A version of this article originally appeared in Forbes.
Founders and CEOs must constantly evolve as leaders. So when it comes to the latest go-to-market strategies, what can actually move the needle for early-stage startups?
For GGV’s seventh annual Evolving Enterprise, we tackled this question and other challenges facing the next generation of great enterprise technology leaders.
From what to look for in finance leaders to what really matters in product pricing, here are some takeaways from my keynote panel with:
Hire finance leaders with these key skills
As Dave points out, “no one is good at all the things. They tend to have a major and a minor.”
So if a well-rounded finance team includes a controller, FP&A, and investor relations, “which of those people are you going to hire?” Dave says. “I think most of us tend to bias the FP&A person and then we let that person hire a strong controller.”
The bottom line: Aim to hire finance leaders with “Boy Scout-like” integrity who are willing to stand up for your company’s financial interests. While effective accounting and financial controls are table stakes, a financial team that indexes highly on the ability to identify, measure, and manage the key metrics that accurately predict future results will help gird a company through all key phases of growth.
Plant the seeds for commercial relationships
For product-led growth companies, consumers typically experience a product well before encountering a salesperson. So how can early-stage startups prepare?
Consider breaking persona journeys into distinct paths: “The practitioner—you’re trying to progress through a journey of ‘Discover and learn,’ ‘try and trial,’ ‘use and advocate,’” Dave says. “And you do not care if they buy anything from you. The tech decision maker—you’re trying to progress through the “Why try?” buyer journey … Once you get product-market fit, it’s about being really deliberate about what those digital journeys are. It is a pre-dredged river … They do not know what’s happening to them. They are not going where they think they’re going; they’re going where I want them to go.”
Develop a monetization strategy for freemium models: For Figma, “sometimes it’s weird to think about how much we give away for free, but that is at the essence of why we were able to grow to a million signups a month pretty fast because there was so much value that people were getting out of the free plan,” Amanda says. “So as much as it might feel like the wrong thing to do, it’s so good for your top of funnel. And you just have to be clear about ‘How am I going to monetize eventually?’”
At HashiCorp, Dave adds, “security, operations, governance, and collaboration … tend to be the capabilities that you can monetize either in the form of a managed service or an open-core model.”
Close feedback loops: As Amanda reflects on the early days of Figma, she recounts how CEO and Co-founder Dylan Field cold-called 24 influencers on Twitter and set up demos for the design platform. “And then what he did was go back to all those people 6 to 9 months later and said, ‘Hey, I want to show you what we did.’ And it’s that follow-up that takes a lot more effort but pays dividends because even if you don’t win that customer that day, you’re starting to win the hearts and minds of people … That’s how he differentiated himself. Totally not scalable, but that’s how he started winning Microsoft, for example.”
Innovate around pricing products
With consumption models gaining popularity, startups are well-positioned to keep innovating how they price their products. But according to Dave, the fundamental error with pricing is not locking the unit of value.
“The most important thing is: ‘What is your unit of value?’—not ‘What is your price?’ Is it per user? Is it per app? In an ideal world, you’re trying to find a unit of value that is tied to a secular trend that will grow infinitely … We price all of our products based on apps going to cloud. I’m pretty sure that’s a secular trend that’s not going to stop.”—HashiCorp CEO Dave McJannet
Another approach is Figma’s per-seat pricing for collaboration. Beyond tracking what your competitors charge, you may want to also test “how much is someone willing to put on their credit card at work without having to get an approval from the CFO,” Amanda adds.
Commit to cultivating communities
Both HashiCorp and Figma have successfully built—and continue to maintain—an active ecosystem and community around their products. To keep up the momentum, both panelists recommend that startups:
Nurture key communities: Based on Dave’s experience as VP of marketing at GitHub, he recommends honing in on the “three or four anchor tenants in my mall that I need to get here”—not 10.
Encourage third parties to develop plugins and integrations: In Figma’s case, delivering on this No. 1 feature request involved learning from a competitor’s mistakes. “Every time [this company] made updates, everyone else’s plugins would break if they weren’t built,” Amanda says. “So we took time to think about how we engineer it differently in order to not have that problem.”
While some of these GTM best practices can be the jet fuel that helps drive companies forward, today’s founders and leaders are building amid an ever-evolving macro environment. But with the right team, advisors, and strategies in place, we believe that the startup founders who adapt can stand the test of time.
GGV Managing Partner Jeff Richards contributed to this article.
*Represents a company in GGV’s portfolio