- When bootstrapping a business, you need to first define your ideal customers and connect with them to gather their feedback on the product you’re building.
- Tukan Das, the founder and CEO of LeadSift, used outbound prospecting to catalyze sales with only a year of runway left. By conducting customer discovery and garnering product advice, he ensured his product would serve his audience and generate revenue.
- Although outbound prospecting can be challenging, it’s also inexpensive on a bootstrap budget. Outbound selling is also a great way to generate interest before you’ve established a brand — building momentum with customers when you need it most.
Picture this: As a startup founder, you have one year of runway in the bank. You’re at the point of no return with just three options in hand — shut down the business, take a profitless acqui-hire offer, or power through and figure it out.
Just the thought is enough to keep you awake at night, right?
In 2016, that’s where Tukan Das found himself as founder and CEO of LeadSift. He chose the third option: Dig in and make it happen.
With grit, elbow grease, and a whole lot of outbound prospecting, Tukan bootstrapped his way to incredible growth — and LeadSift was acquired by IDG Foundry earlier this year.
In an engaging, transparent Growth Month conversation with me, Tukan shared his story and his recommendations for founder-led sales success.
Read on for his approach to outbound prospecting and the steps you can take to build your pipeline and revenue on a bootstrap budget.
Getting rock-solid on your Ideal Customer Profile
Before doing any outbound prospecting, every founder should have a specifically defined Ideal Customer Profile (ICP).
Tukan explains that many people default to broad scopes instead of going after their best-fit customers. They cast the widest possible net and posit that they should be able to sell to a certain percent of that audience, such as … let’s say, 20% of 100,000 potential customers in North America.
But beyond knowing your total addressable market, you should have a very well-defined ICP. “The more well-defined it is, the greater your chances of success are,” Tukan says.
When they were starting out, the small team at LeadSift knew highly specific details about to whom they would target their product. These included factors like:
- Company size (e.g., 50 to 500 employees)
- Specific regions where companies that fit your ICP are located (e.g., North America and the United Kingdom)
- Types of companies and their niches (e.g., computer software and B2B marketing agencies)
- The job titles and responsibilities of their buyers (e.g., outbound marketers)
- The tools these buyers were already using
This level of detail let Tukan and his team get crystal clear on who their product was for before they wrote a line of code or made a single sales call.
While you might iterate on your ICP over time, a clearly defined profile should be the starting point for every startup decision.
Customer discovery and product advice
Once your ICP is locked in, you’re ready for customer discovery. A great way to start is by asking for product advice.
“When you are starting from scratch, you don’t have a brand. No one knows of you,” Tukan says. In fact, you might still be deciding what to build.
So start with your network. Use your first-degree connections (and, ideally, their warm referrals) to find people who work at companies that fit your ICP. If and when you do reach out cold via LinkedIn or email, be clear that you’re not selling anything right now — you’re looking for advice and product feedback.
WP Engine founder Jason Cohen did just that, for example. He reached out to 40 people for their insights, offering to pay them for their feedback on his potential product. Not only did none of them take money for this feedback conversation, but 75% offered to pay a monthly fee to sign up for his product, Tukan says.
That’s the power of knowing your ICP, understanding their problems, and working to solve them with your product.
Zeroing in on your feedback process
LeadSift decided to take a data-driven approach to its product. Before Tukan and his team built anything further, they set key metrics for their waterfall model feedback process.
Their first step was to interview at least 25 potential customers. Of those people, 80% reported that the problem LeadSift solved was a significant pain point.
Of that 80%, an overwhelming majority expressed their willingness to use the solution LeadSift proposed to build.
Most importantly, half of those interested respondents said they would be willing to pay a nominal fee for such a product. The dollar amount wasn’t relevant, but their willingness to invest in a solution was critical.
Throughout the growth process, your goal should be to gain real feedback from your target audience to ensure your product-building efforts are meaningful and will drive revenue.
“Don’t be cute and try to sell them on [your solution],” Tukan cautions. “Be earnest in getting insights around the pain point.”
Doubling down on outbound sales prospecting
Once he knew the pain points of LeadSift’s ideal customers and his team built a product to solve those problems, Tukan dove headfirst into outbound prospecting.
He explains that there were two key reasons for this approach. First, outbound sales tend to be low-cost, relatively simple efforts. Plus, LeadSift’s ideal customers did outbound sales themselves.
“One of the things we said was, ‘We should be the biggest customer of the platform we’re building,’” Takan recalls. So he doubled down on outbound.
When building a list of outbound prospects, LinkedIn is a great place to start. You can manually search for your buyer persona or go to competitors’ pages to find people engaging with their content who would be your ideal buyers.
After you have your list, it’s time to build your engagement sequence.
For LeadSift, this was a combination of LinkedIn and email outreaches to nurture and follow up with outbound prospects. Tukan and his team incorporated a healthy amount of personalization but leaned heavily on automation to space out each touchpoint over the course of three weeks.
Want to hear some great news for scrappy founders? You can build a tech stack for the initial stages of outbound sales for around $300 per month.
“You don’t need to hire a massive sales team,” Tukan says. “A lot of this can be done on a bootstrap budget.”
Putting in the work for founder-led sales
LeadSift’s outbound prospecting accounted for nearly all its leads at its “do or die” moment back in 2016. But in the years since, inbound leads gradually increased; they made up more than 80% of the company’s leads in 2020.
Tukan says that even when you know you have a great product, you can’t assume your ideal customers will simply stumble upon you, even if you have great SEO and content marketing strategies.
“In the early days, when you haven’t built up your brand … you cannot just expect that you’ll write content and then people will come,” he argues.“You have to be proactive.” While sales frameworks, processes, and metrics are critical elements of effective bootstrapping, founders also need intangible factors — things like luck, strong networks, the right skills, and access to money.
Most importantly, they (yes, you) need dogged perseverance to grow your business and reach your goals — and the commitment to follow through.