GTM for early stage startups | by Dinesh Vernekar | The Growth Bug 

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The most common question a new startup faces is — how do we acquire users -starting from your first 1000 users? How do we go from 1k to 10k users? How do we launch our product? Or if you like to complicate it with VC talk, what’s your Go-to-Market(Aka GTM) strategy?

In this post, I shall focus primarily on consumer companies and products. This is part I where i will go in detail on few of the 12 methods for generating user interest and acquisition. In the next post, I will share examples of the other methods. I’ll share some tricks for b2b startups separately.

Over the years, I’ve been lucky to work on several early stage products. Whether it was at my own startup — building Whatsapp Status Saver(grew it to 700k+ users organically) & Mshup(a short video app) or with existing players — launching Smartapp — a smart bill payment or more recently launching OneScore — a new app to check & improve your credit score & right now OneCard — India’s Best Metal Credit Card. And across these startups and products, I’ve come across similar problems.

A few problems are unique to a new product/startup -

  1. No users or set definition of users. Thus unable to verify hypothesis
  2. No/Low marketing budget
  3. Beta/Unfinished product

Early stage startups suffer from something i like to call the circle of death. Since they don’t have any money, they find it hard to get the right users. Since they don’t have the right users, they can’t validate their hypothesis/get feedback. And thus they continue to work on the wrong problem or solution resulting in loss of time and thus eventual death. The simplest way to break this cycle is to — get some users! Paul Graham’s blog post on ‘Doing things that scale’ is very popular for this very reason.

One of the most under-estimated points in figuring out your go-to-market is acquiring the right users. Do these users have the problem you’re solving for? Is the problem big enough? Does your solution adequately cover their problems? Are you using the right messaging to communicate your value proposition to your users?

This also applies when you’re launching a new product or exploring an entire new segment of users for your product. We can alternatively look at these as solving in 3 layers. Let’s explore how we can solve for step 3 of GTM.

What is different about your product? What do you know or understand that others don’t? What’s your secret? The secret helps you define the positioning. It can help you acquire users at a cost. For Sharechat, the secret was a ton of new users suddenly wanted to share on Whatsapp but had no way to get that content.

Let’s examine the secret of Dollar Shave Club — a subscription service for nice, cheap razors.

They started with a core insight — razors were too expensive. And mixed it with a killer secret — men hated buying them again and again.

The GTM is the process of converting the secret/insight into the right channel/positioning to acquire users. In the case of Dollar Shave Club, it meant creating a video.

Positioning — Dollar Shave Club. Get blades just for a dollar.

The AIDA model is useful to understand how we can use the insight to grab the attention of the user.

Now that we understand why it’s important to generate interest, let’s understand some ways in which we can generate interest.

There are 12 core ways to generate interest as shown above.

  1. Make a killer video
  2. Use Ads(if LTV is very high)
  3. Leverage content/social media
  4. Go offline
  5. Create a waitlist — pre-generate demand
  6. Create FOMO — included in invite systems & referral
  7. Crazy pricing
  8. Be present — go where your users are — this includes SEO, ASO, Marketplaces, Malls etc
  9. Have great design
  10. Game-changing product — Example iPhone. This is very hard to do.
  11. Use influencers
  12. TV marketing/Ads

All GTM strategies are a result of focus on one or the other of the strategies mentioned above. Typically one starts out using a particular strategy & then expands to add new channels. At OneCard, we used a combination of 1, 5, 6, 9 and 10 to launch the product.

I’ll go into point no 8 — Be Present. It’s a strategy used by FMCG products for the longest time to sell Shampoo. Be there when the user goes to buy. This strategy encompasses several different channels based on the product -

  1. SEO — be the top search result when a user searches for your product/similar product
  2. ASO — be the top ranking app in the appstore when user searches for keyword
  3. Marketplace — be the top phone when user searches for reliable phones or be present in the choice
  4. Airport parking — If you’re a cab service, be present when passengers want to go back home/work

To give you an example of a strategy i implemented myself, let’s look at the OneCard video. I was inspired by Steve Job’s demo of the iPhone and the Dollar Shave Club video. I combined it with a few behavioural economics concepts of scarcity of information generating curiosity. And focused it around a single message we wanted to deliver — a lot like the Dollar Shave club video.

OneCard — It’s Metal. Coming Soon. Pre-launch video

Increasingly startups and new products are using influencers to launch or grow their products in a big way. MPL used Virat Kohli, Khatabook used a combination of 11 and 12 — MS Dhoni as influencer and TV ads as the channel to rapidly build trust and grow, more recently Cred used Bollywood stars in a series of Ads. Other players are experimenting with Harsha Bhogle, Akshay Kumar as influencers/ambassadors though not promoting them in a huge way.

Invite programs are a personal favorite because it’s becoming harder to execute a program without direct incentives. I’ve written in depth about the mechanics of an invite program here — https://productnotes.in/lessons-from-building-scaling-referral-programs-to-millions-of-users/

The final part of the GTM is positioning. Essentially it’s about what story you’re telling your users. Why should they care about you vs a zillion competitors? Why should they prefer your product?

That’s it for now. If you want me to dig deeper into a particular area, please leave a comment. If you found the article useful, please feel free to hit the share with your friends..

I’m a product builder currently re-defining credit in India. If you’re interested to work with us, please DM me here or on Twitter. I love all things consumer — fintech, social, video and music. You can follow me on Twitter or Linkedin.