Start Phase Building Blocks: Intro

Notion have spoken about the journey from 0 to $100m as the “Start”, “Build” and “Scale” phases of running a software business. Whilst every company’s journey across these phases is unique, some of the challenges and requirements we face have commonality. 

Zeroing in on the “Start” phase, defined as going from 0 to $3m in revenue, I’ve looked to establish what are the common foundations, or building blocks, we need to put in place to grow through this phase as quickly and effectively as possible. 

With Notion over the past 18 months, we’ve now produced content on each and every building block, summarised below. 

Evolving beyond founder-led sales

The first of the building blocks is moving beyond founder-led sales. Importantly, we covered how it’s the founder’s job not just to win a handful of customers before scaling their team, or hiring in leadership. But instead to find a repeatable way for others to win customers. 

You as a founder want to build a commercial process that is so repeatable, that it becomes  boring to you as a founder - this being a real demonstration of repeatability.

It’s a common misnomer you as a founder can hire in commercial leadership to help you work this repeatable process out, however in most cases it’s your responsibility as a founder to get this far before hiring others.

Picking your GTM Model 

Picking your GTM Model is the second building block. Most commonly folks are choosing between product-led growth (PLG) vs. sales-led growth (SLT), although there are of course other options. 

When picking between these common well trodden paths, we ask founders to consider a number of factors. 

Market Sophistication 

Do your potential customers know they have a pain/need?

Are they actively seeking a product like yours? 

If the answer is yes, it enables PLG to be successful. If the answer is no, it’s much less likely.

Market Sizing 

Are in you a big global market, or targeting a more narrow set of enterprise accounts?   

On the whole PLG works with bigger markets, with more accounts, lower ACVs vs. their Sales-Led counterparts.With folk pursuing the latter typically benefiting from delivering sales & marketing dollars at a more narrow set of accounts, in an account based motion


We of course also ask folks to determine whether they can run either model cost effectively. Looking at the fully baked cost of running either motion, and ensuring acquisition costs and payback periods are inline with expected performance of VCs.

You’ll end up with both!

When looking into this building block, a major decision for early stage companies, we acknowledge companies typically end up pursuing multiple growth paths & models as they scale. However, we encourage folks to start with just one. Since the team, skills, reporting, measures and more differ quite considerably depending on the path you take. 

Ideal Customer Profiles 

In this block we talked about the need to get very specific about what’s true about the customers who are a perfect fit for your product. The more specific you can be the more useful the definition becomes.

Within the ideal account, we talked about the importance of identifying your users & buyers. Especially if they’re different people, and ensuring that your product is delivering enough value to both personas. 

We discussed how these personas also tie into your GTM model, with those targeting users often looking at land & expand motions, which lend themselves to PLG with inside sales for up-sells. Whereas, those targeting the buyer directly in the sales process tend to be going SLG. 

Market Mapping 

Having established your go-to-market model, and what your ideal customers look like. Typically a company will then look to map their market of customers. 

This is important in order to establish there are enough serviceable companies in your market today, to take you through to your next milestone, eg. a fundraise or profitability. While demonstrating an understanding of the broader total addressable market you operate in is important to convince investors of the scale of the opportunity for your business. 

Only with solid market mapping, can companies move onto the building block of account prioritisation & distribution. 

Prioritisation & Distribution 

Having established there are thousands of companies for you to sell to through your market mapping - account prioritisation is ensuring that we’re directing our resources, times and money at the accounts that are those most likely to buy our products right now. 

With small gains at the top of the funnel, we can see an outsized impact in our throughput and pipeline. 

Meanwhile if pursuing a sales-led growth strategy, getting those accounts with the highest propensity to buy (and score) in front of and being worked by reps is a process you’ll need to master. Whether pursuing named books of business, or the more common queue based distribution at an earlier stage. 

Segments & Sales Plays 

Last but not least, we focused on segments and sales plays. If mapping the market & prioritisation solve the “who should we sell to” set of tasks.  Segments & sales plays cover solve for the “what should we be saying to them?" question. 

We talk about the direct relationship between segments & sales plays, and how we’d encourage you to draw circles around customers based on commonality of need. Then line your commercial teams up aligned around common sets of customers, with common messaging and joined-up assets. 

Next? The build phase.

With these building blocks established, the companies that have laid these foundations will scale through the “Build” phase (defined as $3m-$30m) at a rapid pace. There will be iterations on the fundamentals developed but you’ll largely be increasing your investment and optimising a go-to-market motion that’s already working. 

The best teams will concurrently be exploring the “net new”, the unknowns, while scaling a machine that’s already working. More on that to come! 

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