Why Startups Should Prioritize Sales Over Marketing: The Key to Success


Hatched by Glasp

Aug 19, 2023

3 min read


Why Startups Should Prioritize Sales Over Marketing: The Key to Success

In the world of startups, the term "marketing" often conjures up images of broad and shallow outreach to a large audience. However, according to Jessica Livingston, co-founder of Y Combinator, the most important thing for an early-stage startup is to focus on sales, not marketing. This may seem counterintuitive, but it is a strategy that can lead to success.

Livingston argues that startups should aim for a narrow and deep approach to their outreach. Instead of trying to appeal to a broad audience, startups should focus on a small number of users who are genuinely interested in what they have to offer. This not only allows for more effective engagement but also provides valuable feedback for product improvement.

To illustrate this point, Livingston points to successful startups like Airbnb and Stripe. In the early days of Airbnb, the founders personally met with hosts and guests in New York City to provide guidance and support. Similarly, the Collison brothers, founders of Stripe, were known for manually installing their product for users rather than simply sending a link. These hands-on approaches allowed these startups to connect with users on a deeper level and refine their products accordingly.

The danger of relying solely on traditional marketing techniques is that it can lead to a lack of user engagement and feedback. When founders announce a mediocre product to the world and fail to attract users, they are left without the necessary information to improve their offering. By engaging with users individually, founders can gain valuable insights and make necessary adjustments to their product.

However, there is a psychological aspect to this preference for broad and shallow marketing. Some founders may subconsciously avoid engaging with users individually because they are in denial about the inadequacy of their product or the difficulties of starting a startup. This avoidance allows them to avoid confronting the hard work and unpleasant truths that come with direct user interaction.

The advice from Y Combinator is clear: focus on creating a truly exceptional product and reach users manually. This approach, which prioritizes the narrow and deep end of the sales/marketing continuum, not only leads to more effective user acquisition but is also crucial for the survival of a startup.

In conclusion, startups should shift their focus from marketing to sales in the early stages of their journey. By engaging with a small number of interested users individually, startups can gather valuable feedback and improve their products. To implement this strategy, here are three actionable pieces of advice:

  • 1. Prioritize user engagement: Instead of casting a wide net and hoping for user interest, put in the effort to connect with users individually. This personal approach will provide invaluable insights and help shape the direction of your product.
  • 2. Embrace manual processes: Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty. Install your product for users, meet with them in person, and provide hands-on support. These manual processes may be time-consuming, but they can make all the difference in creating a loyal user base.
  • 3. Continuously refine your product: Actively seek feedback from users and use it to iterate and improve your product. This iterative approach will ensure that you are constantly evolving to meet the needs and preferences of your target audience.

By following these three pieces of advice and focusing on the narrow and deep end of the sales/marketing continuum, startups can increase their chances of success and avoid the pitfalls of relying solely on traditional marketing techniques. Remember, a startup's survival depends on its ability to connect with users and create a truly exceptional product.

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