User Acquisition for an African tech startup: Doing it Right!

The true measure of the value and influence of a tech startup is the number of users it has. As such, user acquisition strategies might be even more important than building a great product — should a product even be called great if it has no ability to suck users in?

A few weeks ago, I found myself reading an article on User acquisition in an African context by Margaret Birungi — it highlights many of the challenges unique to the African market.

Since then, I’ve focused on looking out for strategies tech startups all over the world have employed (with varying degrees of success) to try and grow their user base with the hope that I can come up with a comprehensive strategy of my own. Two weeks later, here I am, ready to share my findings.

Before you can launch a strategy, you need to learn and accept a few things about the market (potential users):

  1. Nobody cares about your product! If you understand this, it will make your entry into the market a whole lot easier. You need to always remember that besides yourself, co-founders and your friends and family, no one really cares about whether your product succeeds or not. Keeping this at the back of your mind will push you to do all it takes to make them care and drive referrals.
  2. Not every user is an early adopter! I’ve seen many people who launch products with the misguided thought that everyone should want to try it early — NOT true! The spectrum of human personality dictates that some people will always have the urge to try out new things (and recommend the good ones to other people) whereas others always wait until everyone else is doing something before they can join the bandwagon. It’s your job to know who the early adopters are and target them with the hope to make them brand ambassadors.
  3. The first impression is forever! If you release your app and you’re lucky enough to have massive installs, you better make sure your app works flawlessly (if you’ve worked in tech before, you know that this is NEVER the case) because if it doesn’t, you’ll lose users, and you’ll lose them for life.

Now that we have a glimpse into the inner workings of users’ minds, let’s delve into creating a comprehensive startup launching strategy that’ll ensure optimal user acquisition.

Generate buzz for your product way ahead of time

The reason companies like Samsung and Apple have managed to top the mobile phone sales charts in recent history is because they have perfected their use of the AIDA marketing model. AIDA stands for attention, interest, desire, and action. These tech giants develop communication strategies that effectively give the public a glimpse into what using their product will feel like.

As a tech startup, it’s about time you started using this approach as well. Develop communication strategies that start conversations about your product way ahead of product launch:

  • Get featured on tech news sites, tech blogs and conventional media like newspapers whenever possible. Tell anyone who will listen about your product…in the modern world, you blow your own trumpet!
  • Invest in short videos that highlight what your product can do and how it does it.
  • Send regular newsletters to your prospective users keeping them aware of your progress as well as your app’s features.
  • Write a blog to give people a way to share your journey

User acquisition should start long before product launch; if you start after your product has been perfected, you’re too late to the party!

A “soft launch” is a must!

The mistake that many tech startups make (especially in Uganda) is that as soon as they have a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), they want to go all out and make sure everyone is using their product — WRONG!

A soft launch is the release of a new product or service to a restricted audience or market in advance of a full launch.

A soft launch is great because:

  • It allows you to discover any product faults and fix them before the full launch. If you execute your soft launch well enough, users will know not to expect a perfect product and this means you won’t lose any users because of crashes/bugs.
  • It helps you build trust with the participants as they take the journey to full launch with you. This is the first step towards building a community around your product.

Create a community around your product

This is a strategy the gaming industry has used effectively for decades. Companies like Konami, EA Sports and Ubisoft launch multiple game titles every year; for each of these, they have built a community of loyal fans who get the first crack at early game releases to give feedback to help improve the games before the full release.

As a startup, you should work to build your community of super fans and make sure you involve them in the development process — this makes them feel appreciated while you get valuable feedback at no cost. Win-Win!

The members of this community will become your brand ambassadors and will drive numerous installs via referrals.

Social media is your friend

As a startup, chances are high that you do not have enough money to run an effective advertising campaign via conventional media (newspapers, Tv and radio). In my opinion, conventional media isn’t that great anyway because it’s a one-way communication channel. As such, you should invest in social media, which is quickly becoming a more versatile way to get your message out there.

Social media gives you the power to start conversations and engage your users. However, social media could be your downfall, so you should keep a few things in mind;

  • Respond to all user engagement (likes, comments, DM’s, retweets, quotes, Messages…everything!). Whenever a user takes time to do any of the above (whether positive or negative), it’s out of love. If a user complains about your product, it’s because they want it to be better. How you handle these correspondences has the power to create loyal fans (referrers) for your company.
  • Invest in increasing your post/tweet reach. Make sure your posts are seen by as many people as possible, as often as possible.
  • Keep your social media accounts active
  • Always be courteous and thankful.

Referrals are the key to exponential growth

Your early adopters will play a key role in the future uptake of your product — this makes them your most important user group.

A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is — it is what consumers tell each other it is.

Scott Cook, co-founder, Intuit

How many referrals you get will be determined by how well you execute all the other strategies mentioned above.

Referrals are the ultimate growth strategy; as a tech startup, it is your job to make sure that people have only great things to say about your brand. Brands have personalities too, and if your brand isn’t likeable, then people will not recommend it.

A referral Vs. An advert

The difference between a referral and an advert is clear for all to see. When a friend tells another to try this new app because it’s really fun, chances are that the other person will download it without looking for more info about it.

If another person sees an ad, say on the internet, they will most likely first google it, and look for reviews, number of downloads etc. In this case the user can very easily opt not to download it.

Ultimately, referrals have an almost 100% conversion rate; adverts languish in the lower tenth percentile.


When you start building your product, you should simultaneously start the all-important quest of user acquisition. How well you do on this quest is what’ll classify you as a great, mediocre or forgettable startup.

This post was originally published on Medium.

Follow Edmond on Twitter @EdmondAtto to keep updated on any new posts.

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