070: How to get the first subscribers for your business – with Joanna Auburn

Joanna Auburn is the Co-founder and CPO at Trace, a company that helps people to take climate action by offsetting their carbon footprint. In this episode, she joins Ward to discuss how they got their first members and effective ways to attract and grow a subscriber list.

✍️ Show Notes

📄 Show Transcript

This transcript is computer generated, please excuse any errors 🙂

Ward Sandler: Welcome everybody today. I’m talking to Joanna Auburn, the Co-founder and CPO at Trace, a company that empowers individuals and businesses to take immediate climate action by measuring and offsetting their carbon footprint. She has a Master in Sustainable Civil Engineering and a long career in renewable and sustainable energy. Most recently, she spent four years as a Lead Product Manager. Joanna, welcome to the Membership Maker Podcast. We’re thrilled to have you here!

Joanna Auburn: Hi, yes, a pleasure to be here. Thank you!

Ward Sandler: Sure thing. It can be tough to generate leads and convert them into customers, especially when starting a membership business. What was the process like for Trace? How did you get your first subscribers? Did the fact that you manage as a sustainable business help, or did it make it more complicated?

Joanna Auburn: Oh, yeah. Great question. It feels like yesterday, but also day one was years ago. So I think the first thing we did was get the simplest possible version of our website live, which didn’t actually include MemberSpace back in that time, we really lent on our networks, provide them with free codes, get them to sign up and offer them promotions if they unsubscribe, and it worked really. We learnt a huge amount from just that experience of getting friends and family and networks to sign up. We used absolutely everything we could to promote what we were doing. We offered free bottles of carbon-neutral wine with every signup, so many different things, and it worked amazingly well to get us past that first hump of 50 customers. And then I think the next phase for us, if that isn’t an opportunity for you, something that worked really well for us was finding a way to talk to your customers about something that’s not your paid product, just so that it can feel like more of a genuine conversation. We used lead gen techniques, creating online quizzes so that we could get people to go through a quiz, talk to them about something very related to our product. So, ours was a, how carbon heavy is your diet. So you can understand the carbon footprint of your diet. And then, we could help educate those people that came through that funnel, and since then we’ve had a carbon footprint quest that we’ve built ourselves, and that’s been one of our primary sources of education and businesses. And lead gen for our consumer side of the business. So that’s been a really valuable technique to us!

Ward Sandler: Yeah. Some people would call that a lead magnet, the quiz that you’re talking about it just in case that rings a bell for anyone else out there, but yeah, I think that that’s definitely a smart approach to it. You know, instead of just being so direct, like, ‘Hey, buy my thing, buy my thing’ It’s like, ‘Why don’t we have a conversation about a mutual topic of interest and, Oh, by the way, we happen to have a product that is in that world too’. And that’s a more subtle sales; that’s a smart way to do it.

Joanna Auburn: Yeah. It’s also a bit cheaper in paid marketing as well to get those eyeballs. And that then gives you a large enough sample size to learn from.

Ward Sandler: Yeah, a hundred percent. And to go back to the beginning at the beginning of your answer, when you were talking about friends and family and kind of getting them on board. So, what was sort of your approach with that? Cause I think for some people out there, myself included, that might feel a little awkward, right? It’s like, do I really want to tell my friend from high school? I haven’t talked to in 10 years to look at my thing, my new business, or, you know, even if it’s like my sister, I mean, I don’t know! How did you kind of approach the wording and the language around that, and what did you do? Was it just an email, or was it something else?

Joanna Auburn: Yeah. I mean, that’s a great point. It is super awkward. And I’m not going to deny that to you. I found you just have to sort of get over that kind of thing in your own mind? I like to think about it as if a friend contacted me and said, I’m starting my own thing. Would you mind having a look at the website? We’d offer a few different ways of them helping us. So have a look at the website, feedback, anything you think, here’s a code. If you feel comfortable, sign up for free, you can cancel any time. We’d just love to get your back on what the experience feels like and whether it’s something you would continue with, and we were overwhelmed by how amazing everybody was in our networks who signed up and then provided loads and loads of feedback. And we interviewed them and understood a lot about the experience. What felt dodgy about it, what felt great about it, what they were unsure about, all of that sort of things. So it was just a really valuable experience.

Ward Sandler: That’s interesting how you phrased it. So it was more of like feedback and less of like, ‘Hey, buy it.’ It was more. I’m looking for you to give me your thoughts and input, kind of like, like user testing really? That’s a little easier as a, as of a pitch than, ‘Hey, do you want to buy my thing?’

Joanna Auburn: Totally. And by offering the free signup code that really helped get people over the line, and then because of what we’re doing is sustainable. So, good for the environment plays on the heartstrings a little bit. So, I guess that just to answer your question about whether that’s made it easier or not, I think of getting your network to sign up and actually go ahead and use a free code it did make it easier and it made meant that more people stayed because they realized like, ‘Oh, I’m actually doing something good through this’. It’s not just throwing money at something. But what was harder about it was, this is a fairly new concept, and people don’t understand fully understand it. Even people who are members now don’t fully understand sometimes when I spoke to them, and that’s actually made it a little bit more difficult because you get less than a second to capture someone’s attention online. And if they don’t understand what you’re doing, then that’s lost. So those lead gen conversations and journey that we can go on with someone becomes even more powerful.

Ward Sandler: Yeah, why don’t we dig into that last point a little bit. So, in terms of clarifying what you’re doing, or people being confused about what you’re offering when they come to your site, I’m sure that probably resonates with a lot of people listening. It’s probably a pretty common thing. I don’t know if what you’re offering it’s more or less complicated than when anyone else is offering, but let’s just assume that it’s more, what I assume you’ve tried different iterations, different techniques to try to explain it, different wording, videos, maybe documents, infographics, I don’t know, but what would you say kind of has been the most effective, active approach so far for explaining what you do and people kind of getting it, initially?

Joanna Auburn: Great question. I think we’re still on that journey, right? Like we’re not even a year old yet, so we’re learning every day, but I think one of the key things that I’ve taken away so far is. You might have an idea in your mind about what your product is and the service it provides, but the way someone else interprets that could be completely different. To put that into context, we offset people’s carbon footprint for you and we plant trees for you. Trees aren’t naturally a carbon offset, a formal carbon offset because they’re not as measurable as a carbon credit, but everybody loves trees. So we’ve found that talking about trees is as important as the carbon credit really helps cause people know and understand them. Ultimately, they just want to feel a bit better about their life on this planet and think that they’re doing something good; whether they fully understand the mechanism they’re paying for actually doesn’t matter. So we’ve actually sort of done full circle and realized we actually don’t need to make everyone really understand. Because they trust that we understand and that we’re genuine and doing the right thing for them, they’re ultimately paying for service. That means that they do something effective and good for the planet, and that’s all that we need to get them to understand, really.

Ward Sandler: That’s super interesting. So, yeah. All right, Joanna, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. We really appreciate it. We’d like to share and resources or recommendations for folks that are trying to more about trace,

Joanna Auburn: Yeah, I say the one thing you should do is calculate your carbon footprint. If you head over to our website www.our-trace.com and just scroll down the homepage, you’ll find a test to calculate your carbon footprint. We’ve got little Aussie animals which have been very popular at the end of that, so I hope you’re all perfect possums or conscientious koalas. It’ll help you understand in three minutes, understand more about how you’re having an impact on the world.

Ward Sandler: Great, that sounds wonderful. Everybody check them out!

Joanna Auburn: Thanks for having me.