What is the best way to get more traction with customers for my startup?
Try everything. Then, double down on anything that works even a little.
That may sound obvious, but what I mean is, most start-ups scale roughly the same way after $1m in ARR or so, at a given price point. But they often get to $1m ARR different ways, and especially to the first $100k in ARR.
Some of the reasons companies get there differently are product-related, but others are founder-related (founders are good at some things, worse at others).
How did the best start-ups I’ve worked with get to $1m ARR?
- 100% inside-driven outbound, for smaller deals, i.e., Cold Calling 2.0. One of the best startups I work with, the CEO had never done sales before. But he learned he was good at SDRs and outbound. So he hired 10 SDRs before he ever hired an AE or a marketing head.
- 100% field outbound, for bigger deals. Another I work with, where the price point was higher, the CEO convinced 10 senior execs to buy from him almost pre-launch. This is rare, but some founders trained in enterprise sales can pull this off. If you can commit to solving a big company’s big problem, and there is no other great vendor in the space, you can sometimes get a meeting. This is how I got my first start-up off the ground … but I failed miserably here the second time.
- PR. Mediocre PR alone rarely moves the needle, but if you are very good at it, it can. It helped me a lot.
- Events. Most of us are bad at making events pay. But done right, they can really perform. Customers and prospects attend them, after all. Especially, try to do the 1–2 largest events in your industry.
- Growth hacking. Building lists and spamming, er, emailing them often fails. Or even creates backlash. But if you are really good at it, it can work well.
- Favors + Warm Intros. Ask everyone you know for intros. But you have to get good at this. Arm them with a great one paragraph pitch. Not merely a good one.
- Partnerships, Appstores, etc. Everyone wants to partner with the biggest guys in the industry. But sometimes, if you fill an important hole in a partner’s ecosystem, they can bring you a lot of leads early. This worked for me, a bit.
- Content Marketing. Today, everyone is trying to do ‘content marketing’. Blogs, podcasts, Quora, medium-ing, etc. Like most things, done poorly, it won’t really perform. But sometimes it really works well, and creates a great source of leads. I failed at this with both my startups. But it seems to be working okay for me now.
- Tenacity. Time helps. If you give yourself 2 years to get to real revenues, a lot of these initiatives can work in tandem, even if each doesn’t perform all that well.
We are all good at different things. Try everything. And double down on what works. In fact, in the early days, double down on anything they gets you a single customer. If anything gets you 1 customer, it can get you 2. And then later, 10 …