December 15, 2021

Startups, nail your go-to-market in three phases

Research and differentiated messaging are key to getting go-to-market right.

David Odier

5 min read

A good go-to-market can make — or break — a company. Remember Fyre Festival? They put so many resources into marketing that they forgot the end product is the one thing people care about, no matter how good your marketing is. (Cue memes about that sad cheese sandwich.)

There’s no silver bullet for nailing your go-to-market (GTM) strategy, but it’s best to think about this strategy as a process. There are three key stages, and being thoughtful about all three will put you on track for growth.

1/ Start with lots of customer research and a soft launch

The first step is a soft launch. This is the first commercialisation phase where a small group is paying for your solution. It’s the time when you have a lot of conversations with your customers to understand how you can make their lives easier and why they signed up in the first place. You are not trying to actively promote your product.


Founders often confuse the soft launch of a product with reaching product-market fit. You’ve reached product-market fit when customers are willing to pay for your product and churn is under control. Unlike a soft launch, it’s not a date you can plan for or put in your calendar; but you’ll know when it happens. Selling will be that much easier, and the glowing customer feedback will speak for itself.

You need an initial product-market fit before entering an aggressive go-to-market strategy, hence a soft launch is vital to get you there. Don’t invest a lot of resources before making sure that you’ve nailed down who your target customers are and exactly how to convince them why your product is worth their money.

Hit your network to gain those initial customers. People you know personally will be more willing to help than any internet stranger

The best way to go about this is a heavy customer research phase as you build the product. This will help you make sure you are developing a product that people want rather than creating something based on your intuition.

The company that impressed me the most in this process is Pennylane, a French accounting startup creating a local Xero and Quickbooks competitor. As they were building their product, they interviewed 150 startup founders and agency owners, their core target groups.

When they unveiled their final product, almost all of the companies they had interviewed became paying customers.

I love this story because it shows how successful companies can be if product, marketing and sales work closely together.

Hit your network to gain those initial customers. People you know personally will be more willing to help than any internet stranger.

To sum up, before entering an aggressive GTM strategy, ensure that you have enough paying customers through a soft launch to deploy your go-to-market plan.

2/ Maximise the impact of your GTM with near-perfect product messaging

Unless you are working on a product that will create a completely new kind of demand with new technology, chances are you have some direct or indirect competitors. And they already have customers. Obviously, you believe that you have something different to offer.

Prepare your GTM plan by focusing almost entirely on that uniqueness and take a step back. Think together with your team: who would benefit the most from this unique value we are creating?


Invest some time in this process. The answer is probably not as straightforward as you think it is, and it requires a deep dive into your market. Remember that you are creating a product for your customers. You should not try to create a product you think is great but does not answer a market need.

Once you’ve understood who will benefit the most from your product, the GTM plan you will prepare will be entirely focused on this audience. They will be the ones that will understand your value the quickest and will be the easiest to convince.

You shouldn't try to create a product you think is great but does not answer a market need

By creating an entire distribution strategy based on a very defined audience in the first part of your GTM, you will be able to:

  • Maximise your chances of converting them into customers
  • Initiate a word-of-mouth/snowball effect
  • Focus your efforts' team on this journey

Monzo is a great example of doing this well. When they first released their product, Monzo marketed their offer for the under-30s and under-20s. They targeted people that wanted to do anything on their phone, including personal banking. The rest is history.

So you’ve done deep research, have a few customers from your soft launch, and are great at articulating what’s unique about your product. It’s time to start aggressively selling. Congrats! You are officially launching your go-to-market strategy.

3/ When does GTM end, and what do you do from there?

One thing that’s certain is you cannot define the end of your go-to-market with a number. You can obviously set yourself goals, but that ignores the fact that you want to sustain that growth. You need more than one North Star metric to safely say you should move from talking about GTM to the growth phase.

My definition of a GTM ending and the start of a growth phase is when a company grows their revenues by more than 10% month-on-month several months in a row and the return on your marketing investments (eg. ads, providers, team) is higher than two.

Remember that most companies’ go-to-market follows a J-curve. At first, they see traction (soft launch), and struggle to reach the next stage (hard launch/go-to-market) before finding a stable cost structure and starting their growth phase.

You need more than one North Star metric to safely say you should move from talking about GTM to the growth phase

Many founders have the wrong assumption that they must excel on ads, SEO, social media, business development, partnerships etc. But the most successful startups focus almost exclusively on one or two channels that they absolutely master.

During your go-to-market, you should try three to four different channels. Your objective should be to identify which one(s) brings the best return on investment together with the right volume.

That's how you'll achieve "bullseye" with your growth, as Gabriel Weinberg, DuckDuckGo's founder, explains in his famous book Traction.

The main outcome of your go-to-market will be to validate an efficient distribution strategy where your marketing and sales activities bring an ROI of higher than two.

That’s how you can confidently claim that this phase is over and you are ready for your growth phase.