Getting to Initial Scale

In The Early Days, You Won’t Have Enough Customers. But Your Mini-Brand Will Come to Your Rescue.'

Jason Lemkin

If you’re selling to the enterprise, or even just anywhere in B2B, most start-ups in the first 12-18 months end up in a Conundrum.

The good news is if you get anywhere at all in SaaS in the early days, you’ll have a handful of customers.  Which is great.  In fact, it’s amazing.  Getting a handful of businesses to buy Yet Another Web Service or Pay For Yet Another Business App is borderline impossible.  Who needs to buy yet another product in their business?  And you did it.

And yet …

It probably won’t be enough.  10 customers, 100 customers, whatever the number is.  It’s not scaleable.  In fact, if you look at the raw numbers, it may seem like you will never get there, to a Big Business.

I get it, I’ve been there.  In fact, most of us have.

The best advice I can give you is, understand that once you have a Mini-Brand, it will get better.  And easier.

A Mini-Brand isn’t a real brand in the sense everyone has heard of it, like Salesforce or Google.

What a Mini-Brand is, is when at least a handful of folks in your core, target customer audience begin to hear about you.  Just some, just a few.  And then, they start to come to you, to learn more.


At first, you’ll get 1 or 3 or 5 leads from it.  Not enough.  But at least some.

And that won’t grow fast enough, at least not from a founder’s perspective.  The model may not work in your head.  It’s not scaling fast enough.

But trust me.  If you serve those customers well, and remain innovative — you most likely will build to and have a Mini-Brand.

From there, you’ll accelerate, if only slowly at first.  And that’s when the next bit of magic starts, even if you can’t see it yet.  Because SaaS compounds.

So net net:  you did the impossible.  You got real, paying enterprise customers.   Now, you need to stay focused.  You need to stay in the game even if it seems like you won’t ever get big enough:

  • Service those customers well.
  • And get to know your customers personally where you can, at least on the phone.  Call them.  Early customers love to get to know the founders.  It’s key.  They took a risk on you.  Pay it back.
  • Follow up on every possible lead with 10x the enthusiasm you might otherwise.
  • Get out there and talk about your product all the time, to anyone that will listen.
  • Remain innovative on the product side.  Never stop shipping great features your customers will love.  That pays the early loyalty back.

If you do that, and the world doesn’t change from under you … you’ll get a Mini-Brand.  Not in a day, but in time.  And things will being to get scaleable from there.

You can see our path there above from Google Trends.  Launch on January 1, 2006.  No real Mini-Brand until early 2007.   A painful gap as a founder, when every day, you’re looking to make progress.  But from there, from the Mini-Brand … it builds on itself.
Brands work, we all know that.   No one ever got fired for buying Boring But Proven Well Known Product From BigCo.  But it turns out even years before that, Mini-Brands work too, especially in SaaS/enterprise.
Published on October 15, 2013


  1. The mini brand is the first sign you’re not just kidding yourself. I remember just about falling off my seat when I would get customers telling me they’d heard of us in our first year. Shocking. How could you hear of little bitty us?

    It’s a real shot in the arm and cause for celebration. Spot on, Jason. Spot on.

    As a corrollary, I have been considering the impact of the Recession on the Mini-Brand effect. If times are too tough, people are afraid to even look for another job lest their employer find out. If times are easy, even just the natural Brownian motion of people upgrading their jobs causes them to help pollinate other flowers with your mini-brand.

  2. Thanks for sharing this post and especially the graph/trend showing how long it took to go from zero to something. I’m just in the early stages of getting launched but it does get frustrating when you don’t see sign up’s and revenue like you had a hoped. Reading this is a good reminder that it’s not overnight, but if you stick at it, it can happen.

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