blog overview
Frans Riemersma, 22 Jun '16

How We Crafted Our Marketing Strategy as a Startup and Boosted Results

Strategies fail in the execution phase. Bridge the gap between plan and practice. Replace your permanently outdated strategy. Plan and iterate towards your Big Hairy Goal.

Strategy is a journey – taking small steps towards a big goal. Not a yearly one-off.

Does your strategy fail consistently?

Are you at the point you stopped creating one? I bet you have been looking for the antidote against your strategy failure for ages. Haven’t we all?

Strategies fail in the execution phase. It turns out to be hard to bridge the reality gap: the gap between plan and practice.

The classic image of a strategy is a paper document ending up in a drawer. Or in tons of disconnected spreadsheets and presentations, with the same result: nobody will look at it again.

Or do you have a hard time updating it regularly?

The reality is that your company strategy is never finished. We have to get rid of the idea that if we create a strategy once, it will all fall into place in practice. It is simply not true.

The outside world changes constantly and customer behavior will always remain mysterious to some extent. We all know the world is not perfect. Strategies very rarely work out well in the real world, the first time around.

There are just too many variables to account for in any industry, and the start-up world is operating in may be one of the most challenging and dynamic.

Embrace your ‘never-finished’ strategy!

You’ll always have to keep changing and you’ll always have to dispose of concepts you thought would see you through to retirement a week ago.

But this is nothing to be ashamed about. Here is how we embraced it!

"Kill your darlings. Embrace your Darwins!"

All you have to do is kill your traditional strategy plan. Don't be scared to throw away your strategy all together.

From now on iterate towards your Big Hairy Goal. Have a long-term goal in mind but only define and work on goals for this month. Don’t become specific about goals laying further ahead, but update the goals you have frequently.

It will relief you and your team of the unnatural pressure of ‘having to know it all beforehand’, while you know that’s impossible in the back of your mind.

Put your strategy on post-it notes

Just like you use post-it notes in agile scrum, use post-it notes for your goals. Make sure all the goals add up to the Big Hairy Goal.

A tree like structure will emerge in front of your eyes. That is the visual version of your strategy! We like to call it a Goal tree or Growth Map.

"Structure your strategy, in the name of growth"

The most important part of creating a strategy, or Growth Map, is to continuously optimize the structure for your goals.

You can structure your goals across numerous dimensions, following e.g. your sales funnel, organization, conversions, regions, etc.

We learned it is a both insightful and rough journey. Insight was the biggest benefit for us. It prevented us from making many costly and time-consuming mistakes up front.

Continuously craft your strategy to grow as fast as you can

You sometimes just have to have the b**ls to throw away your company strategy altogether and start from scratch.

We know because we did so three times in the last three months. Three ‘darlings’ lying lifeless in the corner…. and we don’t feel any remorse, and neither should you for doing the same.

We planned, did, checked and acted, and we are on the right track (for) now.

Why we rebuilt our own growth map 3 times in just 3 months

As a real life example, here is our story of how we shaped our own goal tree, or rather how we cut them down and planted new ones. A fruitful exercise.

At we iterated through three strategies in three months. It brought a steep learning curve with tons of insights and pivots.

When we put our goals into a tree, things started looking up. Building a tree helped us structure our thought process and output. This is how we did it.

#1 Our first Growth Strategy - the Hubspot funnel

We were still in pre-launch phase at the time. We were featured on Beta List.

Our tree was built from scratch. We used a funnel as a basis for our tree. We loosely followed the Hubspot model, consisting of Brand + Buzz, ToFu, MoFu, Evangilism and marketeering.

As with many new enterprises and products, we did not have enough real figures and benchmarks to be able to properly estimate conversions. 80% was just guesswork.

But that did not matter. The exercise mattered.

It helped us to identify potential pitfalls BEFORE we started working. That is the real value of the Growth Map exercise in a highly uncertain situation. It is no fail safe solution, but it narrows down the range of potential failure scenarios.

It ruled out a lot of possibilities that would have surely lead to disaster. It prevented us from wasting energy, money and resources.

We estimated 40% of the strategy would be right, but we didn’t know which part. Without the strategy it would have been a lot less than 40%.

We got to work and ended up achieving 124% our intended goal. We got 24% more ‘Beta Users’ than we aimed for.

It turned out the Inbound goal structure was not specific enough for this phase. So we decided to improve it...

Hubspot tofu mofu bofu in boardview
Our Second Growth Strategy – Pirate Metrics

By this time, we just launched our tool. We were featured on, the nirvana for new products.

The second time around we decided to build our tree on metrics specifically for start-ups. Refusing to rest on the laurels of our first moderate success we decided to use Pirate Metrics in our new tree.

We tweaked Pirate Metrics by distinguishing between ‘I like what you TELL’ and ‘I like what you SELL’, separating content conversions from the product conversions.

Again the Growth Map exercise helped us to prioritize goals. We prevented ourselves from doing a little bit of everything and ending up with nothing.

It made our tree simpler, going from five to three goals on the second level of the goal tree.

We got to work and achieved 110% of our intended goal. We got 10% more ‘Users in the Tool’ than we aimed for.

Our Third Growth Strategy – Funnel + AARRR

By now we had a pretty solid idea how to go about setting up a tree that works in practice. We added ToFu MoFu BoFu to our Pirate Metrics setup. Specific team members are responsible for three different areas of the funnel.

This time we applied the AARRR model twice. Roughly the AARRR for content conversions (“I like what you tell”) applies to the ToFu and MoFu part, whereas the AARRR for product conversions resides under the BoFu part.

We also upped our iteration frequency to be more agile and learn faster. Every week we add, adjust and close goals. We started to get into a routine of updating our goals regularly. It resulted in improvements in UX and the addition of some new features you may have used already. We are now seeing steady growth week over week.

See if your strategy needs trimming… if you have one

We are often asked if we use our own tool: Yes we do. We built the tool specifically to propel business growth, also our own. It helps us to keep an overview on strategy, even when goals and structure are changed regularly.

You’ll most likely find out that some of the goals you’ve been working towards don’t really serve a purpose, which may sting a bit at first. But it is all in the name of growth.

  • Write down your company goals in Boardview goal cards. No need to become specific about the goals or their position in the tree just yet.
  • See if you can build a proper goal tree. Put every goal in the right place in the tree to prioritize goals, and to see how you contribute to the bigger goal.

We can’t wait to hear what strategy you have built. Do you dare to share?

Fail forward, fail fast. Go fast.

Three major overhauls of our own Goal Tree may sound like a lot, but when your learning curve is steep it is very normal.

Future developments and new insights will probably force us to overhaul our tree yet again. And we will do so with pride, knowing that it will only bring us quick wins in the short run and make things better in the long run.

The trick is to fail forward fast, just like we did, to end up victorious in the end.