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It’s not so complicated: Growth at early stage companies
About this episode
Growth at Early Stage companies can be quite disorienting.
Too many choices and things to try, with limited resources and knowhow.
How should early stage startups deal with this?
In this episode, Madhav is sharing with us the relevant lessons he has gained throughout his experiences at companies such as Hubstaff, Close, Bonsai and lately WeFlow.
What they talked about:
- The problems that early stage startups face
- How should they be approaching their growth strategy and prioritization
- Experimentation with different tactics to identify the most valuable channels
- Content & SEO for early stage companies
- How the users’ funnel is related to Content Strategy and Types
Madhav Bhandari: Hi I’m Madhav. I’m from Delhi, India. And, you know, I’ve been, you know, a head of marketing for a bunch of several, you know, SaaS companies, you know, like Hubstaff, Bonsai, Close.io. And you know, I basically lent them, you know, from like, the 100k, or face to like, you know, 2 million, 4 million, you know, 8 million and beyond. And, you know, a lot of that growth came from a content focused growth strategy. And that’s what I’m here to talk about.
Spyros Tsoukalas: Hello Madhav, I’m very excited to have you here, like the results you have had saved in the in the Euros are like amazing, both the results and the companies you have worked for. So I’m excited to talk to you about growth at early stage companies. So, what’s going wrong with that? Like, what’s the elephant in the room for people dealing with growth at early stage companies?
Madhav Bhandari: Yeah, I think the biggest, like probably the biggest elephant is just, you know, they, I think most startups don’t work on their positioning well. You know, and they try to do you know, a little bit of everything, you know, in terms of acquisition, they’ll try to reach to, you know, lots of different types of customers, different personas, they’ll try different acquisition channels, and just quit way too quickly. And then, you know, basically come to me and saying, you know that, Oh, you know, what we do? How do we figure out? And then it always comes back to the basics, like how clear are you in terms of who you want to target? You know, what is your value prop? What problem are you solving, like, these are things that need to be like rock solid foundation for you to be able to kind of go ahead and like start acquiring customers,
Spyros Tsoukalas: I have definitely been in the position you’re describing, I have had, I have founded startups in the past, and the biggest marketing mistakes that we were doing at the early stages, were like having too many options too early, and getting lost in all that variety. And, like, there were so many things to do that we couldn’t prioritize. So if we, if we have a startup that’s in an early stage, and they are trying to prioritize what to do. What are they supposed to do? Like, what would they what do you tell them to do? If they were saying, okay, we need to start growing? What are the steps that we have to list for them?
Madhav Bhandari: So what I’d say is just remember this, right, like, you know, throw different islands in the fire and see what sticks, right. And essentially, the way, you know, I at least the way I’d go at it is like, you know, have like a dedicated R & D period, right? Research and development of, let’s say, you know, three months, six months, six weeks, whatever that is, right. And then you don’t have like this, you know, big list of tactics that you want to try and like validate certain channels. Try them out a little bit, you know, and see, you know, what results you get, and like, try them out sequentially, you know, like, three tactics this week, you know, when the next three, you know, the next week and the, you know, the subsequent three in the subsequent week. And like, by the end of that six week sprint, or that three month sprint, just look back, and what you’ll notice is that there are like these, you know, out of the 200 tactics, let’s say you try it that be like these 10 tactics, that you know, you know, get you customers repeatedly start showing you some scale. And those are essentially what are going to be your foundational channels. And that’s essentially how you should be prioritizing, like, think of yourself as as almost like an investment manager, and you have all of these, you know, different stocks that you have to try and then you then eventually identify, which are the stocks that basically make your strategy right, I tried. That’s how I’d say you should prioritize your efforts.
Spyros Tsoukalas: So, to summarize that, before proceeding to a follow up question on that. Startups have to experiment with different channels, tactics on those channels, and identify what performs better. So, before moving to SEO and content around that idea. So you have as a startup has like, limited resources. So they be trying to gain know how and try tactics to channels that didn’t have the know how to do that. And they need to train themselves or go straight forward to what they can easily reach. Because for example, I’m in new startup, and I might not know anything about paid ads, either Google or Facebook or LinkedIn or wherever. So they invest some time in some of those channels. So why not? How should I handle that?
Madhav Bhandari: So, I think the question that I should be kind of asking, is that like, where do those personas hang out? Right? So if you see them hanging out on Google, you know searching for certain things or you know, hanging out on LinkedIn or Reddit or whatever, right like that is those are your channels, right. So irrespective if you know them or not like that is where you will find your customers. So you have to kind of figure it out. That being said, I think for sure play to your strengths, if you feel that there’s a channel that you’re a little bit more confident, and then kind of getting there, you know, like, you know, a good CAC, and you know how to kind of scale, like, definitely start with that if it aligns with the persona kind of hanging out there. And then try to kind of, basically, you know, the initial set of customers is kind of like a grind, you know, it’s, it’s a hustle, you know, you do whatever it takes to get those customers and then through them, you know, you start kind of building out more foundational channels, at least in the beginning, wherever it’s kind of like the lowest effort thing for Shawn go with that. But then you might also come across, you know, opportunities when you don’t have experience, but you do know that there’s a pool of customers. And then in that case, like, don’t be afraid, like, definitely try that out as well.
Spyros Tsoukalas: I think that that’s where exactly, mentors could be very helpful. Like, for example, let’s say someone doesn’t know anything about that. And you can get in contact with a few mentors that can help you identify, what’s the cost, what’s the effort was the complexity is this channel, for example, LinkedIn ads suitable for what I’m trying to do. And this will accelerate the whole process, because otherwise, I think that most startups in those cases just freeze, and they look at that opportunity, or those opportunities, not doing anything. And like bypassing, maybe identifying some great growth channels for them. Anyway, so moving towards your expertise, so content marketing, and SEO, that’s a big elephant for many startups, like in the room, in the sense that like, it requires a great effort and the payback, the payoff comes later. So it’s an investment that doesn’t like you can see results tomorrow, you will see results in six months. So how, how should early stage startups startups approach this?
Madhav Bhandari: Yeah, for sure. So I think the thing that see is that it might seem high cost right now, it’s actually one of the lowest cap channels that you can have in your strategy. And it’s one of the ones that has been life infinitely scalable. And you know, I think you should start as early as possible on that, like, I think it’s something like SEO takes like six months to start showing results. So I’ve often seen founders where they made mistakes, where they spent like, a year or two years, you know, kind of focusing on the product, and then eventually you realize that, oh, you know, nominate customers, and then when they start evaluating SEO channels, I mean, that’s going to that’s like six months too late, right. And essentially, the simple business advice here is really just, you should for sure, build an audience, you know, while you’re kind of doing a product validation phase, so that, you know, once you launch it, you start with the bank. And in today’s world, in terms of like buying behaviors, you know, buyers are smart, they’re buying, you know, through all sorts of quantum mediums, you know, they’re reading reviews on their own, identifying the product, they’re seeing your landing page, they’re, they’re reading articles, they’re doing their own research, right, and you want to be there, right at the beginning. So I’d say like, start as early as possible. Now, a lot of founders also kind of asked, like, how do you approach content? Like, what do you even write about, right? And the, you know, here’s like, a very simple framework that you can essentially follow, you know, which is basically like, break your content down into like, top to the bottom of the funnel. But you know, in basically these four aspects, right, you start with problem on the web, right, and then you go with problem of air, and then you go to solution of air, and then you get the product better. And if you basically take any topic and run it through this funnel, you can have, you know, hundreds of 1000s of pieces for your persona.
Spyros Tsoukalas: So to simplify that, if they analyze their funnel, and they pick their personas through the funnel, and they’re relevant topics, they would be able to identify topics or blog posts that they could be talking about writing about, and this could this would define their early stage in a way content strategy.
Madhav Bhandari: That’s correct. Yes. So that, that define the early stage content strategy. And, and the reason why I kind of tell you to go through that processes, you know, because there’s, your buyers are never going to be like, at one stage, you know, there might be some people that are just getting exposed to that problem. And there might be some people that are really advanced on that stage and like, willing to buy right now, right? And you want to go like all in you know, like surround sound pace to get to everybody that you can, right. And this is like a great way to kind of just go through, you know, the link, you can take any example we had, like, you know, HR careers, right, and then you can basically take it through, you know, that particular funnel and you’ll get you know, a lot of topics that you can basically create your, you know, your content strategy around.
Spyros Tsoukalas: So, last question on the topic. So what types of content How would startups who the startup identify the types of content that they would be producing for the this funnel and the different stages that they are identifying that might be relevant to their personas.
Madhav Bhandari: So again, like, I think this comes from like, and this is where, first of all, your SEO research kind of helps out because it shows you the, you know, when you know your persona, you can you can start to understand, you know, what are their goals, you know, you know, what are they searching for? What’s the intent usually? And then, and then, you know, you basically curated right, like, so it completely depends on your goal, your business model your industry, right, like, do you want direct signups? Do you want brand awareness, all of these aspects, right? It can be, you know, a lot of different things, right can either be, you know, like, for example, let’s take a persona like freelancers, they essentially love to consume templates, you know, they want templated documents, you need a more templated strategy, right? You know, versus if you’re looking at like a senior executive, they’re more interested in learning about leadership topics. So they want very thought leadership, heavy content, right? While you know, for example, a salesperson would probably want, you know, something like a quota calculator, right? So you have a lot of different ways to do that you can you can have written or do you know, video, you can also have interactive content, you can also have industry studies, that’s, that’s another one that that’s picking up that you basically take a very important topic, let’s say for example, gender, pay parity, you know, among, let’s say, freelancers and salaried folks in tech, and then basically do like your own research. These are like, a lot of different ways. But it again, it completely depends on your persona, your business model, your goals, your industry.
Spyros Tsoukalas: Awesome Madhav. Thank you very much for sharing all those interesting insights in less than 15 minutes, which is something we are experimenting with the growth mentor podcast, and I hope that our audience and listeners will enjoy this discussion with you as much as I did. Thank you so much.
In this episode
Head of Marketing obsessed with “$100k to $1M ARR” marketing journey 🌱 Formerly at Hubstaff, Bonsai & Close. I’ve worked closely with three YC companies.
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