The best place to get startup growth advice is from founders that have already scaled a company to sustainable success.
A startup panel at last week’s New Hampshire Tech Alliance Innovation Summit tapped into the experience of three local entrepreneurs to share tips for early-stage founders. In a startup landscape dominated by buzz from gaudy valuations and massive fundraising rounds, the panelists proposed strategies for sustainable growth that work for every startup — not just the unicorns.
“The trend right now is: raise as much as possible for as big of a valuation as possible, because someday someone will buy you and bail you out,” said Kyle York, co-founder and CEO of York IE. “But actually, the people who make the most money — and actually like their job, their company and their life — are the ones that own their company. … There might be a trend back to pragmatic, thoughtful growth.”
York was joined on the panel by Heather Stokes, co-founder and COO of 4AM Demand; Matthew Guruge, co-founder and CEO of Awato; and moderator Carla Vanderhoof, co-founder and chief design officer at Addapptation.
They discussed the growth journey for seed and pre-seed companies, touching on topics such as raising capital, demand generation and product-led growth (PLG). Let’s explore some of their key startup growth advice:
Startup Growth Approaches
The panelists discussed why startups that focus all their resources on their product often fail. York instead advised founders to implement a market-in approach that focuses on the customer, what they need, and how their offering supplants what already exists. PLG, meanwhile, leaves entrepreneurs with a product or service that doesn’t meet the demands of the market, he said.
“I think this product-led growth movement is a sham,” he added. “It’s making everybody think that you can do bottoms-up selling without actually selling, and that products can sell and market themselves. Actually, the companies that do PLG the best are the ones that do marketing, demand gen, user experience, onboarding, implementation and expansion better than anyone else.”
Listen to Your Customers
In a similar fashion, Guruge said he wished he had spent more time listening to his customers’ feedback in the early stages of building Awato, a career pathfinding platform that Xello recently acquired. Insights from customers, especially early ones, can inform how you adapt your marketing and product strategy to fill the needs of consumers, he said.
“Spend more time with your customers,” he added. “If you don’t have that customer voice, you don’t understand their opinion, you don’t know where you’re going to get those emotional moments from, you don’t know the best blog piece to write and you certainly don’t know the feature to develop that every one of your customers is going to need.”
Build a Revenue Roadmap
Each of the panelists mentioned the pressure on entrepreneurs to drive revenue and ultimately a high valuation. Many founders scramble to hire salespeople because they think that automatically unlocks revenue growth, but a more strategic approach and roadmap to revenue is beneficial, Stokes said.
“What does the path look like?” she asked. “How many leads, how many opportunities do we need, how many accounts do we need to engage? Once you have a path, you can put the plan in place, and then you can measure against that monthly, quarterly. I think that’s a big piece, and I don’t see a lot of startups doing that.”
Hello from Washington
The panel kicked off with a welcome from U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, who highlighted the importance of emerging companies to New Hampshire’s economy.
“New Hampshire’s innovative businesses and entrepreneurs are the engines of our economy, “ she said. “You create good jobs, you support a strong middle class, and you serve as the backbone of our communities.”
Watch the entire New Hampshire Tech Alliance Innovation Summit Growth-Stage Startup Panel: