Bootstrapped Founder? Why You Really Need a Pathfinder

Neil HartleyPathfinder SalesLeave a Comment

two dice rolling on a casino table

Something changed. I don’t know what. I don’t know when. But it changed.

If you’re a bootstrapped founder and have achieved product market fit, then you’re probably thinking it’s time to get back to innovating on your product, get the hired gun in and make your first Sales hire.

If you’re angel or VC-backed you may well be thinking the same thing. Time to get a professional in to figure out how to develop your predictable, repeatable, scalable and profitable sales process.

The difference [at least while the money lasts] is the funded company has the resources to experiment on figuring out what this sales process looks like. The bootstrapped company doesn’t.

And here’s the rub, the marketing and sales techniques that served so well three or more years ago don’t [profitably] work anymore. Not for new businesses anyway. They may still be working for companies who started 5 to 10 years ago, but if you recently launched…good luck watching that ad spend (Google, LinkedIn etc.) pour down the drain.

Of course, I’m talking mainly about inbound (search) marketing. Outbound still works, but with the same limitations it always had. And if you’re a bootstrapped startup hiring your first sales person, is one person hitting the phones or sending emails (custom or otherwise) going to produce a repeatable, scalable process? Unlikely, although you may get lucky and paper over some short term revenue cracks.

That’s why you need a Pathfinder. And I mean you really need:

Someone with the generative curiosity to find new approaches when plans don’t work out.

Someone who doesn’t need a playbook and who is able to fully engage in tasks/roles largely, or even entirely, motivated by meeting a need. Broadly, Pathfinders see a need and jump in and figure things out as they go.

Someone who thrives on ambiguity; prioritises long-term relationships over short-term gains; and who ‘fails forward’, among many other things.

Hiring somebody without these attributes will quickly lead to a conversation between the two of you around the lack of wins, which will be down to the “lack of leads”, and the Eagles song ‘Wasted Time’ will be all you can hear.

So what did change? I don’t know that anything specifically changed with inbound (search) marketing, but it did get prohibitively expensive.

Imagine paying $10 per click on LinkedIn to get someone in your target market to attend your webinar.

What percentage of those will convert and attend your webinar? 10% would be high. Congratulations, you’ve just spent $10K to get 100 people to come listen to you.

How many of those are tire kickers, competitors dressed up as gmail people, or just ‘interested’?

What percentage of attendees might become a paying customer in a timeframe of relevance? Even if that number is 2%, you’ve just spent $5K acquiring each of those customers. Maybe that’s not a bad CPA number for you, but what if your campaign doesn’t work? How many times can you throw down $10K on activities that might not work?

That’s the difference between the bootstrapped founder and those who’ve taken outside investment. How many times can you roll the dice before you get walked away from the tables?

That’s why you need a Pathfinder. And I mean you really need:

Someone who’s motivated to figure this out, to build something, and not by external motivators such as their commission check. Here’s a controversial thought. If you’re hiring a Pathfinder salesperson, DO NOT pay them commission. Pay them a living wage with upside in stock. You do not want or need this salesperson to be operating to a compensation plan (given how your business WILL change).

What other growth marketing options do you have?

A couple that are gaining traction are Community Marketing and Audience Research.

Community Marketing – either leverage a community that already exists around your target market, or create your own community.

Creating one takes time (probably a year from starting to having an engaged community of members) but it’s worth it. Many use Slack as the platform, recruit members and then stimulate a debate and have the community drive the conversation. The creator is often in the background but gets brand recognition and can be creative in positioning their own solution to the problems being debated.

An example would be Growth Marketing Pros which is run by growth marketing firm Solveo.

Audience Research – let me tell this story via the words of Rand Fishkin, now CEO of SparkToro (an audience research software provider) and one-time founder and CEO of Moz (the SEO guys).

“I might be thinking about pitching audience research as a way to expand the group of people you can reach outside of Google search. If, for example, there’s 1,000 people a month searching for the product(s) your client sells, there’s probably 10M people who might buy the product but aren’t searching for it (or anything relevant in Google). Reaching that crowd is what audience research is all about.”

“I don’t really love most search marketing unless you’ve got a big budget and a lot of time to build up strength/authority in those fields. For early stage companies (like SparkToro) my favorite marketing tactic is marketing through your audience/customers’ sources of influence, i.e. finding the podcasts, YouTube channels, email newsletters, websites, social accounts, Slack communities, etc. that they read/watch/follow/subscribe-to, then being present in those places with messages that build brand affinity, trust, and eventually conversion.”

Are there other growth marketing options? For sure. Your Pathfinder will find them. Make sure you hire one (nudge, that’s what we do). Pay them a living wage (no commission) with upside in stock and make sure you can fund their work for long enough to see the fruits of their labor.

Good luck! If you need help finding your Pathfinder, please contact us.

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