched in around March of 2012.

I don’t recall exactly when we hit the 1,000 user mark, but from some brief investigation of data, early 2013 seems like where we crossed that milestone. About a year and a half from 0 to 1,000.

So what techniques did we use to get there?

At the beginning, the team working on Fulcrum was tiny — maybe 2 doing all the dev work, and 3 (including me) doing part-time effort on all other fronts like customer support, product planning, design, marketing, etc. There wasn’t much there in terms of resources to go around, so we had to do the bare minimum to make something customers could self-serve on their own, that was of some minimum utility.

The only driver for all of our users in those early days, probably the first entire year and a half, was inbound marketing, and really only of two types. Since each of us had a decent sized footprint in the geo Twitterverse back then, we had at least a captive audience of like-minded folks that would kick the tires, help promote, and give us feedback. I’d count that user-base in the dozens, though, so not a huge solo contributor to the first 1,000.

I would attribute reaching the first 1,000 to a hybrid of content marketing through a blog, word of mouth, and (often forgotten) an actual useful product that was filling a void left by the other more mature “competitors” in the space. With a high volume of blog posts, some passable SEO-friendly web content, and a consistent feed of useful material, we attracted early adopters in engineering firms, GIS shops, humanitarian organizations, and some electric utilities.

Fast forward to 2019 and things have changed quite a bit! Not only have we eclipsed well over 100,000 individual users, more importantly we’re approaching the 2,000 paid customer mark. Spanning anywhere from 1 to over 1,000 individual users per customer, it’s safe to call it a repeatable, successful thing at this point. Back where we crossed 1,000 users, we were only hitting the very beginning of true product-market fit.

Building something that catches on and keeping after it are hard. A key learning of mine over the course of this process is to never think you’ve got it all figured out, that you’ve cracked the code. There’s always more to be done to break past inflection points and reach the next level on the step function of successful SaaS business.