Is there a GTM strategy to be learnt from early stage startups?


All entrepreneurs are constantly faced with the need to solve everything, the need to act, and constantly react. The trick lies in a far-reaching vision.

A time teeming with optimism,
For the beginning of the year is usual.
Reality kicks in, come the tune of the ‘FY and April.
Time for course correction is July’s order,
And October is the start of the “festive quarter”.

The cycle of life is no different for startup nation. We, at T- Hub, brimming with optimism, decided to kick off the calendar year with a handful of stellar programmes the team has been working on the last year.

With Boeing and Facebook, we are set to surge into 2018 with all the startup buzzwords like IoT, AI, VR, and then some well cemented on our radar, lest someone seeks our elevator pitch. With our foray into the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) space with the Rural Electrification Corporation (REC), there’s no better way to get immersed into the universe of education through an immersion into the Holy Grail of innovation and lead us to the market.

Which brings me to an important question: What does it take to Go-To-Market and scale?

The recent talk I gave at the Pause Festival elicited a usual tinkering of the challenges in going to Market in India. After all, T- Hub did pivot once and ended up with a GTM that suits us best. To share our best practice at a very high level, there are a few basic metrics needed. Metrics that allowed us to become a cash- flow positive, self- sustaining, ready-to-scale company in two years. And I don’t foresee this being too different for an India startup

  • What’s the vision of the company?Stakeholder expectation management
  • What problem are you solving?
  • Is the customer going to paying for your solution?
  • Customer-centricityMarketing
  • OpsDevelopment
  • Deployment
  • HR
  • SalesInside
  • Channel
  • Direct
  • ScaleBuild your internal framework
  • Distribution

The entrepreneur has the ignominy and the onerous task of balancing these elements at the same time, give or take a few instances of shuffling. The OCD (One Common Denominator) of entrepreneurs is always the first alpha sale (B2C, B2B or BG) in “consultative selling”. And this is truly fun. The first transaction is pure bliss, as it validates the initial MVPness of the startup and the hustle of the entrepreneur.

Somewhere in the midst of the first year, the trick is to not lose focus on the ”why”. The primary motive behind our existence was a forward-thinking state government. The operating stakeholders had one motive - to build an ecosystem.

The question then is how do you solve a complex large problem? All entrepreneurs are constantly faced with the need to solve everything, the need to act, and constantly react. The trick lies in a far-reaching vision. Then taking a step back, and disassembling it into finite goals, setting up a set of challenges that, when added up, make up the whole solution. The easier said than done, the all-important last ask: Focus. The focus to not get derailed. The focus to constantly say no, if it doesn’t align with the vision. And the focus to stay within the guardrails. The vision that we chased was to build a top 10 startup destination globally. Which allowed us to be epochal when the question asked by all had a similar ring to it - how much funding have our startups raised- this is a tarnished thoroughbred VC view of the ecosystem.

Contrary to what the perception of the market was, we stayed true to our course. Every single programme we’ve run has been a significant yet consistent product offering. Our corporate innovation accelerators have attracted startups from Israel, the US, and different cities of India. The international programmes we’ve run have allowed for startups from four different continents to explore India as a new market. This allowed us to be in a position to have a collective valuation of our start-ups. This is where our marketing channels have maintained keel on the customer-centricity.

The corporates and industrial partners we work with are our true customers. Without a scalable scheme, it’s hard to juggle the sales juggernaut when released.

True to the testament of building right by design, we built a robust information sciences team that releases products on our platforms that allow a massive amount of automation. The admin, procurement, and accounts team run like well-oiled machinery, and hammers home guardrails through policies and SoPs.

The CEO is the first and last salesperson of the company. He is the first one, out of the door, selling to customers, pitching to investors, marketing to partners, and moving with contemporaries. He is also the last person to shut shop when things go south. I’ve handled both those doors. The takeaway for tech entrepreneurs is to start embracing sales very quickly or embrace one who can.

The framework you put together at this point needs to withstand tests of transient working capital requirements and steady-state constant distribution. The largest challenge at this point will be cash-flow management. Specifically, monthly cash-flow management - simply because the largest fixed costs for tech startups will always be salaries.

The best startups are the ones who can get past the Indian valley of death. This might be a desi problem from all I can fathom: The startup hits a GMV of Rs 4-5 lakh a month in the consumer space, or does a Rs 1 crore annual turnover in the enterprise space. Then falls into the trap of not being able to scale to a company that clocks Rs 1 crore or Rs 10 crore correspondingly. I can’t think of startups in the western hemisphere that have crossed the proverbial chasm and then stumbled.

The greatest product strategy is when the CEO builds from bottom-up and takes it to market. The worst GTM strategy is when the CEO delegates from top-down and takes his foot off the product strategy.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)