There's no hacking your way to growth - Pre-PMF

Part 1: Pre-product market fit (PMF)

🤔 ‘What should a Growth Marketer do?’

This is the question I was asked this week, by the CEO of a pre-product market fit (PMF) company. 

Before we get into the actionable advice part of the post, let’s take a short trip down memory lane, to early 2017.

Back in the early days of Qonto

Back then, I was the ‘growth person’ at Qonto, and, in a total team of 8, my job description was literally ‘anything not related to coding’ is yours. At that point, I had managed to make 4000+ companies sign up to Qonto’s beta waiting list, with €0 marketing budget.
This was a clear win, but only the start of it.

I remember spending nights and week-ends googling each of these sign-ups using their email address (the only info I had), looking them up on Linkedin, Facebook, Societe.com. I wanted to get a clear picture of who they were.
I had tried to delegate this task, or to automate it, but only my own scrolling through these websites could allow me to build this mental picture, and find patterns. It was very exploratory.

The only tools I had was Google and a spreadsheet, on which I took very detailed notes: what groups they followed, what they twitted, where they worked, how many people followed them, what they ate when they posted it on Instagram, anything that would help me connect with them.

Then I prioritized my list.


When our beta was finally available, the first ones I invited were people I believed would :
a) be forgiving (a beta is called ‘beta’’ for a reason),
b) be a fit for our product (obviously), and
c) have time to provide feedback.
I did not jump at the star CEO with 50K followers.
My exploration helped me build our ideal persona for this phase: a former entrepreneur who was in-between projects, for instance. I’ve literally watched over their shoulders, one by one, looking at how they reacted when they opened their Qonto account, and constantly sharing my notes with the Product team.

I only invited the segment I had dubbed ‘influencers’ last, when our product was almost ready for the official launch.

Opening up to ‘influencers’ meant paying even more attention to every details of the experience. Pietro (then at The Family, now at Stride) knew me first as the person doing customer support on Slack.
We knew we were not perfect, but made a point to answer as quickly as possible (within the minute, if possible).

Back then, and for some years after that, whenever we met one of our first thousands customers, they would say: ‘oh you’re the Anh-Tho from Qonto!’ 😅
(I do like the ‘rhyme’, now being the… ‘Anh-Tho from Lago’.)


This was obviously a lot of (tedious!) work, but looking at Qonto’s trajectory, I’m pretty sure it did pay back. 😎

Don’t get me wrong


I LOVE data, automations, scalability.
This is what Lago is all about. And I might sound like a SaaS geek, but I was SO happy to crunch larger sets of data a few months later, visualizing cohorts, even if it was on an ugly spreadsheet.
Felt like a real treat 🤩 🍿. They do say ‘SaaS is beautiful’, don’t they?

Getting back to the initial question. So…‘What should a Growth Marketer do, pre-PMF?’.

The Growth Marketer job, pre-PMF

I’ve gone back to my notes of the 100+ Growth teams we’ve interviewed these past months.

And it struck me that most pre-PMF companies overthink Growth. 

I think they should HOLD, do ‘things that don’t scale’ for much longer. 

I’ve summarized my takeaways here: 

❌ SHOULD NOT

  1. Throw yourself in an automation feast.
    At this point, everything should be manageable on spreadsheets. You should know every lead by their first name. Don’t waste time automating things that might be useless once you’ve found PMF.
    And allow yourself to feel the pain too (often related to an extensive use of spreadsheets :) ), the more you feel the pain, the clearer you can picture how tools or automations can fix this.

  2. Patch lack of PMF by performance marketing.
    Paid marketing might hide a lack of traction for a while.
    The question is:
    - Do you want to know now that you don’t have a strong enough traction (-> don’t do ads), or…
    - Do you want to realize it in 6 months, when you’ve burnt all your cash (-> spend on ads now)?

  3. Delegate, especially to an intern, or to an external provider.
    Unless you have very specific and simple tasks, that you know will need to be repeated during at least 4 months (the average duration of an internship, minus the ramp-up phase), an intern is useless.
    Consultants, agencies, will try to sell you Growth, but let’s be honest: your best (if not only) asset at that point is how well you know your product and your target market, how genuinely you connect to users.
    🤷‍♀️ Does it really sound like something you should externalize?

✅ SHOULD

  1. Constantly collect new ‘data points’.
    Chase potential clients, pitch them, log the inputs, identify what made them tick, what did not. The goal is not to convince them (although it’s best if it is the case), but to collect data points. 

  2. Analyze these inputs.
    Categorize them, can you see a pattern? Does your value proposition resonate better with a specific group? Startups at Series B stage? Consulting companies? Lifestyle entrepreneurs? Iterate on how you pitch, make different versions according to potential user segments.
    It does not have to be statistically relevant, maybe you’ll see a mini pattern on a small set of 10 users at first. Try to interview 10 more with the same ‘profile’, and see if your hypothesis sticks. 

  3. Give your waiting list some love.
    If you collect leads through a form: google them, know what their job is, how they found you, call them to discover why they would need you, how much they would pay for what you’re solving.

  4. Work on copy.
    Product copy, website copy, FAQ. The power of a great copy and FAQ is underrated, especially if your product creates a new usage.
    People spend weeks, if not months, on taglines, but only a few hours on FAQ. Maybe balance the effort :)!

  5. Get people you target to talk about you.
    It does not necessarily need to be directly related to what you do. The truth is, tech startups per se are often boring (even for a SaaS geek like myself :) ).
    At Qonto, we did not talk much about banking features at the beginning, but we created a lot of content and events around entrepreneurship.
    We found this topic more energizing and fertile than ‘SEPA transfers’ for instance. This is what the Qonto Startup Meetups is about (4K+ members).
    Were we more legitimate than any other startup to create this group?
    No, but we just identified the opportunity, jumped at it, and nurtured it. 

☀️ Find your place under the sun, there are so many!

I’d like to take this post as an opportunity to thank The Family’s team who has truly been instrumental in helping us get initial traction and amplify it at Qonto, in many impactful ways too long to describe here.

🙏 Thanks Alice, Oussama, Erika (yep, *the* Clubhouse icon), Pietro, Maud, Mathias, and all the team, truly.

Also, the post-PMF phase is a totally different journey, that’s why we’ll share our thoughts about it in a totally different post. Stay tuned! 

Anh-Tho… from Lago 😊


Want to go further?

Book now

  • Join our invite-only community: comment this post, and I’ll follow-up!

Credits: Photo by Lubo Minar on Unsplash