Is the first customer sale the hardest? It’s hard — but not usually the hardest in SaaS.
The 7th or 10th or so sale is usually the hardest to make.
Why? The first few tend to be from highly unscaleable techniques. An ex-boss or friend that runs a company. A crazy cold call that would never work again. A random meeting or happenstance. And if you are crazy driven enough to be a founder, you often somehow find a pilot “customer” or two from your own extended ecosystem.
Put differently, in my SaaS ecosystem at least, I’ve met with tons of founders with 2 or 3 customers (and especially, 2 or 3 “beta” customers or unpaid trials) … that then end up really struggling to get to 10. But I’ve almost never met anyone that got to 10 unaffiliated, paying customers that dropped to 0.
Once you get to 10, you’ve generally found some way to get more customers. This is the hardest part to me, the breakthrough moment.
By 10, you’ve generally found some way to do marketing that at least works a tiny bit. To do outbound repeatably, at least to break through to a few customers. To do trade shows that create real leads, not just scans. To do something that will repeatedly get you more customers. Not repeatedly enough — 10 is almost never enough. But by the time you get to 10, you generally know how at least to get to 12, 13, 18, etc.
In some ways, the “hardest” sale to make is the one that finally comes in through the ether. That just signs up and pays for your product without you having met them or known why. Once you close that “customer from the ether” — you can find and close 10 more.
The first few sales can be a chutzpah illusion, however. Hard yes, but sometimes just a force of sheer will. That matters, and gets you going. But it isn’t the seed of an engine.