How to Build Your Initial GTM Plan

GTM Isn’t What You Think!

Failing to truly grasp Go-To-Market strategy is, in my opinion, one of the main reasons why so many early stage startups fail. Bold statement? Well, bolder still are founders who step onto the fundraising stage without appreciating the role GTM plays in winning over VCs. 

GTM is fundamental to building a growing home for your solution in the marketplace (product-market fit). Your GTM activities tie directly to your ability to raise seed and Series A investment. If you treat GTM strategy as nothing more than a must-have in the business plan and pitch deck, it will fail to deliver. However, when properly defined and supported by all of your startup’s operations, it can:

  1. Build traction with early adopters
  2. Validate or debunk assumptions
  3. Reduce uncertainty in the business model
  4. Help you extend your burn rate
  5. Lead you to higher degrees of product-market fit
  6. Help you show investors the right indicators

With so much riding on your GTM strategy, let’s look at how to define your initial GTM plan.

Reframing GTM: You’re a Startup, not a Bluechip

You’re not a large corporation with unlimited financial resources – just yet. They tend to have strong market share, defined customer segments, tons of data and, obviously, deep pockets. Their GTM usually means product launch: add new features to existing products or new products to existing product lines, leverage dominant market position and blast the market with noise.

Sometimes, they might even attempt to launch new products into new markets. They tread carefully nowadays, because some of the world’s titans have rather embarrassing product launch flops. Remember Amazon Fire, the smartphone that offered substantially less apps than competitor devices, back in 2014? Really? How could you forget those self-serving features designed to direct consumers back to Amazon’s main platform, rather than delivering any real value? 

All jokes aside, that blunder cost Amazon a hefty $170M. Lucky for Amazon, it’s Amazon.

Unless I’m mistaken, that’s not your situation. As founder of an early-stage startup, you don’t have unlimited funds to throw at promotional activities hoping to snowball into strong market share. And the truth is, as far as raising seed capital is concerned, you don’t have to. 

First thing first: your GTM plan is not a product launch plan. Instead, it maps out what you’ll do to get to product-market fit. And that begins with your early adopters. 

The 5 Axes of GTM Planning

A solid initial GTM plan rests on 3 foundational pillars, and 2 prerequisites for institutional funding:

    1. Identifies early adopters with a burning need for your solution: who they are, where they are, how many there are, and how to reach them
    1. Clearly shows measurable ROI for your early adopters
    1. Grabs their attention because it uses their way of defining the problem, the pain and how your solution is better than alternatives (which isn’t always a competitor’s solution)
    1. Venture capital flows to startups that generate traction with early adopters who can use it as a launchpad to enter markets with vast, open frontiers
    1. One that helps you scale your business and can generate high valuation multiples for investors exits

Although I focus on helping early-stage startups accelerate seed and Series A fundraising, you could (and should) structure your initial GTM plan on these building blocks, even before launching your pre-seed round. That’s because the entire venture building journey is a single, ongoing process. Your first plan is a peg in the ground that will change over time. And your cash reserve – more specifically, your burn rate – dictates how much time you have. 

Each of the building blocks are worlds unto themselves. What if you have 10 early adopter segments? Does that mean 10 value propositions? How many messaging variants does that require? Will 1 revenue model fit all? If you don’t have the resources to pursue all segments, which should you start with? 

What you’re really facing is an optimization problem. Trust me: you don’t want to burn time and resources figuring it out on your own. To extend your burn rate long enough to get to product-market fit, get expert help when defining your first plan. If you have it in-house, power to you. If you don’t, get it. You’ll be happy you did.

If you don’t have access to it, that’s what I’m here for. 

Yours sincerely,

Be sure to check out my next article, GTM Never Stops. I’ll explain how to use GTM to systematically work your way into higher degrees of PMF, while de-risking the investment opportunity you present to investors.

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