We recap the top GTM insights for early-stage founders from our panel of successful Black entrepreneurs at our RBCx Black Founder event.

While fundraising rounds and rapid scaling steal a lot of the startup spotlight, before early-stage tech companies even get to those phases, they must develop and execute a solid go-to-market (GTM) strategy. Getting this right serves as a foundation to future success, and even established startups can often benefit from revisiting, refining, and sometimes redefining their GTM strategies.

RBCx and the Black Entrepreneurship Alliance (BEA) hosted a panel of accomplished Black entrepreneurs to shed light on how to navigate this crucial stage of the startup journey, from market validation to beta testing, revenue targets and more. It was moderated by Eugene Mulindangabo, a vice president with RBCx Banking. Mulindangabo is a community-centric banker who relies on his strong professional network to empower startups with the resources needed for rapid and efficient scaling.

An panel of dynamic Black entrepreneurs included Bocar Dia, managing director at Forum Ventures, a leading early-stage fund program and community for B2B Saas Startups. In a prior role at Hootsuite, Dia helped scale the businesses to over $150M in revenue and 2,000-plus employees in under seven years.

Also on the panel was Edgar Brown, CEO and co-founder of Engyne, a platform that helps businesses grow with content marketing and SEO fueled by AI. Engyne has helped pre-seed to Series A startups triple their organic sales in just eight weeks.

They were joined by Gloria Oppong, CEO and co-founder of Cleanster, a venture-backed startup that offers reliable and efficient cleaning expertise for homes and short-term rentals. Oppong began her entrepreneurial journey in Ghana, where she and her mother managed a school business of 300 students and 10 teachers.

This event focused on go-to-market strategies and was the second in our RBCx Black Founders Series, created to empower, connect, and inspire Black entrepreneurs in the tech industry. All webinars are broadcast virtually, making it easy for anyone to attend. But, in case you missed this engaging discussion, here are 5 key takeaways from the event:

1. Don’t wait too long to start building your product

A key part of any go-to-market strategy is market validation––the process of discovering whether there’s actually an appetite from consumers or clients for a product or service. Conducting thorough market research and validation can prevent startups from wasting precious time and money on a product there’s no real need or want for.

However, it can be tempting to get bogged down in this part of the process, ironically wasting the very time founders are looking to save themselves via due diligence.

“Sometimes, you’ll hear folks say, don’t wait too long to start building a product. That’s also very valid advice,” says Dia. This is particularly true when it comes to startups focused on product-led growth (PLG).

“Sometimes, the product is actually the way to validate that a pain point and market is there. Apple didn’t go around asking whether people wanted a phone without a keyboard.”

“How do you validate a PLG product? It’s pretty tricky to go out and have conversations to validate––Slack would never exist if they’d done that,” Dia says. “Fundamentally, you have to build a little something and see how users react. Sometimes, the product is actually the way to validate that a pain point and market is there. Apple didn’t go around asking whether people wanted a phone without a keyboard.”

Another caveat is markets that don’t already exist, similar to short-term rentals before Airbnb turned them mainstream. “When you think about what companies like Airbnb were doing, that sounded like a crazy idea. How did they even know what the market size was for that? You’ll find that the market size they had was greatly underestimated.”

2. Be relentless when it comes to sales

Sales may not come naturally to many founders, but it’s the secret sauce to onboarding clients and growing quickly. With Cleanster, Oppong prioritized sales from the very start.

They had a list of 75 to 100 leads, “and I called each and every one of them, asking how can we help you? What kind of service do you need? Are you a property manager––if so, how many units do you manage? Do you have a property management system that we can bring onto a platform and automate all of this cleaning?” she says.

“The whole team, no matter what their role, knows sales is the number one thing. Everyone is selling something in a way.”

“The whole team, no matter what their role, knows sales is the number one thing. Everyone is selling something in a way.”

3. Hyper focus your beta test

If the purpose of a beta test is to gather valuable feedback, many early-stage founders may naturally assume more is better. However, Brown cautions that quality can be better than quantity––particularly if your startup offers a service.

He says Engyne drove to a “specific beta” where they chose to work with 10 founders for 90 days with the goal of doubling their search traffic within that period. They then checked in with those customers every two weeks to collect detailed feedback, which they’d then act on. This allowed the team to delve deeper into pain points and opportunities than if the beta had cast a wider net.

The key was that the 10 clients weren’t family or friends; they were paying customers so that Engyne could gain insights into the expectations and experiences real users would have. “And we would work to build and iterate the product until it met those expectations,” says Brown.

The 90-day period also had the benefit of adding a sense of urgency on the customers’ end to actually use and take advantage of the beta test, while ensuring the Engyne team had the capacity to drive toward a quickly impending launch date. “We’re now about to onboard our next set of customers, if there’s anyone in the audience who wants to be part of the next batch,” laughs Brown.

Similarly, Oppong and Cleanster found success by initially working very closely with a select group of 32 properties, which allowed them to dedicate time to making sure each client was properly onboarded and comfortable using the platform from the start.

4. Unicorns aren’t the gold standard they once were

Many early-stage startup founders dream of their company becoming a unicorn, but focusing on dollar value can distract from other growth measures that count more. In today’s economy, being a unicorn isn’t the marker of great success it was just a few years ago.

“You can see this in today’s private companies that were valued at over a billion, but are starting to fold. We’ve seen Convoy go from a $4 billion valuation to closing down. WeWork used to be valued at $47 billion and they recently filed for bankruptcy. Focusing on unicorn status isn’t a good way of thinking right now because, fundamentally, 12 years of near-zero interest rates are behind us,” says Dia.

“Capital availability isn’t going to be the same going forward, meaning that valuations aren’t right.”

“Capital availability isn’t going to be the same going forward, meaning that valuations aren’t right. And a valuation only means something when it’s realized, right?”

This is why Dia doesn’t like to think about venture scale outcomes through the unicorn lens. Rather, he recommends thinking about venture scale outcomes through the lens of your customers, the solution your company offers, and the impact it can deliver.

Dia says that when founders create go-to-market strategies they should be less focused on a huge valuation and rather, “is this a market that can sustain a business that does $100 million in revenue? Because valuations always change.”

5. Conversations as a path to customer acquisition

Customer acquisition is key to any early-stage startup’s success, yet it’s a step that trips up many founders. “Customer acquisition is very broad as a category, but what we did was have as many conversations as possible with people and founders about marketing, during which I was able to leverage my background in the space,” says Brown.

Through these discussions, Brown’s team was able to hone in on a specific opportunity with SEO. They learned that companies found working with SEO agencies to be a convoluted process, and they were often frustrated to be handed off to junior employees after signing a contract.

“What we found was founders were just extremely unhappy with their experience and frustrated that working with SEO agencies wasn’t a transparent process where they could tell whether it was working or not,” says Brown.

Brown then focused on finding a way to solve that problem, which, of course, birthed Engyne.

An inspiring evening connecting the Black tech community

Thank you to Mulindangabo and all three panelists for sharing their experience and valuable insights with us. It was a night of shared knowledge, community-building, and networking to set founders and aspiring tech entrepreneurs up for future success.

RBCx clients can attend our next webinar by reaching out to your RBCx Relationship Manager for an invite to upcoming sessions.

RBCx backs some of Canada’s most daring tech companies and idea generators. We turn our experience, networks, and capital into your competitive advantage to help drive lasting change. Speak with a RBCx Technology Advisor to learn more about how we can help your business grow.

This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While the information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or its affiliates.


Other articles you may be interested in