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Building an Effective Startup Program as a GTM Channel

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GTM Channel Strategies for Effective Startup Programs | SeedToScale


NASDAQ-listed Freshworks has a reputation of being a super friendly partner for startups and small-sized enterprise businesses. The reason behind it is the comprehensive Startup Program Freshworks has for newly found early-stage startups. 

The program comes with

  • $10,000 in free credits
  • Personalized training
  • Onboarding Experience 
  • Access to a global mentor network
  • Opportunities to break into newer markets and engage with potential new users from the Freshworks clientele. 

In addition, there is the popular Orbit Shift Podcast that outlines learnings and playbooks of successful startup founders and their growth trajectories. The podcast is designed such that it arrives as immediate value to the founders that sign up for this program.
Now any typical early-stage business doesn’t make any sizable revenues. If 10 such startups are actively looking to enter the market, they may not have much money to spend on various tools to kickstart their activation. Freshworks gives them that. On the other hand, 10 new businesses that have just started up might need the right resources, mentorship, network, and growth-based learnings.

This intersection is where a Startup Program can be a viable, reliable, and long-term activity that is mutually beneficial both to your own business and the spectrum of early-stage businesses looking to launch.

And it’s not just Freshworks that’s using this strategy. We have seen scores of Startup Programs by large-sized enterprise businesses such as Freshworks, Chargebee, AWS, Microsoft, CleverTap, WebEngage among many others.

But how can you go about building an effective Startup Program to include it as a part of the larger GTM strategy? How can this program add real value to early-stage founders?

Here are some guidelines for the same.

#1/6 Design the right package for startups

At the outset, it is always imperative to package the offerings of your startup program in a way that it comes off as a no-brainer for the early-stage founders to sign up. Your objective should be to make the program beneficial for the startups rather than merely getting conversions in sales.

For example, assume that this package would otherwise cost $1000 in a straightforward plan but it is offered at a discounted price of $800 exclusively in the startup program. It is still a cost of $800. The value created for an early-stage business that is yet to make any revenues would be almost nil but rather it puts the startup back by $800. The only way to optimize for this is to package it in a way that it becomes a breeze for the founders.

While giving away freebies might seem like a great marketing activity at its core, the real objective is different. The founders would want to know that there is a real value generated out of the program than just a marketing activity for the sake of it.

For a startup program, the core value in itself should be to give back to the community and add more and more value to a business that might not immediately be able to pay you back in any way.”

Don’t Make it Transactional: It is never a good idea to make it look transactional, which it naturally will if the real objective is at all centered around generating quick leads out of this program. It is highly recommended that this be avoided.

Communicate The Purpose: To build a holistic program such as this one for early-stage startups, useful and insightful content, a powerful community coupled with supporting networks can be great additions to the offering. The founders should also be able to see the ‘Why’ behind the startup program, its relevance, how the credits are rolled out, and how they can be of value.

I love how Chargebee puts the purpose of designing a startup program and advantages of using Chargebee in a single fold of their landing page. 

Some Examples to consider:

a) Freshworks for Startups
b) Chargebee For Startups
c) Stripe Atlas 
d) Segment for Startups 

#2/6 Stealth it, hype it, brand it

The Startup Program in itself is a great way to go to the market and build your presence. But it is wiser to build and customize the program in stealth mode with a select set of partners initially, to be able to gather enough feedback and further strengthen the package of offerings. 

These initial partners may become your program’s evangelists eventually. But only with the feedback they gave you, you can go aggressive and break out of the stealth mode.

There should always be enough proof for the value that your program has created in the first place, which goes on to only amplify as you take the program public for the larger audience.”

Misconception: Many teams fall into the misconception that the program always takes off soon after the launch but it rarely happens. The program needs its own time to be in the attention of a significant number of founders, and there would need to be some word-of-mouth talking as to how your program is generating tangible value to those who are a part of it. 

How to Launch: Ideally, the launch activity in itself should be carried out over a period of a month or two. This includes a range of webinars, live sessions, blogs, podcasts, or any kind of content that brings about a decent brand recall that a program like this one exists. 

Customer Speak: Apurv Misal, Head of Marketing & Sales, PHOOL, reviews The WebEngage Startup Program

#3/6 Create a Support Channel

Remember that these are early-stage startup founders who are talking to customers, raising funds, hiring, dousing fires. Plus they are doing all other functions like sales, marketing and sometimes going back to the whiteboard. It is only natural that they might not have enough time or bandwidth to have a comprehensive chat with you regarding the program and how exactly it is of benefit to him/her.

Besides, most of them are also first-time founders who might not entirely know or understand the real use-cases of some or most of your perks and offerings.

  • To keep up with a value-first approach, it may be imperative to add a layer of customer support here that is always around to cater to any queries founders might have.
  • It might be convenient to pass it off as a function not so critical for your business or program, having a support channel that carefully tends to these queries helps you with strong evangelism and cheering in the long run.
  • Ideally, it should be a team member that is empowered enough in the hierarchy of your organization who is experienced enough to add the right value to the customers.

#4/6 Referral Program as an Incentive

Any network of startup founders, by default, is a high-density network of individuals. They find it extremely easy to talk to each other and founders always know more founders. By its own definition, a founder-filled network has its own version of network effects on a very intrinsic level.

One way to leverage this is to roll out a referral program and onboard more founders onto your program with significant incentives tagged along. If a founder already has access to $10,000 of your credits, he would love to have $5,000 more as an addendum to his own credits once and if he successfully refers 5 more startups to your program.

Another additional leverage is by tapping into the highly-dense venture capital communities in the ecosystem. Every startup has one senior executive who is the go-to point of contact with their own investors and venture funds, which in turn can give you access to a massive number of other startups in the community.

Most VCs would be happy to do the evangelism for you and help spread the word.

#5/6 Design a Content, Platform & Community Approach

Example: Chargebee & Freshworks from India 

Platform Engine: The startup program should be a platform where it can unlock the supply of new partners, experts. The platform approach makes it open to collaboration. 

Freshworks Partner Network:  

Chargebee Startup Program as a Platform

Content Engine: Choose one form of content and deliver great content to attract the top of the funnel. It can be a newsletter, podcast, or a long/short blog or videos. The more unique the format, the higher the value.

Freshworks Podcast Strategy 

Chargebee Startup Resources as Content Strategy

Community Engine: Choose one type of member and a common purpose. Bring them together often to help them achieve their outcomes. The purpose can be closer to your product offering but not compulsory. 

Community Initiatives by Freshworks & Chargebee to add value to founders through their startup programs 

#6/6 Invest in Good Brand Marketing 

  • Good Landing Page: A good website for a startup program goes a long way. It helps founders to clearly know Why to use your product, how to benefit from it, and What is the offering by your startup program.
  • Organic Growth: A natural go-to step here would be to build some cool and interesting web pages while plugging them into various content collaterals and assets online. It adds all the more relevance once these web pages are pulled up under Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).
  • Bundling: You may also want to bring in perks and offerings from other startups and enterprises, to build it out as a comprehensive bundled package.
  • Community Calendar: Create a list of activities where you bring founders together for shared learning. The calendar helps in building good momentum and network effects for more founders to join.
  • Merchandise: Besides, you may also want to have a budget for merchandise so your evangelists and promoters are rewarded in some way. Always try to optimize for evangelism and product development over any conversions.
  • Content Engine: Choose one category of members and one common purpose. Bring them together often and help them achieve their outcomes. The purpose may be closer to your product offering but not necessarily. Community initiatives by Freshworks and Chargebee are great examples to showcase, if you want to add real value to founders through your startup programs.
  • Social Capital: Let people in the ecosystem talk about the success and the value created by your startup program. Give them enough avenues and tools to talk about the program.
  • Name: Come up with a good brand-led name for the program that’s easy to recall. It helps in building key partnerships at events, conferences, and other forums.

At Accel, we are open to partnering with an exclusive set of startups and helping offer your Startup Program to our portfolio and those enlisted with our Atoms Program.
Sign up here and we will reach out to you very soon!

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