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How to Acquire The First 10 'Fans' of Your Brand

Stephanie Roulic | CEO & Founder of Startup Boston

Headshot of Stephanie Roulic who is the Founder and Executive Director of Startup Boston

We always hear that “getting your first 10 customers is the hardest.” In the dynamic and ever-evolving world of startups, the journey of an entrepreneur is often filled with challenges and learning curves like these that later lead to exhilarating successes. One such inspiring journey is that of Stephanie Roulic, the CEO & Founder of Startup Boston: New England’s community hub for startup growth and resources. In our latest thought leader blog series, Stephanie shares her story about how she got the first few hundred people to join the Startup Boston community.

Stephanie, thank you so much for sitting down with us today! We would love to hear more about what piqued your interest to help the startup community. Why startup Boston?

Stephanie: Well, I was 25 and I just really didn't know what I was doing. I didn't know anyone in the area. I was working at a marketing agency initially, and then the founder of the agency had an idea for a software company. I was like, “oh my gosh,” that sounds fun. Like, why not? I'll be a part of it. And let me tell you… ignorance is bliss. 

We launched that in August of 2016, and I really just had no idea what I was doing, but I enjoyed it. In addition, I didn't know anyone in the startup community. I would attend events and people were either trying to sell me or recruit me. In all honesty, I was really just trying to find people that I could learn from and who also understood what I was going through as a founder and especially a first time founder. 

So while working on the software company, I started to create my own community of people in the startup space that ‘get it’ because I did not want to be alone in the race. That's essentially where Startup Boston was born.

That's awesome! The startup world is so exciting. It's just a whole different ball game. 

Stephanie: It definitely gives you a lot of freedom. I mean, I've actually never had a ‘real job.’ I've never worked in the corporate world, but now I don't think I ever could go back.

The Startup Boston Team poses at Startup Boston Week 2023
The Startup Boston Team poses at Startup Boston Week 2023

So after you found that need for a community and began planning Startup Boston as a conference. How did you initially reach attendees for the first conference? 

Stephanie: I had $0 and I was really a lone wolf in it. My biggest learning is that when you create something that exists from nothing, you really have to find a few advocates that also want this thing to happen: who is going to want to scream from the mountaintops that this exists, that this is a great thing, and then really leaning into that. So that's essentially what I did to get started. Boston Startup Week, the first one ever in 2017, was off the ground and running when I reached out to other organizations who ran networking events to help out and promote. And the key thing is that we weren’t creating a competing conference. 

I reached out to them and I was like, 

“hey, I'm building this thing. It's five days long. Would you be open to sharing it with your mailing list and on your social channels?”

And that's really how we spread the word about the conference. It was all very much grassroots. And the unique thing about Boston Week, honestly, is that it's still all grassroots. 

What would you say are the two biggest things you've done outside of the conference to build the Startup Boston community?

  1. Launched two different valuable event series. 

Stephanie: The first is our quarterly co-founder matching event because a lot of folks have an idea, but they don't know where their co-founder is. On the flipside, there are many people that would love to go and start a company, but don't have an idea. It’s the perfect mix of people to bring together.

The second event is our Deal Flow Mixer event series (invite only). Another huge thing is that founders are looking for access to investors, and investors want to know who the hottest startups are to invest those dollars into. So our deal flow mixer is like entering into more of a speed dating networking style of event within a specific industry that people are looking to raise or invest in.

It really is about providing value and filling a need in the community. These two events are only popular because people need them and see value in spending their time at them.

  1. Community Awards. 

We launched community awards in 2021 which are a HIT!

It really is a basic concept – you're not paying to enter. You don't even need to know anyone to be nominated. You can nominate yourself. You can nominate your peers. But really, the idea behind community awards is that people are nominated by individuals in the community and then voted on by the larger startup community. 

And I think this is such a huge part of it, because then it's really authentically the community's voice coming together saying, yes, we stand by these folks receiving these awards.

You can vote in the 2024 awards here.

Are there any channels you found for best communicating your message and what Startup Boston has done?

Stephanie: Everyone's main channel is going to be different, but I think the big thing is to pick one and do it really, really well before you branch out. A mistake a lot of folks will make, whether it's building a community or building a company, is that they think they need to be on all channels. Don't make that mistake. It's exhausting. And then you end up basically being on a hamster wheel where you're like, “why are none of these really working?” 

Our bread and butter channel is our mailing list (open rate of over 50% on every email and high click rate). This is how we measure our community and the quality of our work. We want to know we're delivering value. We want to know we have the right people and bring everyone together.

Stephanie, thank you so much for joining us on our first ever thought leader blog series, and for sharing your community knowledge.

We definitely recommend checking out Startup Boston and joining their mailing list if you’re looking to meet more people in the Boston startup community.

If you need help acquiring your first 10 customers, Build You Marketing can help! Feel free to send us an email or fill out the form on our homepage.

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