Why you need a GTM Strategy — learnings from a bootstrapped startup

first-time founder lost, pandemic, customer growth question, GTM question, lock-downs

As a first time startup founder during the pandemic with a product dependent on travel, there are plenty of “don’t do’s” that we should have avoided. Looking back after almost one year, there is one I wish we avoided the most — ignoring marketing efforts from the beginning, and being reactive as opposed to proactive about it.

My background is in design and product, and my co-founder is in product and engineering. We found that to be very useful since we always approached design and engineering with a product perspective. But as you can imagine… zero marketing coverage.

Our key marketing challenge

Our startup product is a platform that provides remote workers with travel accommodations equipped for remote working with the ability of not paying for your stay with money but with virtual nights. It encompassed a community of remote workers looking to travel more frequently, not have to worry about finding well-equipped homes, and staying for almost free, in exchange for hosting one another. It was a one-sided market approach to AirBnB, catered to remote workers who have spent the past year equipping their own homes for ideal remote working conditions.

For an idea that requires a shared economy approach and a completely new user behaviour, we knew that marketing was going to be quite the challenge. Probably why we avoided it as much as possible, without even knowing it.

Thus, our marketing trajectory was as such:

  • Built an audience with our existing network
  • Built an MVP site to introduce the idea and get more leads
  • Marketed it on platforms like LinkedIn, Reddit, Product Hunt, etc.
  • Collected email subscribers of those interested
  • Maintained a “side” content marketing plan including blogs, paid marketing, sporadic social media posts, etc.

We convinced ourselves that our efforts were better spent on areas we were most impactful on; areas we could move fastest, and continuously test and update. We had clear plans on how to advance the most optimal and “lean” way for the product, for UX, for development; but we never really had a clear go-to-market strategy, nor the expertise.

Seeking external marketing experts

external senior marketer help
external senior marketer help

Coming to our 6–9 month mark, we had seen a stagnation on customer growth. We went from weeks of getting 10–20 new users/week, to maybe 1–2 a week. It is usually during time (after the initial hype and going through a lull) that a well thought out go-to-market strategy would hold you through with clear milestones and KPIs to reach. For us, we simply went through it without knowing where to go. Hence we were going nowhere for a while.

That’s when we turned to a marketing platform that matches you with a marketing expert depending on your needs and budget, called Traktion. We sought a senior marketer who had several years of experience, worked with startups in the travel space, and someone who can put in place a strategy for both the next 1–3 months and further. We are very pleased with this choice because basically… we were doing it all wrong.

Hitting reset with a GTM strategy

The two main issues we had were (a) we were not targeting a specific/distinctive user group, making it hard to reach anyone; and (b) we were not close to having a scalable and compelling plan for growth.

While our initial target was “anyone who can remote work”, and the initial idea was to exchange home+workspaces, the marketing consultant instead proposed to reduce the scope to co-working enthusiasts travelling to co-work with their hosts. This would not only give us a specific target group, but also a product that is easier to connect with emotionally as a user.

In addition to this narrowing of scope, the proposed go-to-market strategy was to manually search and recruit enthusiasts and micro-influencers to run a closed-beta during several months, followed by an open-beta launch with incentives for their audiences.

Though it was hard to accept the new approach as it meant a core change to the product, it was exactly what we needed and wished we had since the beginning.

Key takeaways from this experience

To conclude, I want to list the key takeaways from this experience that may hopefully be helpful for you, and your GTM journey:

co-working group; to scale, do things that don't scale
co-working group; to scale, do things that don't scale

Key takeaways

  • Define your GTM strategy at the beginning of your product build, as it essentially determines your MVP. This has to necessarily come after having talked to users.
  • Disadvantage of not doing this — you may have to rebuild a new product, site, messaging if you define your GTM afterwards.
  • Have an experienced marketing or growth role early in your startup; perhaps even before you do any design or build. If not possible, you can also rely on external help like we did.
  • Your GTM strategy is an experiment. You will be testing it just like you test any site redesign or new feature. Ensure you have in place the methods of evaluating the success or failure of the test, and learn from that to tweak the next experiment.
  • Ensure your GTM is focused on a niche target group, as much as possible. Even if your product vision is for the mass, starting with a niche is consequential in the beginning; hence why it is imperative in a GTM strategy.

Where are we now?

We’re creating a small and hand-on experience with a small niche group of co-working and travel enthusiast, and learning from them. “To scale, do the things that don’t scale” Hoffman said from Master’s of Scale during his podcast with Brian Chesky. We’re hoping to do just that.

Travel, culture, entrepreneurship — building a startup in the middle of a pandemic